Bo | בא

Sworn to Sacred Service: Bo 5781

The most powerful ritual in American life is the oath of office administered to our President. The text is prescribed by the Constitution, but its choreography is a matter of convention. Most Presidents have placed their left hand on a Bible as they raise their right and swear to execute their office faithfully, to “preserve,…

As if a slave, as if free: Pesah 5780

Pharaoh says something odd to Moses and Aaron right at the start of their confrontation: “Why do you distract the people from their tasks? Get to your labors!” The first half of the sentence implies that Moses and Aaron are not enslaved like other Israelites with “their tasks.” But by the end of the verse…

Becoming Conscious: Shabbat Bo 5779

How do you explain consciousness? The inner sense that each of has of being alive, of making decisions, of directing our bodies, of remembering, of feeling, of knowing—where does all of this come from? Why does it ebb at times of sleep, and return when we awaken? It is horrifying to imagine being alive and…

Is He Unhinged? Bo 5778

Pharaoh is getting flustered, acting erratically and not making much sense. His servants have asked him, “Don’t you realize that Egypt is lost?” One senses that he is rattled by their condescending tone. Then he summons Moses and explodes, “Go, serve the Lord your God–who are the ones to go?” It’s a bit grotesque to…

Memory Cards for the Mind; Power Packs for the Arm–For Women and for Men: Bo 5777:

Chapter 12 of Exodus introduces Israel to the rituals (setting their sacred calendar and the Pesah rite) that will attend their exodus from Egypt. Chapter 13 shifts perspective to the future reenactment of this formative event, declaring that firstborn sons and also animals owned by Israelites will forever be associated with the sparing of Israel…

Might Undermined by Right: Bo

 Examine Egyptian iconography and you can’t miss the frightening creatures that populated their imagination. There are snakes and alligators, jackals and hippopotamuses which, though cute in contemporary consciousness, were terrifying to the ancient people who lived along the Nile. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit, Ancient Egypt Transformed, I learned about the integration of animal images into…

Exodus, Movement of the People: Bo 5775

It is no coincidence that the first mitzvot addressed to Israel come in Shmot, Chapter 12, the same chapter in which the exodus officially begins. Verse 28 says that Israel, “walked and performed as the Lord had commanded to Moses and Aaron; so they did.” Early Midrashim note the doubling of verbs and say that the…