Parashat Bo Erev Shabbat 07 January 2022 (5782)
Week of 02-08 January 2022
Torah portion: Exodus 10:1-13:16   Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28
Theme: The Lord’s Night of Vigil

Parashat Bo presents the last phase of Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh, for the liberation of the children of Israel from Egypt, which had become a place of crushing bondage for them.  A sense that this is “the Lord’s Night of Vigil” (12:42) sustains awe at the intimacy and power of God’s intervention here. The Haftarah, from Jeremiah, attempts to relativize the threat of Egypt, recalling that (in Babylon’s conflict) “Egypt shall be shamed, handed over to the people of the north (cf. 46:24) … But you, have no fear my servant Jacob, for I am with you” (cf. 46:28). 

The opening verse reveals the parameters of this event, and its three-fold purpose: “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, so that I may deploy my signs among them, and that you may recount to your sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians, and that you may know that I am the Lord” (cf. 10:1-2).

Signs carry and reveal the movements and meaning of the Lord’s night of vigil. The first signs we encounter are inflicted by the Lord because of Pharaoh’s tenacious resistance to liberating the Israelites (chapters 10-11): locusts devouring all vegetation and blocking vision of the land; darkness, a thick and tangible darkness preventing movement of any kind; and finally, the death of the first-born at midnight, evoking agonizing grief in every Egyptian household. Yet Pharaoh does not relent. The Lord warns Moses: Pharaoh will not heed you, in order that my marvels may be multiplied in the land of Egypt (11:9).

Exodus 12 inaugurates another sign, a liturgical ritual, the sacrifice and consuming of a lamb that is required in response to the Lord’s initiative in Egypt. That is extended to the time when they will enter the land which the Lord has given them (12:25), and ultimately to a celebration each year as a Day of Remembrance, a festival to the Lord for all time (12:14). With verse 15, this becomes a seven-day celebration incorporating the sign of unleavened bread, in which they taste again the haste of their departure from Egypt (12:15-20). The guidelines for the future celebrations of the “Passover offering” (12:43-50) emphatically exclude foreigners and the uncircumcised.  

Chapter 13 recalls two traditions that directly implicate subsequent generations. The intimacy of the first is striking: consecrate to me the first-born – the first-born of every womb is mine (13:1-2, 11-12).  The second is the handing on, from parents to children, of the conviction that these observances are “because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt” (13:8). This consciousness of a personal engagement renders Pesach a profound, soul-searching, yet celebratory experience.  

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Recall and reflect on an experience of radical change that led you to a deeper awareness of the presence of God in your life. 2. What is your experience of the “handing on” of a faith tradition?

Bibliography: Plaut, W. Gunther, The Torah, A Modern Commentary (UAHC, New York, 1981); Zornberg, Avivah G., The Particulars of Rapture, Reflections on Exodus (Schoken Books,New York, 2001.

This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Diane Willey, NDS Bat Kol Alumna: 2005, 2006

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