Parsha Bo: Receiving the gifts of freedom, time

We wish a safe journey to Fernando Brodeschi, Scouter from Brazil, who has been in Houston staffing an Inter-American Leadership Training, and is off to visit his sister in Israel.

Dear Scouts:

Last week, we saw how difficult it was going to be to convince Pharaoh to let the Children of Israel leave the slavery of Egypt. Moses and Aaron repeatedly demanded freedom for the Israelites so they could leave to worship God for three days. Egypt suffers under seven plagues – the water in Egypt turns to blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, cattle disease, boils and hail. Remember Moses’ staff? Four of the plagues are started by Moses or Aaron holding out his staff.

This week, in parshat Bo, we see that Pharaoh is still stubbornly refusing the allow the Israelites to leave. More plagues are delivered on Egypt – swarms of locusts and thick darkness, both begun when Moses stretches out his staff. Egypt has now suffered nine terrible plagues.

Those of us who have paid attention at the Passover seder know there is one more plague coming. But before we learn of that plague, God commands Moses and Aaron that the month in which they are then living, Nissan, is to be the first month of the Jewish year. This is the beginning of the Jewish calendar, and it is the first commandment that God gives the Jewish people.

God further commands that on the 10th of that month, the Children of Israel are to take a lamb or kid (a young goat, NOT a Cub Scout). It is killed on the 14th in preparation for the seder, which is to be celebrated on the 15th. God also gives a number of laws about Passover, some of which only apply to the first Passover.

Then God instructs Moses and Aaron on how the Israelites are to prepare themselves for the final plague. The blood of the lamb or kid that was killed is to be spread on the door posts and lintel of each house where Jews dwell. God Himself delivers the last plague, killing the firstborn children of all Egyptians and all their cattle. Only Pharaoh, who is also a firstborn, is spared.

Changing from slaves to free people must have been very difficult. God helped the Children of Israel understand His actions in freeing them – His “signs and wonders” – by giving them a number of symbols as aids.

For six of the plagues, God instructed Moses or Aaron to indicate it is coming by “stretching forth” his staff. This was a dramatic movement, to signal that something out of the ordinary was about to occur and that it relates to the demands that Moses and Aaron were making of Pharaoh, rather than a random occurrence of nature.

In preparation for the plague of the firstborn, God instructed the Israelites to mark their homes with lamb’s blood.  God did not need a sign on the doorposts to know which houses had Jews in them, because God knows everything. Many of the Israelites had become so debased that they lost their belief in God.  The purpose of marking the doorposts was for the Jews to identify themselves as believing in God and therefore ready to leave Egypt.

The creation of the Jewish calendar was God’s gift to the Jewish people who were prepared to be free. As slaves, the Jews were not in charge of their own time – their daily schedule was set by their taskmasters.  But as they were to be set free, those who chose to follow God’s laws would have the sacred ceremonies related to Passover to remember their delivery from slavery to freedom. Not only did God set the Jews free from Egyptian time, but He made the Jews masters of their own time by empowering them to declare the beginnings of the new months.

And so we still have God’s signs and wonders – as recorded in the Torah – and the ceremonies of the seder to fulfill the commandment (Exodus 13:3):  ”Remember this day on which you departed from Egypt, from the house of bondage, for with a strong hand God removed you from here … .”

Shabbat shalom,


© 2014 Nelson R. Block