Posted on March 23, 2011
by Becky Schisler
January 31, 2009/6 Shevat 5769
Parashat Bo begins with God instructing Moses to “come” to Pharaoh and warn him of the impending eighth plague, Locusts. Pharaoh, however, remains defiant in his refusal to free the slaves, and a plague of locusts followed by darkness ensues.
After these two plagues, Moses again tries to bargain with Pharaoh, but the stubborn king, lamenting about all his locust-devoured vegetables, makes it very clear that he is unwilling to negotiate. And so the tenth plague commences: The smiting of first-borns. First, however, the narrative is interrupted for God to give Moses the first commandment that the Jewish people ever receive: To sanctify Rosh Chodesh, the new month, beginning with the month of Nisan.
Anyway, at midnight of the appointed night, the plague strikes. All over the land sons unfortunate enough to have been born first lay smitten in their beds, and Pharaoh’s own son dies before his eyes. Only the Israelites, feasting on their paschal lamb behind bloodied doors, are spared.
After this final offense, Pharaoh can’t order the Jews out of Egypt fast enough; they leave in haste with all of their possessions, bundles of unleavened bread, and gold and other riches graciously donated by their friendly Egyptian neighbors. The parsha ends with various post-exodus mitzvot, including the commandment for tefillin.
Now, obviously, there are many things that stick out from this parsha. One might come away with a grotesque image of a garden being devoured by a blanket of swarming locusts, or perhaps a fatal angel silently sweeping the land of Egypt, sparing not even a first-born baby cow from its deadly mission. However, the event that truly puts this parsha in league with Lech Lecha is the Exodus of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt. This exodus is a story that we all know well; but what does it really mean, for us, as the Jewish people?
Some might say that the Exodus is so significant because it resulted in us being released from physical bondage by the Egyptians. However, this was not its only great outcome. The Exodus marks our birth as a people. Indeed, when God revealed Himself to us at Sinai, he introduced Himself not as the creator of heaven and earth, but as “… your G-d, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt”! (20:2) The foundation for the relationship between the Jewish people and God is not that He has given us life, as this does not make us unique from any other human being (or any other plant or vegetable, for that matter) but rather that he has given us freedom. The concept of being “freed from bondage” is one that can be interpreted many different ways and can spout many beautiful metaphors, but for the sake of brevity I won’t elaborate on them.
Lastly, there is one great gift of the Exodus that is more important than all of this: the inspiration it has caused. Throughout all the tribulations the Jewish people have been subject to (and there have been a lot) it is this exodus that we have always recalled with comfort, and it is this exodus that has reminded us that with faith, perseverance, and the will to survive, we, the Jewish people, can overcome even the most terrifying of evils.
Right now, our biggest trial is that of terrorism in the Middle East, brought on by people who desire to see our homeland torn to pieces. However, we have always endured hard times, and we will always press on. The will of Moses to press on throughout Pharaoh’s defiance, and the will of the Jewish people to survive after more than 200 years of slave labor proves that im tirtzu, ein zo agadah – if you will it, it is no dream. As long as we have the will to survive and flourish, we shall, no matter the odds … just as our ancestors did in Egypt so long ago.