Parashat Bo – Erev Shabbat 22 January 2021
Week of 17-23 January 2020
Torah portion: Exodus 10:1-13:16 Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28
Theme: ‘… know that I am the Lord’ (Exod 10:2).
Parashat Bo provides a reason for the events that are unfolding, i.e. that the Israelites may ‘know that I am the Lord’. (10:2) Next week, in Parashat Beshalach, we learn that other events will be carried out so that the Egyptians will ‘know that I am the Lord’. (14:4) In between these verses, we learn that the Egyptians looked favorably upon the Israelites; and Moses’ importance is recognized ‘in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials and in the sight of the people’. (11:3)
These favorable dynamics provide a backdrop for our exploration of God’s instruction to Pharaoh, ‘let my people go’ (10:3). The Hebrew verb shalach literally means ‘to send away’. The intensive form (Piel) of ‘to send away’ is used on all seven occasions where this verb appears in our text. This seems somewhat removed from the more passive ‘let my people go’. ‘Send them away’, in this intense form, might suggest that the Israelites may have needed a push to leave. They may have been slaves but what they had was familiar and they seem to have had a relatively positive relationship with their Egyptian neighbors. Indeed, we were told in 10:1 that it was Pharaoh and his officials whose hearts were hardened, but there was no mention of the Egyptian people.
Often, the survival strategies involved in the experience of slavery, lead to a new norm where the motivation and energy towards freedom are no longer accessible. Pharaoh wanted the Hebrews’ physical energy to provide a workforce and this, without a doubt, would have undermined their psychological capacity too. It must have been hard to imagine that Pharaoh would ever ‘let them go’ never mind ‘send them away’.
However, God says that after the 10th plague, Pharaoh will ‘send you away’ from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely’ (Piel intensive form is used) (11:1). So unimaginable was this, that the Israelites were not ready, the ‘dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves’. (12:39) They are taken by surprise … leaving seemed far from their minds in the ongoing experience of slavery. Rabbi Dinner says, ‘Liberation – freedom from enslavement – requires breaking free from both physical and psychological bondage.’ (WTC, p133)
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Slavery continues today in many forms and brings with it physical and psychological trauma. Notice how you contribute to making this a more just world and if there is anything more you can do. 2. Sometimes we adjust to being enslaved and no longer notice it playing out in our lives. What would support you in waking up to this?
Bibliography: Goldstein, Elyse (Ed.), The Women’s Torah Commentary (WTC) (New York: 2000);
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Thérèse Fitzgerald NDS, Ireland, Bat Kol Alumna: 2015, 2018