D’var Torah Parashat Bo

Lately, I’ve been giving my divrei Torah from notes or outlines, as opposed to writing them out from beginning to end, which makes it more difficult to post them online, but provides you with more incentive to come to the JCA on shabbat morning!

So, I’ll just offer a brief synopsis here, and then close with a passage from one of my favorite books, which I used to set the scene for a parsha that deals with a great migration of people getting underway.
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We looked at two verses in particular:

a) (10:1): “vayomer adonai el moshe bo el paro, ki ani hikhbaditi et libo v’et lev avadav l’ma’an shiti ototai eleh b’kirbo” God said to Moses: Go to pharoah, because I have HARDENED HIS HEART and the hearts of his servants, so that I may set out these, my signs, among them.”

b) (13:14): “v’haya ki yishalkha vinkha makhar leymor ma zot, v’amarta eylav b’khozek yad hotsiani adonai mimitzrayim m’beyt avadim.” And when your children question you tomorrow, saying, ‘What is this?’ you should say to them,” with a strong hand, God took me out of Egypt, our of the house of slavery.”

I talked about the philosophical debate that takes place around the first verse: whether or not it was fair that God hardened Pharoah’s heart. I looked at another translation that reads “God allowed Pharoahs heart to be hardened”, suggesting that this shifts the burden of the issue. Insteaed of causing Pharoah’s heart to be hardened, God just didn’t allow it to be softened. This way of reading suggests that God didn’t provide the poison, but did fail to provide the antidote. And, in the end, Pharoah wasn’t saved. At first, it seemed as though, as the Buddhists say, “death would be the best teacher”, and he would release his grasp on his slaves after the firstborn children had died, but then he couldn’t help but push forward to the cataclysm at the Sea of Reeds–he enacted that great human tragedy, that being that we are often not able to change our patterns of behavior before we are overcome by destruction.

But, looking at the second verse, we see what it might mean to receive an antidote, a release from being fixed or stuck in a certain position. Even before the actual Exodus takes place, God is already telling Moses to tell the people to turn the story of the Exodus into a ritual memory. I suggested that this was in effect giving them a new story of who they were and what they were capable of doing–a free people on the loose instead of a craven people locked in slavery–and that they needed this new story, new identity, before they were ready to move; that this is, in fact, what enabled them to move.

That was basically it…

Anyhow, here’s the passage, from “Watership Down”, by Richard Adams:

“Rabbits, of course, have no idea of precise time or punctuality. In this respect they are much the same as primitive peoples, who often take several days over assembling for some purpose and then several more to get started. Before such people can act together, a kind of telepathic feeling has to flow through them and ripen to the point when they all know that they are ready to begin. Anyone who has seen the martins and swallows in September, assembling on the telephone wires, twittering, making short flights singly and in groups over the open, stubbly fields, returning to form longer and even longer lines above the yellowing verges of the lanes—the hundreds of individual birds merging and blending, in a mounting excitement, into swarms coming loosely and untidily together to create a great, unoranized flock, thick at the center and ragged at the edges, which breaks and re-forms continually like clouds or waves—until that moment when the greater part (but not all) of them know that the time has come: they are off, and have begun once more that great southward flight which many will not survive; anyone seeing this has seen at work the current that flows (among creatures who think of themselves primarily as part of a group and only secondarily, if at all, as individuals) to fuse them together and impel them into action without conscious thought or will: has seen at work the angel which drove the First Crusade into Antioch and drives lemmings into the sea.”

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