Parsha Bo – which, next to B’reisheit, is likely the best known in Torah – is a heat seeking missile that goes to the heart of being a Jew. It is the shared experience that every Jew can relate to. It weaves itself though daily prayers, it is the core of the seder. It is the defining moment. It may be the only element of Torah that all Jews – regardless of belief or observance level – share.
“remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of bondage, how the LORD freed you from it with a mighty hand…”, Exodus 13:3
“It is because of what the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt, Exodus 13:8
“It was with a mighty hand that the LORD brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage”, Exodus 13:14
is embedded in the liturgy and symbolized by t’fillin.
The Parsha is practically a précis of the existential experience of being a Jew.
That was for the LORD a night of vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that same night is the Lord’s, one of vigil for all the children of Israel throughout the ages”, Exodus 12:42
Imagine yourself, at midnight – on the cusp of night and day – anguished wails piercing the darkness as you are preparing to flee. Tense and fearful. Anxious and filled with anticipation.
As we leave town, the Egyptians throwing their valuables at us and encouraging us to hurry, we bond together and forge a shared destiny.
The brilliance of this parsha is that it not only describes the drama in the moment, it also is very clear and prescriptive about when and how future generations should experience it. The calendar is set. The beginning of the year marks the time of liberation. We are given specific instructions as to what we should do.
Remember what happened this night and experience it through the telling of it – at this time of year, in this way, for all times.
Redemption is not a one time event. It is always a possiblility.
Here we are, at the climax of the story, Moses has channeled God, played the tenth plague trump card, and leaves Pharoah in “hot anger” - the drama and anticipation escalating.
The narrative is interrupted– as if by a celestial public service announcement.
God, through Moses, is telling us…you and me…how to make seder.
Exodus 12:24: You are to keep this word
As a law for you and for your children, into the ages!
Now it will be,
When you come to the land which YHWH will give you, as he has spoken,
You are to keep this service!
And it will be,
When your children say to you: What does this service (mean) to you?
It is the slaughter-meal of Passover to YHWH,
Who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt,
When he dealt-the-blow to Egypt and our houses he rescued.
The text takes on an almost 3 dimensional quality. Linking past present and future.
The author is speaking directly to us in this very moment, as if we were there. An elegant chain of Memory and continuity
We are told to make seder.
Seders are the most commonly observed ritual in contemporary Jewish life. Even Jews who do nothing else “Jewish” will make seder.
Why? Because the story resonates on a deeper level…it embodies our struggles, our hopes, our fears. Our vulnerabilities and our strengths. Human issues, which weave through the fabric of life.
If you are now or have ever been a Jew, you likely have childhood seder memories –
Mine are limited….
– Mostly of seders when my grandfather was lost in his own Hebrew recitation of the Maxwell House haggadah while we stared longingly at the food and wondered where he had hidden the afikomen –
I had no seder traditions or attachments, so I had to discover them for myself. I tried a lot of haggadot over the years and found an interesting assortment as I was preparing for this drash:
Pretty traditional ones like The Concise Family Seder and the Artscroll Haggadah.
And some not so traditional like,
The Haggadah for a secular celebration of Pesach,
A liberation haggadah from a minyan in Cinninati,
A couple of Feminist Haggadot, and
Finally, The Shalom Hartman Family Particpation Haggadah which we’ve been using for about 12 years.
My accumulated haggadot - a microcosm of the possibilities for observing the commandment and telling the story.
Great thing about seders is that each seder has it’s own unique personality…
the people around the table,
the foods that are served,
the way the story is told.
The way the story is heard.
Speculation as to how story experienced in other times: Muslim Spain, Middle Ages, Warsaw Ghetto
What is it about this parsha?
As I read and re-read it, I realized that it is filled with dualities that tap into primal emotions
Fear / hope
We are able to inhabit the narrative because it resonates deeply within our beings. The fundamental issues haven’t changed.
Always constant. Always current. Always a challenge. Always the potential for redemption.