Tag: Bo

Parashat Bo: Fighting the gods of Egypt





Chaverim Yakarim

 As many scholars have noted, the plagues that struck Egypt during the Exodus can be interpreted as being assaults on the various gods of Egypt: the Nile, the sun, even to the firstborn of Pharaoh. But after the “official” plagues have ended, one more Egyptian god will come under assault. “Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household” (12:3). God told the Israelites to acquire a lamb—which is not just an animal, but an Egyptian animal god. In other words, it seems as if God is telling the Israelites to get themselves an Egyptian lamb-god and therefore buy into the Egyptian religious system—which means becoming good Egyptians. The Israelites must live with their lamb-gods for four days. That’s enough time to become comfortable with their new gods. It is also enough time for their Egyptian neighbours to have seen them and to have therefore assumed that the Israelites are (finally) prepared to fit into Egyptian life.

Not so fast—The Israelites then slaughter their lambs. They dab the blood on the doorposts of their houses—in a place where everyone can see it. That is why a midrash portrays God as understanding that “as long as the Israelites worship the Egyptian gods, they shall not be redeemed. Withdraw your hands from idolatry and take a lamb, and therefore slaughter the gods of Egypt and make the Passover.”

The slaughtering of the lambs, therefore, did not only symbolise physical freedom and national redemption. It was also an outward manifestation of freedom from Egyptian idolatry—and, with that, the Israelites are ready to truly make their break with Egypt.

Today, killing lambs is not our idea of a good time, nor is it a symbolic act. But when our ancestors made their courageous break for freedom they had to break with every aspect of their enslavement. May we find the courage to break with poisoning traditions in our lives, which limit our own freedom as we enter this new secular year.

Shabbat Shalom—Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin)


Parashat Bo: Ask questions and grow


It is a wonderful coincidence that our Torah reading, parshat Bo, the section that deals with the culminating plagues and the exodus, turns three times to the subject of children and the duty to educate them, when we, at Bet David, have our Back to School service and the opening of the cheder for 2018. As Jews we believe that to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilisation you need education. Freedom is lost when it is taken for granted. Unless one generation hands on their memories and ideals to the next generation – the story of how they won their freedom and the battles they had to fight along the way – the long journey falters and we lose our way.

What is fascinating, though, is the way the Torah emphasises the fact that children must ask questions. While most traditional cultures see it as the task of a parent or teacher to instruct, or command in order for the child is to obey (“Children should be seen, not heard,” goes the old English proverb. “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord,” says a Christian text), Judaism is asking for the opposite. It is a religious duty to teach our children to ask questions. That is how they, how we, grow.

Judaism is not a religion of blind obedience. Indeed, astonishingly in a religion of 613 commandments, there is no Hebrew word that means “to obey”. Instead, the Torah uses the verb shema, untranslatable into English because it means [1] to listen, [2] to hear, [3] to understand, [4] to internalise, and [5] to respond. Written into the very structure of Hebraic consciousness is the idea that our highest duty is to seek to understand the will of God, not just to obey blindly, because we believe that intelligence is God’s greatest gift to humanity. Rashi understands the phrase that God made man “in God’s image, after God’s likeness,” to mean that God gave us the ability “to understand and discern.”

As we begin a new year of learning, I encourage all of you, children and adults alike, to ask questions, to grow and to help us growing, and to enjoy one of the greatest gifts we have been granted ever, the freedom to learn.

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks)

Torah Reading Shabbat Bo

Exodus 10:1-13:16

Reading: Exodus 12:1-28

Plaut p. 409; Hertz p. 253

Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28

Plaut p.427; Hertz p.263

TuBiSh’vat is on Wednesday 31.01.2018