Blog Bo Shevat 6 5780 בלוג בֹּא, ו’ שבט תש”פ

With this parashah Bo, Israel’s slavery in Egypt has ended. The Pharaoh finally had to acknowledge that he was defeated by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even requesting a special prayer from Moshe. Yet although Pharaoh seemed to change his mind, we know that it was only a temporary show of weakness. This momentary opportunity allowed Israel to leave Egypt, comparable to the momentary guilt that the nations felt after the Shoah – שוֹאָה – the Holocaust when they voted for the modern state of Israel.

I would like to emphasize one point about the exodus from Egypt. Israel did absolutely nothing to obtain their freedom; it was achieved solely by the Hand of the Bore Olam; in fact, Israel did not want to leave, rather they wanted Moses to negotiate with Pharaoh for them to have an easier life in Egypt. Israel was a spectator from their safety in Goshen fearfully watching what the Bore Olam was doing to the gods of Egypt. Pharaoh, who viewed himself as a god incarnate, adhered to his pride regardless of the fact that he was continuously being defeated. Every plague held the message for him that the God of Israel was greater than any of the Egyptian gods. The Creator’s desire was to show both Israel and Egypt who He was and what He could do.

This parashah begins with the eighth plague, the locusts, followed by the ninth plague, thick darkness and the final plague the death of the firstborn. The last plague touched the life of Pharaoh himself with the death of his first-born son who would inherit the kingdom and replace him as the new god over all Egypt. When he died, this was the final victory demonstrating that there is only one Almighty God for the whole world. The people of Egypt in their desire to get rid of the Israelites began showering gifts of all kinds upon them begging them to leave once and for all. Israel finally left Egypt albeit reluctantly.

The Bore Olam had a “Plan of Renewal” in place for His people. This would require a “Paradigm Shift” from slavery to freedom. Most of us, accustomed to a certain way of life, might never have thought that there was a better way. The Creator would show Israel that He is the “God of Beginning Again”. He would begin to work with Israel, with all their limitations and fears, and bring renewal. This didn’t happen overnight. Many people may say “Oh, I’ve changed” but if you ask those around them, they will tell you that they are the same. True change takes time and effort. When we are stuck and see only what is in front of our eyes and don’t see other perspectives, the Creator has to lift the blindness from our eyes and spirits and open up new possibilities.

This is where “bechirah chofshit” – free will comes into play. The Israelites had been slaves; all decisions were made for them. They were incapable of leading their own lives. This can be quite comfortable. Today there are people who preach to us about giving us a new life; they say, “trust me, give me your life and I will take care of you”. The Creator doesn’t ask us to be His slaves. He wants us to partner with Him in living the best life we can, to make our own decisions, to “choose life”. He gave us freedom and wants us to develop trust. It can be frightening and very difficult when we are used to others thinking for us. We prefer to have others guide us so that we don’t have to take responsibility for our lives. This makes it easy to blame others when we fail.

The Creator, knowing our limitations, gave us the Torah, the Constitution of Israel and the world. The basics for us to have a wonderful society lies in His Ten Commandments. Mankind doesn’t like this. Where there is a law, he makes an exception. This is our constant battle with Him. Gurus, enlightened people arise who tell us that they had a “revelation” about what the Creator really means by His Words. They tell us that His simple instructions are too complicated for us to follow or understand without their interpretations. Sadly, we believe them. That is not renewal; that is self-destruction.

Renewal means that we are changing for good, realizing that we were on the wrong track and that we need to change direction in our way of being. Israel needed to do that, but this would take a process of purging. We need to be totally cleansed by returning to the Creator and His principles. He offers us life and death, but He asks us to choose life. How wonderful that He allows us to decide and to think for ourselves. He will not do our thinking for us. Nothing is easy; we need to work for it.

Free Will contains a very important element – RESPONSIBILITY – אַחֲרָיוּת. Assuming responsibility is the only way to exercise our free will. Israel would go through a long process to prepare them to be ohr l’goyim, light to the nations by bringing them His Ten Commandments. There is nothing comparable to them. They encompass every sense of decent morality. Renewal means change, to leave the past behind and to work toward new possibilities. When we know that we are doing right, no one can stop us. Let us be careful not to be easily deceived and fall into patterns of slave mentality, the worst being the slavery of the soul. That is worse than physical slavery. Let us not be attached to the morality of the world but be immersed in the Presence of the Bore Olam who helps us to see through the darkness.

We each have our own Egypt, but we also have had our personal encounter with the Creator. He came to us allowing us to see His Presence. He shows us the right direction to take and step by step He lights the path. There are very few who accept the challenge, respond to Him and are willing to walk with Him until the end. Are you a slave in Egypt or are you on your journey out? May we be able to renew ourselves and change direction to be the person who we were meant to be.