One of the aspects of my job I love the most is telling and hearing stories. Every morning and afternoon I am regaled with wonderful stories from our students about their day, what they did last night, where they are going this weekend, what their brother or sister said to them. I hear stories all the time. And, of course, come Thursday afternoon, the chit chat at BLS carpool is about which story I’ll tell this week. I love trying to find the perfect story that matches the values and lessons I want to convey on a particular week.
Our parshah this week, parshat Bo, brings us into the narrative of Moses and the Israelites as they prepare to leave Egypt. We are told of the final three plagues, including the slaying of the first born Egyptian sons. And, interestingly, we are given instructions on how to remember this story. We learn of the laws of Passover and how to celebrate for years to come; we learn that we are to wear Tefillin on both our arm and our head to remember the exodus from Egypt; and we are commanded not only to remember this, but to retell the story of the Exodus, the story of Passover, to our children.
The text teaches in chapter 13, verse 8: “V’higadetah L’vincha:” and you shall tell your child. We hear these words over and over again in the Passover haggadah, and of course we tell the story then, but what about the rest of the year? The text teaches that we have an obligation to tell our children the story, to instill within them the joy of freedom, the gift of community, the blessing of life, and the belief in God. The story we tell here is the story of memory and a narrative of questions.
The brilliance of our text and heritage shines when reading about how God and Moses anticipate the nation’s reactions in future generations. Verse 14 understands and expects the quest to know more and the need to ask. The text states: “And when your child says to you, what does this mean?…” The question is not if, but when. It is a given that questions will be asked. Our Torahencourages us to ask questions and discuss the answers. More than this, the Torah begs us to share our stories, our history and heritage with our children. Parshat Bo, reminds us that if we don’t know from where we’ve come, we cannot know where we will go.
We are all familiar with stories, whether they’re from Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein, the Bible, or, most importantly, our own lives and the history of our family. In fact, much of what we learn and absorb comes from what is told to us through the narrative of a movie, song, play, book, or television show. It is this culture of storytelling that gives us the opportunity to learn and grow with each retelling, and by sharing it, we encourage deeper understanding and internalization of the rich heritage that is our gift.
Family Discussion Questions:
- TELL YOUR STORY. Spend some time this Shabbat sharing your family’s narrative history with your children.
- Our ‘ethical covenant’ speaks about citizenship. What lessons can you learn from your family’s story? What can you teach from it to create a more fair and just society?