It would be one thing if it were about the Israelites overcoming their oppression and liberating themselves. But that's not the story. The Israelites are rather passive in this story (with the exception of Moses, but he had to be talked into everything). Instead, it's about the brutality of slavery being countered by the brutality of God. God murders children to effect a policy change. Not only do I have a hard time telling this story to my kids, but I'm not sure why I'm telling it.
I had the idea that I could show my kids "The Prince of Egypt" (1998), which I remembered as a pretty good telling of the Exodus story without the campiness and lengthiness of "The Ten Commandments" (1955). Bad idea. "Prince of Egypt" refers pretty obliquely to the horrors going on in Egypt at the time. If you know the story, you get that firstborn children are being killed, people are being whipped to death, etc., but they don't directly show this stuff. But then comes the angel of death scene. There's just no way to soft-pedal that one. The film depicts this terrifying entity that moves through the city almost silently. The only sound we hear as it passes through a house is an exhalation -- the sound of breath being taken away from the oldest boy. We see one of these boys as he dies quietly in his sleep. The specter moves through the city with brutal efficiency and then leaves. Then we hear the sound of parents crying. Honestly, it's about one of the most horrible things I've ever seen committed to film. (Watch it here if you wish and tell me if I'm overreacting.)
Anyway, I know it's important that Jews pass along their stories to the next generation. But why this story above all others?
UPDATE: Ezra Klein (sadly, my source for religious scholarship) reminds us that the Pharaoh was prepared to give in to Moses several times, but that "the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart." God manipulated Pharaoh into the visit from the angel of death. Which kinda makes you wonder, why didn't He just manipulate Pharaoh into letting the slaves go earlier? He apparently needed the confrontation to prove that He was more powerful than the Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods.
Which raises another point. When the Israelites are camped by the Red Sea, God creates a "pillar of fire and cloud" that holds back the Pharaoh's army until the Jews can safely cross the parted waters. But then the fire dies, allowing the army to enter the sea, at which point God closes the sea and drowns the soldiers. Why not just keep the fire going? These men had just lost their sons. Why kill them, too?