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Parashat Bo

January 22, 2021
9 Sh'vat 5781
Parashat Bo
Exodus 10:1 - 13:16

Dear Friends,

What a week this has been! It began with a sense of uncertainty and fear and transformed into a week that has a sense of purpose, possibility, and -- dare one say it -- hope.

We began with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day of remembrance, but also of work. The day was a reminder that there are things that need doing and that if we join together, we can begin to get them done -- creating hope.

Then we were witness to an inauguration that strove to be about the many. It was about us, about “we, the people.” Amidst all of the ritual of the day, what emerged was a sense of people working together to create a memorable day for all to witness, providing us with an example of what is possible when we work together. We were witness to a peaceful transfer of power at an event filled with tradition and ritual, even though some of that ritual was modified due to the pandemic. The day reaffirmed once more that ritual can become even more powerful when it is reimagined.

Tradition and ritual are two of the tent poles of our heritage. This week’s Torah portion, Bo, provides an echo chamber of what we are living through today. Bo is the moment when the transformation of an enslaved people into an autonomous and, indeed, stiff-necked people begins. The pivotal moment is after the plague of the death of the first born when the people wait for morning to come, despite the Pharaoh’s demand for the people to leave that very night (Exodus 12:31). A few verses later, we are told that the night was a vigil -- a vigil to remember.

They did not leave; they waited through that long night with death all around them, ready to go when called upon. The text says “that very day the LORD freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop" (Exodus 13:51), telling us that they left the next day. When they finally set off, we can only imagine that it was less than a well-executed departure. After all, the dough had no time to rise!

Transitions are not easy. They are chaotic, messy and there are missteps along the way. For the mixed multitude that left Egypt, the freedom that was now theirs came with responsibility.  Today, as we work to repair that which is broken, we keep in mind that freedom is always a process. Bo also reminds us that there is one law for all who reside together, including the stranger who resides among you.

This week’s Torah portion concludes the story of the plagues that assaulted Egypt and gained freedom for the Israelite people -- and more. Our prayer at this moment of transition for our nation is that we be of good courage and do what we can to support one another through this perilous time. Freedom is not about the individual, but about all of us coming together to create a more perfect union in a more perfect world.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, June 15 2021 5 Tammuz 5781