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Parashat Bo

January 19, 2024
10 Shevat 5784
Exodus 10:1 - 13:16

Dear Friends,

The beginning of the week found us celebrating MLK Day, a day that has now been deemed a day of service. But if I have learned anything in the last number of years, one day of service will simply not do. It is a launching pad. And the work that we are being asked to undertake is wearying, which is all the more reason not to do it alone. There are times when standing together really matters. It does not mean that we must agree upon everything, but there is great power in coming together and doing what needs doing. Remember that we need not lift one another up alone as long as we have partners by our side. 

In the days and weeks ahead, we will be looking at the environment through the lens of Tu B’Shevat. We will also be observing both Refugee Shabbat and Reproductive Shabbat in February. In March, our attention will turn to science once more with two more Scientists in the Synagogue events. Staying engaged in so many different ways with the world around us in a community setting is another way of continuing on the path first laid out to us in this week’s Torah portion.

This week’s Torah portion reflects this sense of ongoing motion. Parshat Bo (Bo can mean either coming or going), Exodus 10:1 – 13:16, tells the story of the last three plagues and the going out from Egypt. It places the story that we tell every year at our seders into our calendars. Rosh Hashanah may be the birthday of the world, but it is the month of Nisan that marks the beginning of our year. It marks the beginning of our march toward freedom and redemption. It is a march we have yet to complete so we tell the story again and again.

However, there is one problem in telling the story again and again. It begins to lose its edge. In the retelling of the story, we sometimes omit the hard pieces or gloss over them trying to spare our listeners, especially our young listeners, from having to deal with the hard parts. But it is just those hard parts that matter. Our story or the story of any people coming into being is neither pure nor pristine. It never has been. Our ongoing job is to grapple and wrestle with our story.

When we hear the story of today’s refugees or migrants, do we remember the stories we heard as children, or are those stories buried and forgotten? Even if we don't remember those stories, we always have the story of the Exodus. The Exodus is the story of a people daring to put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts in a society where some believed those very animals were sacrosanct. We remember how Joseph told his family that shepherds were abhorrent to the Egyptians, and Moses, more than once, reminded Pharaoh that they needed to go out into the wilderness to offer their animal sacrifices to God. Have we ever thought about what it took for the people to follow this command and to do so together?

I have always loved the description of that first seder, where with our sandals on our feet and our neighbors by our side we prepared to go forward. When I imagine that scene in all of its chaos, anxiety, and fear of the unknown, the feeling that overwhelms me is a sense of being on this journey together. It is that sense that lingers through time and space for me, and it is why creating a caring community engaged with one another and the world and confronting the rough edges still matters.

In a few weeks, I will be traveling to Israel on a mission with an interfaith group of clergy. I do not imagine an easy journey but I do imagine one where we will wrestle with tough issues together and find common ground creating community with one another.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyyar 5784