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Dan Has Questions About The Path To Freedom:  Parshat Bo

01/05/2022 02:44:49 PM


Dan Leemon

While we were taking our winter break, our ancestors spent over 400 years in Egypt, were enslaved there by a new Pharaoh who did not remember how Joseph had saved Egypt from famine, and God enlisted Moshe to free us.   Moshe has demanded that Pharaoh release us, Pharaoh has refused, then agreed, and then refused again, and seven plagues have been visited upon the Egyptians.   An awful lot can happen in three Torah readings! 

This week’s Parshah is entitled Bo, which means “come” — God tells Moshe and Aaron to come to Pharaoh and warn him that the eight plague, locusts, is coming if Pharaoh does not allow us to go to the wilderness to worship God.  They tell him that the locusts will destroy all the vegetation, that whatever is left after the plague of hail will be destroyed.  Pharaoh’s aides tell him to agree, saying “don’t you know that Egypt is lost?”  But Pharaoh attempts to bargain with Moshe and Aaron:  He will let the adults go, but not the children. And the locusts come, indeed destroying everything that’s left after the hail.  Pharaoh calls Moshe and Aaron and begs them to stop the plague, actually saying “I have sinned against your God and against you.”  And the plague stops.

-           Why won’t Pharaoh listen to his aides?  

-           Do you think Pharaoh is sincere when he tells them he has sinned? 

But once again, when the plague is over, Pharaoh will not let us go, and the plague of darkness comes next.  For three days it was pitch-dark everywhere except in the homes of the Jews.  Pharaoh calls Moshe and Aaron and is STILL bargaining — he tells them all the people can go but the cattle and flocks will stay behind.  They of course refuse and Pharaoh is angry — he tells them not to come back, and says that, if he sees them again, he’ll kill them.  Moshe says, “you have spoken correctly — you will not see us again.”

-           After everything that’s happened, and as Pharaoh watches the destruction of what’s left of his kingdom, why do you think he still won’t let them go?

-           What do you think is going on with the Jews at this point in the story?  After nine plagues, but with Moshe and Aaron still not succeeding in freeing them from slavery, what might they be thinking and feeling? 

God shares with Moshe the rest of the plan to free the Jews:  There will be one more plague, after which Pharaoh will not only let us all go, but insist upon it.  God says that, in the middle of the night, all the first-born children of Egypt will die.  But not a single Jew will be harmed, says God, so that they will all know for certain that God protects and favors them over the Egyptians.  The Torah then says that God issued the first commandment:  That we keep a calendar, with the current month as the first month, and that every year, we celebrate for seven days, eating unleavened bread as we remember what happened in Egypt and how we were freed.  God explicitly says that the purpose of the ritual — the unleavened bread  — is so that the children will ask, “why are we doing this?”, and so that the story of our freedom will be learned.

-           Why would God tell us to do this — especially in the midst of everything else that’s going on?   Why not wait until we are free and safe?

-           What do you think of this as a way to teach and learn?  Why not just say “and be sure to tell them the story of what happened in Egypt?" 

God instructs that the Jews slaughter and roast a lamb, placing its blood on their doorposts, so that God will know which houses to “pass over” when the first born are killed.  The plague comes, and Pharaoh’s own son is killed. And Pharaoh and the Egyptians cannot get the Jews out fast enough.  There’s a remarkable description in the Torah of the urgency of the departure — taking the dough that had not yet risen, packing up belongings, taking clothing and silver and gold items from the Egyptians, leaving Egypt, baking unleavened bread to eat.  The Torah says there were 600,000 adults, and that we had been in Egypt for 430 years.   God has one more commandment:  That first-born animals will be offered as sacrifices to God, and first-born children will be “redeemed” with a gifts to the priests, so that the final plague will be remembered.  The Parshah concludes by saying we must remember that “God took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”

-           What does “with a mighty hand” mean?  Why the emphasis here on God’s might versus, say, God’s compassion for the misery of the slaves, or God’s commitment to the Jewish people?

-           Why is the whole process of gaining our freedom so elaborate — all the back-and-forth with Pharaoh, all the plagues, all the doubts Moshe has, all the promises God makes about returning us to the land promised to Abraham and Sarah?  Why doesn’t God just free us from slavery quickly and quietly?

 With freedom at hand, but the story far from over, I wish you a free and restful Shabbat.



Mon, August 15 2022 18 Av 5782