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8 Thoughts I Had Watching THE PRINCE OF EGYPT During a Plague

I decided to pop on “The Prince of Egypt” and watch it within the context of the Coronavirus pandemic.

8 Thoughts I Had Watching THE PRINCE OF EGYPT During a Plague

Every year on Passover, we ask "Why is this night different from all other nights?," which certainly feels truest this year, a year that has been different from all other years. We've been living through a plague of our own, and what a better way to celebrate that than with revisiting the ultimate Passover plague cinematic masterpiece?

"The Prince of Egypt" is better than it has any right to be. It's gorgeously animated, wonderfully acted, and the music from "Wicked" and "Pippin" genius Stephen Schwartz (who was on our Broadway Seder Plate for this very reason), in a word, rules. I decided to pop on "The Prince of Egypt" and watch it within the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, which has now been raging for over a year, and I'm totally, totally fine and cool with that. Absolutely. I learned a lot!


It's no wonder "The Prince of Egypt" got a widely-acclaimed stage adaptation last year on the West End -- I can only imagine the powerful music is even more powerful live. But my plague-watch had me thinking really hard about Ofra Haza, the Israeli singer who provided the unforgettable singing voice for Yocheved in the film. Her life was cut short by an entirely different plague, an entirely different epidemic; she died of AIDS in the year 2000. Without trying to, "The Prince of Egypt" and the Exodus story in itself has become politically resonant over and over in times of deep unrest.


Maybe it's because I haven't been outside in over a year, and maybe it's because I haven't seen a human man who was not related to me in almost that long, but the animators didn't need to go that hard on the Moses character design. Who said the deliverer couldn't also be handsome, I guess? There's no law against it.


The sequence in the film where God speaks to Moses for the first time through the burning bush makes my hair stand on end every time I watch this movie. It's so beautiful, and so moving. But it got me thinking -- what would be the modern mode of communication God would use to reach us on Earth? Does God have a smartphone? Or would He reach out via some modern plantware -- a succulent in a millennial's apartment? A newly-legalized New York marijuana greenhouse? I guess we won't know until it happens.


I'm not sure it's fair to judge the validity of an ancient, defunct religion alongside one that has persisted to the modern day, but it's wild to watch Pharaoh and his servants deny the power of the plagues until it's way too late and many, many people have suffered needlessly. They run into the same problem our modern-day politicians run into -- finding a scapegoat for the cause of the problem, valid or not (mostly not), doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist. Even in a world where the plagues WERE the work of simple sorcery, they were still wreaking havoc on Egypt, and the Pharaoh definitely should have let-the-Jews-go about it instead of trying to intellectualize why the plagues kept happening.


With that being said, a plague of frogs actually sounds kind of fun in comparison to the plague we've been living through since last March. There's a hilarious question in the Jewish community about whether the plague of frogs was a plague of many, many frogs, or a plague of one giant frog who burped up tinier frogs. Either way, seems more manageable and interesting than the plague of COVID.


I've actually written about this before. It is scary to be both Jewish and the first born when you're a kid at the Passover seder hearing about how the tenth and final plague swept through Egypt and killed every Egyptian first-born child. That sequence in the film is absolutely chilling. How many of the half a million Americans who died of COVID this year were the eldest child at some point? How many of them had this same, somewhat irrational fear?


Miriam has always been one of my favorite people in the Torah. She's protective of her family and her history, she's kind, and -- most importantly -- she's incredibly brave. Another thing that has been very difficult this year for a lot of people is having to stand up to your family members and defend your deeply-held beliefs against theirs. Miriam is a wonderful role model. She makes sure Moses knows he's Jewish, and makes sure he knows his duties therein, without compromising or deferring to his beliefs.


We sang "When You Believe" at my kindergarten graduation (I went to Jewish preschool). Asking a bunch of six year olds to confront the enormity of liberation was a choice, but I think it just speaks to how wonderful and universally applicable this soundtrack is. There can be miracles when you believe -- the end of slavery, the end of plague, the blissful end of a kindergarten graduation where the kids are atonally ruining a bunch of good songs. There is an end in sight to this pandemic, thanks to the vaccine -- a victory that can be attributed to both belief and the incredible hard work of all the people who put the vaccine into our hands.

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From This Author Sarah Jae Leiber