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 die. The first specifically Jewish 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 God as the Power of Liberation.
Torah of Awakening | Jewish Meditation Teaching
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
There was a funny sketch from an old Electric Company episode. A man dressed in what looks like a navel uniform sits in a restaurant and orders from a waitress with puffy orange hair. “I’ll have a cup of coffee and a sweet roll,” says the man. “We are out of sweet rolls,” says the waitress. “A glass of milk and a sweet roll.” “We- are- out- of- sweet- rolls,” the waitress repeats a little bit more slowly. “Ice tea and a sweet roll.” “We are out of sweet rolls!” The redness of her hair starts migrating into her face, leaving her hair white. “Orange juice and a sweet roll?” She is about to explode: “WE ARE OUT OF SWEET ROLLS!!!” “Okay, then, I’ll just have a sweet roll.” “AAARRRRGH!!!!” She screams and runs out the door.
How many times have you gotten some message over and over again in your life, but you didn’t listen? Or perhaps you couldn’t listen?
וַיְחַזֵּ֥ק יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶת־לֵ֣ב פַּרְעֹ֑ה וְלֹ֥א שִׁלַּ֖ח אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
But Hashem strengthened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go…
Moses and Aaron present plague after plague to Pharaoh in order to persuade him to let go of the Israelites. During each plague Pharaoh relents, but after each one subsides, he contracts into his old position – what does he think he’s accomplishing? Why not do the thing that will be of obvious benefit? But that’s exactly what the ego does: it brings suffering upon itself over and over again, rather than learning the all-important lesson: Let go!
Why is it often so difficult to let go?
וַ֠יֵּהָפֵ֠ךְ לְבַ֨ב פַּרְעֹ֤ה וַעֲבָדָיו֙ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ מַה־זֹּ֣את עָשִׂ֔ינוּ כִּֽי־שִׁלַּ֥חְנוּ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵעׇבְדֵֽנוּ׃
Pharaoh and his courtiers had a change of heart about the people and said, “What is this we have done, releasing Israel from our service?”
One common reason is the fear that if you were to let go, it would be irresponsible of you and everything would fall apart. There tends to be an unconscious belief that worrying is necessary. Actually, the opposite is true. When we lose our wellbeing because we’re struggling with our problems, we now have two problems: both the difficult situation and the inner tension and negativity generated by our struggling and worrying. And with all that inner tension, how are we going to improve things?
But when we bring our awareness to our resistance and see it clearly for what it is, there is a higher wisdom that can flow into our lives – this is the fruit of meditation. New possibilities can appear that were previously hidden. That’s because awareness is much bigger than our limited, conditioned point of view. The ego/personality is “Pharaoh” – king of Mitzrayim – of narrowness, of limitedness, mindlessly repeating the same old patterns over and over again. But our awareness is Divine – meaning, it is beyond the individual personality. It is Reality looking through our eyes – courageous, creative, present and free.
Mottel of Kashlin was a businessman who had extensive dealings in Warsaw and spoke Polish fluently. One day Reb Yitzhak of Vorki called for him with a request. The Polish government had issued a decree to burn all extant copies of the Shulkhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat – The Code of Jewish Law that deals with civil and criminal matters. The goal was to force Jews to take their litigation to the Polish courts rather than the rabbinical courts. No books had been burned yet, and Reb Yitzhak wanted Mottel to approach a certain powerful Polish minister and convince him to retract the decree…
“But that minister has a raging temper!” Mottel protested. “He threatens to shoot anyone who comes with requests like that!”
The tzaddik replied, “When Hashem sent Moses to save his people, he didn’t tell him to go to Pharaoh. He said: ‘Bo el Paro בֹּ֖א אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה – Come to Pharaoh…’ Moses was afraid, so Hashem reassured him that the Divine Presence would be with him.”
So Mottel set out to confront the minister, calm and unafraid. When he arrived, he spoke eloquently and convincingly. The powerful man was awestruck by the presence of the brave yet calm and joyful hasid who stood before him, and granted his request.
This Presence-quality of courage to fully step into this moment is the Path of כ Kaf. In this week of Shabbat Bo, the Sabbath to Come, may the wisdom to not be caught by fear and worry come into our lives through this supreme gift of awareness. May this awareness come to transform all the manifestations of Pharaoh that are given to each of one of us. May our practice add to the forces of evolution and may our world be swiftly freed from the plagues of violence and narrowness that continue to cause unimaginable suffering.
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