Exodus 10:1-13:16  Notes Lesson 15
Torah Portion Bo

I. Read 10:1-2

A. Note the word Bo - this is the title of the portion. What translations do you have? It could be go, carry, bring, come, enter, come in, advance. It's good to realize all the potential ideas in this key verb of action of approach by Moses to Pharaoh. ("Come" suggests "come with Me! to Pharaoh!) 

God redeems us, but we're active with Him. 

B. We get a fresh and important statement of the purpose of the redemption? What strikes you most about it?

(It's crucial that this story be told among your descendants that I am sovereign and in order that you may know that I am HaShem). 

II. Read 10: 4-6 What's significant about this plague of locusts, and frightening to the Egyptians?

(It covers the land so people can't see the land (claustrophobic and not able to know where and how to move), devouring the surviving remnant of a previous plague (promoting hopelessness and loss), destroying trees (which bear fruit and are symbolic of life), and filling houses and palaces (which is new and thus horrifying)

III. Read 10:21-23. Describe what you think is meant by a darkness that can be touched, where people could not see one another. 

(Midrash says this is akin to the darkness of Hell, also that it connects to the primordial darkness that precedes God's creation of light. This is a foretaste of punishment, some say, of Hell, or, more immediately in life those who "cannot see one another," go from where they are, or presumably care for the afflicted.

Was this also more of a spiritual or psychological darkness, a depression of sorts? Could they have been demoralized by the cumulative plagues? Or was there now the inevitable down draft of spirit in realizing their comfort was built principally on the quicksand of the work of slaves, people who operated in the dark to them. And now they're in the dark. 

Note the Israelites have light. This suggests a readiness for, and a future, with God. It also sharpens our understanding of the allusions above.)

All this causes certain courtiers to want to relent, concluding to Pharaoh that, "are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?" Thus, this plague has caused a division and a serious further loss of cohesiveness within Egyptian leadership.  

IV. Read 12:1-3, 14-18, 24-25. 

These are the first mitzvot revealed by God to Moses and the first major series of mitzvot in the Bible. 

We'll talk a lot about mitzvot from here on out in our study. What does this word mean? Some translate this as laws. I prefer ways of living, instructions by God in how to live as God expects. 

We'll do a lot of work in our remaining sessions exploring them and seeing what sort of guidance they might give us, even us moderns. I am working on a draft of a book that has as its thesis that these mitzvot offer value in right living for all people, not just Jews. We'll see in our study how strong that thesis proves to be!

But, for now, let's not be that ambitious. Let's rather at least try to understand why these instructions are here in the Hebrew Bible, as they relate to God's redemption from Egypt. 

1. Let me begin by asking you generally why do you think the first "batch" of mitzvot God gives Moses would be these?

(Recalling through time and indeed reliving God's saving hand and redemption is key to the direction of this Text. Being saved from bondage to tyranny and worship of the material is at its core. And the goal of being saved - to become God's people, devoted to God's service - is where this is headed. We place ourselves in the position of experiencing this reality - even if it be through ritual - in order to understand its lessons as fundamental in our lives.

Further, we know the reality of  "continuing Egypts" and the hope of God's help in needed redemption from them.)

2. The Jewish new year is conventionally thought to be Rosh Hashanah, a holiday that has its roots in the Bible and that takes place in the fall; yet here we read that the month of the passover is the first of the months. Indeed Rosh Hashanah oddly enough, thus, occurs in the seventh month of the year. What might be the explanation for all this?

(This is to acknowledge a new order of reality. And we really have a second type of new year in the spring to acknowledge it. There is in freedom a new start. A new beginning. We're freed from slavery to be God's people. A demarcation in time is warranted. We're new to the world in a way after this, perhaps, as we'll discuss in a bit, potentially as firstborns. 

We have spring, and we have the return of the rains in the fall. We have the creation of the world and the creation of life, and we have the creation of life with purpose when we become a people freed to serve God. So, we have at least two new year experiences. 

This one also suggests a rejuvenation, as in the spring, of the people after the winter of servitude. 

Also, our marking time through months suggests that now that we are free and we are accountable for marking time and for using it. This is a lovely way of saying that we are largely the master of the time we have. Thus, this is sort of a second creation, thus meriting a sort of new year.)

3. We won't be able to get into all the complexities of the ritual of Passover/Festival of the Matzot, or exactly how they each developed and found their way to our current understanding. Also, there are intricate ways in which there are overlapping aspects of this narrative with the Last Supper that merit its own study. Let's at least explore some essential elements of these mitzvot. 

