When Shiri was nine months old we made the trek via car from Dallas, Texas to Portland, Oregon. Those five days left Duncan and me with frazzled nerves, to say the least. We’d wake up every morning praying for an easy day in the car, and what usually got us through was singing the same three songs and reading the same book over and over again. By the end of the trip, we were confident we knew Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by heart. (Feel free to stop me in the hall – I’m happy to recite it for you on demand.)
When I was younger I remember my mother saying she felt like a broken record, repeating herself over and over again to relay the simplest of instructions. As a mom myself, I totally get it now. Repetition can be annoying, but it’s necessary, from the comfort of a well-worn (played) CD to practicing a new skill to having to hear the same reminder more than once.
Adults can find comfort in repetition too, which is why this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bo, is so relevant to our lives and Jewish tradition today. The Israelites are a traveling people, and in Parshat Bo the Israelites are steps away from leaving Egypt. Pharaoh refuses to allow the Israelites to leave, and each of the three refusals brings with it one of the three final plagues. The narrative continues with the procedures for leaving Egypt, including putting lamb’s blood on the doorpost and packing up.
Parshat Bo ends with the commandment to tell the story of Pesach year after year for generations to come. It’s about repetition. A fledgling nation needs to hear the story of their birth over and over in order to remember it, internalize it, and cherish it just like our children need the comfort of the same song, same story, and same routine to find their compass. We repeat these stories to commit them to memory, thus creating a communal history and story that guides us into the future.