Parshah Summary – P’shat
The parshah begins with last three of the Ten Plagues: a swarm of locusts devours all the crops and greenery; a thick darkness envelops the land; and on the 15th of the month of Nissan at midnight, all the firstborn of Egypt perish. The first mitzvah is then given to the Children of Israel: to establish a calendar based on the monthly rebirth of the moon. The Israelites are also instructed to bring a “Passover offering” – a lamb or goat is to be slaughtered, and its blood sprinkled on the doorposts and lintel of every Israelite home, so that God should “pass over” (Pesakh) those homes when the plague of the firstborn takes place. The roasted meat of the offering is to be eaten that night together with matzah and bitter herbs. The death of the firstborn finally breaks Pharaoh’s resistance, and he drives the children of Israel from his land.
So hastily do they depart that there is no time for their dough to rise, hence the practice of eating matzah in commemoration of the Exodus. Before they go, they ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold, silver and garments—fulfilling the promise made to Abraham that his descendants would leave Egypt with great wealth. The Children of Israel are instructed to consecrate all firstborn, and to observe the anniversary of the Exodus each year by removing all leaven from their possession for seven days, eating matzah, and telling the story of their redemption to their children. They are also instructed to wear tefillin on the arm and head as a reminder of the Exodus and their commitment to the Divine as the Power of Liberation…
Torah of Awakening
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה בֹּ֖א אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה כִּֽי־אֲנִ֞י הִכְבַּ֤דְתִּי אֶת־לִבּוֹ֙ וְאֶת־לֵ֣ב עֲבָדָ֔יו לְמַ֗עַן שִׁתִ֛י אֹתֹתַ֥י אֵ֖לֶּה בְּקִרְבּֽוֹ׃
Hashem said to Moses, “Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, so that I may place my signs within him…”
- Shemot (Exodus) 10:1, Parshat Bo
Reb Yoel of Tshopli, a hasid of Reb Mordechai of Lechovitch, was beset with a deep angst and dissatisfaction with life; so, he set out to seek wisdom from his master. When he arrived, he was so eager, that he pounded loudly on the door and shouted: “Open up please!”
Reb Asher, who had stepped out for some fresh air, heard the noise and exclaimed, “Who is that pounding?”
“It is I!” said Reb Yoel. The voice of the master came booming from within: “Where in the whole universe can you find a creature that can say “I” about itself? For the true “I” says:
וְעָבַרְתִּ֣י בְאֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרַ֘יִם֮... אֲנִ֥י יְיָ – “I will go through the land of Egypt...I Am the Divine!” And about this verse, the Haggadah says: אֲנִי הוּא וְלֹא אַחֵר – “I am That, and there is no other!” When Reb Yoel heard these words through the door, he no longer needed anything – he had received the wisdom he sought. He untied his pony and trotted home to Tshopli, his thirst quenched.
Reb Yoel’s existential angst is cured when his master leads him from his own separate self-sense of “I,” or ego, to the inner identity of Existence Itself, the “Big I.” This realization is also expressed in the Aleinu prayer: הוּא אֱלֺהֵֽינוּ אֵין עוֹד – It is our Divinity – Ayn Od – there is nothing else… Meaning: our “Divinity,” i.e. our awareness, is not separate from Being – there is nothing but Existence, and we are not separate from That.
But later on it says: וְהָיָה יְיָ לְמֶֽלֶךְ עַל כָּל הָאָֽרֶץ – The Divine will be King over all the earth – as if there is a dualism, as if the “Divine” and the “earth” are two separate things. But this is resolved in the second half of the verse:
בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִהְיֶה יְיָ אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד – …and on that day the Divine will be One and Its Name will be “One.” The “Name” means our conceptual understanding of God. Existence can only ever be One, but the very structure of thought is based on seeing things as separate. The duality, then, is not between God and the world, but between God (which includes the world) and our mental concept of God. The goal, that the Divine will be One and Its Name will be “One,” means that we must learn to go beyond the structure of thought and know the Oneness directly – that is the fruit of meditation. In meditation, we do not turn away from, deny or ignore our separate self-sense; rather, we become present with it:
בֹּ֖א אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה – Come to Pharaoh…
Not “go,” but “come” – as if God is there with Pharaoh, calling Moses to “come.” Pharaoh represents the separate self-sense, or ego, created when consciousness identifies with thought and feeling. Moses represents the liberating activity of consciousness. Moses “coming” to Pharaoh, then, is the practice of bringing our awareness into ourselves, into the feeling of being a separate entity.
When we do this, when we shift from feeling that we are the separate entity, into perceiving the feeling being an entity, then we can shift into knowing ourselves as the open space of awareness, within which we experience the ego. From here, it is a small step to recognize: this awareness that I am is not “mine” – it is Reality waking up as this body-mind; it is God seeing though these eyes – and that is Liberation.
וַיִּזְעָ֑קוּ וַתַּ֧עַל שַׁוְעָתָ֛ם אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים מִן־הָעֲבֹדָֽה – They cried out; and their cries from their slavery rose up to God.
Ordinarily, we are “enslaved” by our separate self-sense, though we are not likely to notice this until we encounter suffering. But when suffering does arises, then there is a special opportunity to “cry out” in prayer. That “crying out” is the beginning of liberation; it is the motivation we need for doing the ongoing work of Presence.
In this week of Shabbat Bo, may we practice evermore deeply making the connection between consciousness and the fullness of Reality as it meets us in this moment, communing with the Presence that shines silently from all things; this is Malkhut, presence with the Presence…
Read more on Parshat Bo HERE.