Broken Record – Parshat Bo 5778

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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.

 

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Remember When – Parshat Bo 5777

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What advice do you hear most often just before a major life event? “Live in the moment because the memories will last a lifetime.” We spend so much time anticipating the birth of a baby (months of mental preparation, getting the house in order, picking a name, planning the welcoming ceremony), but the moment of the birth itself quickly fades, as do future milestones of childhood. So what do we do? We tell the birth stories, we make note of first words, and we take tons of pictures so that the memory will remain. Similarly, with a wedding we spend months planning out every detail, and we hire videographers and photographers to hopefully capture those beautiful moments so that the memories of that special time together will last a lifetime of marriage.

This week we read parshat Bo, which details the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites are a traveling people, and in parshat Bo the Israelites are steps away from traveling again, this time leaving bondage. Pharaoh again refuses to allow the Israelites to leave, and each of the three refusals brings with it one of the three final plagues. Our story continues with the procedures for leaving Egypt, including putting the lamb’s blood on the doorpost, packing up, and recreating these events by celebrating Passover in future generations.

The style of the Torah up until parshat Bo is mainly narrative. There are very few commandments given until the Israelites leave Egypt. In chapter 12, verse 14 however, the Torah shifts from the instructions given to Moses and his contemporaries to the listing of the mitzvot to be followed by later generations of Jews. These aren’t instructions on how to leave Egypt, but rather instructions on how never to forget this time in our history when we left Egypt.

Even the Torah, well before smartphones, Instagram, and Timehop, understood that the most important part of sharing our history is how we preserve the memories. The laws of parshat Bo remind us that while the moment itself has significant power, the memory, if passed down, will live on forever.

 

Leftovers – Parshat Bo 5776

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As an executive chef, my Uncle Larry gets culinary inspiration from a variety of places, including my Nana’s recipe box.  Of course in order to use family recipes for commercial purposes, he has had to make some serious measurement conversions. This means that when I want to make one of Nana’s famously delicious family recipes at home, Uncle Larry sends it to me with instructions like: “Divide by 40 to get a reasonable size recipe.” Somehow I still always end up with enough food to feed an army.

Maybe it’s the stereotypical Jewish mother in me that’s to blame, but whenever we host a dinner or event, I stress over having enough food. “I’ll just make one more side dish to go along with the other four, just to be safe,” I’ll rationalize. Inevitably, we have leftovers for days.  

Oddly enough, there are leftovers in the Torah. It makes sense when you think about it. When you’re feeding an entire Israelite nation, there’s no way to anticipate the precise needs of every meal. Our parshah this week, parshat Bo, is notable for containing the commandment to observe Passover, but it also contains helpful hints about what to do with seder meal leftovers. The narrative picks up with the final plagues that God is sending to Egypt and continues with the holiday of Passover, teaching the Israelites what it means to build a community, beginning with the first laws of their calendar. The text ends with arguably one of the most important commandments we have – that of telling the story of the Exodus in every generation.  

In Exodus chapter 12, God gives the commandments for the Passover sacrifice, specifying that each family is to sacrifice their own lamb. But in verse 4 God states, “But if the household is too small for a lamb, let him share one with a neighbor who dwells nearby, in proportion to the number of persons: you shall contribute for the lamb according to what each household will eat.” The Torah teaches that Passover, like a great number of our Jewish traditions, is a family celebration. Specifically, it is meant to be celebrated communally, not in isolation. An abundance of food is simply another reason to share the celebration.

According to Samson Raphael Hirsch, the paschal sacrifice teaches that we are to “let those whose households are too small to absorb all the blessings that God has given them seek out their neighbors and share the bounty with them.” It is our responsibility to sustain others in our community with our “leftovers.”

Nowhere is there a better reminder that we celebrate best when we celebrate together. Every time I make one of Nana’s recipes (thanks to Uncle Larry’s assistance), it takes me back to the big dinners I remember with family and friends. These shared experiences are just as much a part of living Judaism as anything else. By the way, does anyone need two kugels and a challah?

Pack It Up – Parshat Bo 5775

pack-it-upI am a chronic over-packer. When I lived in Israel for a year, I had three huge duffel bags and was still worried I wouldn’t have what I needed or wanted. Preparing for trips and vacations should be an exciting experience, but packing for travel brings out anxieties I’m able to keep hidden the rest of the year. I keep weighing my bag like it’s a prizefighter to make sure I’m within the airline’s weight limit, and more often than I like to admit I’ve been asked to put my carry-on bag in the sizing display to confirm it fits.

Now traveling with a kid compounds everything. My carry-on alone has enough clothes for two days for every family member. We look like we’re traveling for weeks when we go anywhere for the weekend. It might be a little bit obsessive, but I prefer to think this tendency is simply a need to be prepared for anything. You never know what you might need.

This week we read parshat Bo, which details the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites are a traveling people, and in parshat Bo the Israelites are steps away from leaving Egypt. Pharaoh refuses again 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 the lamb’s blood on the doorpost, packing up, and recreating these events by celebrating Passover in future generations.

As the Israelites are preparing for their journey, Pharaoh and Moshe have a heart to heart about what is necessary for packing. I can only imagine the anxiety I would have gone through trying to pack as an Israelite traveling with Moshe in the wilderness. We know they brought sheep, cattle, gold, silver, wood, and perhaps a change of clothes or two. In chapter 10, verse 26, as Moshe is listing the cattle and livestock they must bring, he states, “And we shall not know with what we are to worship the Lord until we arrive there.” Basically, Moshe is instructing the Israelites to over-pack because they simply won’t know what it is they will need to live full Jewish lives until they’re doing it.

So perhaps my over-packing is reminiscent of the Israelites’ departure. Different situations require different items, and it’s difficult to say with 100% certainty what you’ll need on a daily basis, let alone when traveling long distances. Parshat Bo reminds us that we can try to prepare precisely what we’ll need, but every situation is unique. Some trips require three changes of clothes per day while others require nothing but a bathing suit. The same is true for our relationship with God. At various times in our lives, we need different things from God, and God needs difference things from us. At one extreme, some days you might need to yell and rail at God; other times simply knowing God is with you is enough.