A. Why the shared meal of the lamb, blood on the door post, and why must there be no "leftovers"? 

(The sacrifice and eating of the lamb was more than a sacrifice to God. It was also seen as an act of defiance in Egypt in that the lamb was itself in their world a deified super-animal. Thus, it may have been an act of separation from any adherence they may have fallen into by way of following Egyptian ways. 

We remember and bring into our consciousness and souls the meaning of God's redemption through this shared ritual and its meaning for us and our children, and our future for ourselves and our neighbors and our world. This celebration is not about just eating food in the normal course; it's about celebrating and commemorating the moment and the event of God's saving gesture. It's to be as real for us as it was for them, or at least as much as we can.

There is a "blood" connection to God and the covenant God established with the patriarchs, a life sign and a re-connection with the Source, and one that must be sustained through time. 

These rituals also bespeak piety, a readiness to go to God, to leave the narrowness, and be focused on the purity of the moment as our own "signs" forever, being true to this moment with God and our fellows, with faith toward the morrow.)

B. Why unleavened bread?

(The story we tell our children is that when God calls to be free there is no time to wait for the bread to rise. We leave when God calls, and that may mean, with bread that hasn't yet risen. 

Note that we've gone from the narrative in Egypt to mitzvot about recalling the redemption, with certain rituals around the paschal lamb, etc. Now we're on the the festival of the flatbread. It looks as if a different tradition (or a mixed tradition) has taken hold in the text. Perhaps it's so. But it's woven together.  

This turn to unleavened bread may also relate to ancient customs of throwing out the old grains and waiting to eat of the new. Perhaps there was a festival (close to other customs) around these ideas. Or it might be adapting the old with meaning for the new. Once freedom and the time of our lives with God comes, and we celebrate this at the time of new grains, we have a transition before we eat with normalcy out of the new grains.)

V. Read 12:29-32. 

As people of the book, we understand the truth of God's word but also its frequent difficulty and complexity. This is so particularly when we come to such matters as the tenth plague - God's destruction of the first born among the Egyptians. 

First, we know that these ancient words are not easily understood by us moderns. God's ways are mysterious.  Further, what may have made sense in ancient times may be baffling for us. 

We know, as we discussed in our study of the prophets, that societies can become so pervasively evil that destruction virtually  becomes inevitable.  We know that God's defeat of all of what Egypt represents must be complete. We know that Pharaoh has heretofore refused - warning after warning - and after ever escalating signs and consequences - to acknowledge God's sovereignty and acquiesce to Divine will. We know of the unspeakable tyranny with which Pharaoh has subjected God's people as well as the toll his actions have taken on his own people. We know that often the injustice the evil want to impose on the innocent (here, killing the first born) is often in turn imposed on them. 

Yet, we also know from text we will study later that there is pain in God in the imposition of this plague. We know there are parallel truths both in our yoking to God and dedicating (and redeeming) our first born (or perhaps all of us as the "first born" of God to God. (We'll return many times to these enduring obligations that seemingly were born of the experience of redemption.)  

We know from later in the Bible (we'll study it) that, though there are consequences of sin for later generations, we are taught that the sins of the father are not to be borne by the sons (Deut 24:16). We also know in ritual practice today among many Jews that the wine is diminished drop by drop for each of the plagues as a way of feeling the pain of the plagues on the people of Egypt. 

*****So, here's my question: what do people of faith, people who believe in this text as the word of God, say to people less versed in all this, including the complexity, and whose views and values are determined mostly by modern sensibilities, who think that this plague was simply dreadful, unjust, and indeed so unworthy it puts to doubt whether the God of this text can be their God?


VI. Conclusion 

The experience of servitude in Egypt and God's redemption of us from that bondage to be people of God was absolutely central to our history, creating a legacy and an energy that has meaning for our lives today.  We leave Egypt stamped with duties borne out of the freedom granted us by God's redeeming hand:

• we remember and re-live God's redemption of us from Egypt at the appropriate season;

• we take responsibility for counting and living in accord with God's expectations in the first month and each month;

• we remember through appropriate means (Exodus 13:16) to have God's teaching in our minds, in our mouths, and on our hands, for it was for that purpose that we were redeemed;

• we see as part of these rituals and the idea of being created in God's image that we are to be  redeeming forces in the world in service of God's will; 

• we understand and live true to the virtues of loving the stranger because we were strangers in Egypt (Deut.10:19) and having one law for the citizen and for the stranger who dwell among us (Exodus 12:49); and

 • we, in the spirit of the midrash, read the verse, "Sanctify for Me every firstborn," and believe that it speaks to each of us, asking us to sanctify ourselves to service of God who redeemed us. 

Audio 15 >

Exodus 10:1-13:16  Notes Lesson 15         Torah Portion Bo

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