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.

Child’s Play – Parshat Bo 5773

People often look at me like I’m nuts when I tell them that I love the week I spend traveling through Texas on a bus with 20-30 6th graders.  As most adults can attest, traveling with children for any distance can be a trying experience.  “Are we there yet?” “I need to go to the bathroom.” “Are we there yet?”  And on a bus there are the every-five-minute reminders to sit down, turn around, stop yelling, and stay two per row.  On the other hand, traveling with children can also give you a unique perspective on the world you’re traveling.
The Israelites are a traveling people beginning with our parshah this week, Bo.  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 the three final plagues.  The narrative continues with the procedures for leaving Egypt by putting the lamb’s blood on the doorpost, packing up, and then celebrating Passover in future generations.  As Pharaoh is deciding whether to let the Israelites go or not, he asks many questions.  “What will you be doing in the wilderness?  How will you live?”  And, in chapter 10, verse 8, Pharaoh asks, “Who are the ones to go?” Moshe responds “We will all go, young and old: we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and our herds…”
Pharaoh’s response does not disappoint: “The Lord be with you the same as I mean to let your children go with you! Clearly, you are bent on mischief.”  You can almost hear the laughter that must have accompanied this line.  Moshe seemed crazy, wanting to go out into the barren desert without the stability of city life, for an unknown period of time with all of those children. 
Modern Torah commentators also questioned this inclusion of children.  The verse would have been clear had it just stated that everyone was going to go; why did Moshe need to add “young and old”?  One commentator shared that it’s “because no celebration is complete without children.”  This road-trip was not your average trip; it was a journey, a celebration of freedom.  While the journey might have involved more mischief, pit stops, or questions, it was meant to celebrate the future, the future embodied in the children.
Too often we become like Pharaoh and immediately see the negative of a situation, and that blinds us to the beauty of what we are about to experience.  Children view the world through unbiased and clear lenses.  Even though participation might result in a few extra questions to answer, or even a headache at the end of the trip, nothing can compare to seeing the joy, wonder, and awe on a child’s face when experiencing something new for the first time. 
THIS TOO IS TORAH: Many of our holiday traditions have become specifically children oriented: dreidel, the four questions, the afikomen, the flags on Simchat Torah. As parents (or older siblings of younger children) what differences do you notice between the way young children celebrate and understand holidays and the way adults do?

Beneath the Pale Moon Light – Parshat Bo 5772

There is a classic scene in the movie An American Tale where the small mouse, Fievel, is lost from his family.  He’s all alone at night, staring up into the bright moonlight and singing “Somewhere out there, beneath the pale moon light, someone’s thinking of me, and loving me tonight.”  The moon not only lights the little mouse’s way was he tries to find his family, but it offers a comfortable connection even when someone is far away. 
As Jews, we also have a special connection to the moon.  Our months and years are tied to the lunar cycle.  This week we read parshat Bo, during which the Israelites finally make their way out of the oppression in Egypt and can almost taste freedom for the first time.  In a way, this anticipation is like those months leading up to the birth of a child.  Parents ponder their hopes and dreams for their new baby.  They’re already making wishes, listing wants and setting goals.  Similarly, you can imagine God at this moment when His people, the Children of Israel, are nearing their birth into a new era, with new needs, desires and freedom.  As the “parent,” God’s dreams include a calendar comprised of guidelines and instructions for daily living that were sure to enable the Israelites to live their lives through structure. 
Chapter 12 begins to construct the Israelite calendar, which begins with Pesach and continues to build to throughout the Torah narrative.  The text reads, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months, it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.”  Knowing from the narrative of creation that our days begin with the evening, our months also follow the pattern of the moon.  This is fitting as the moon waxes and wanes through the months just as the Israelites surely will change as they experience freedom.  The S’fat Emet, a 19th century Torah commentary by Yehudah Aryeh Leib of Ger, suggests that the reason that our months are counted by the moon is because it waxes and wanes; it disappears and grows bright again.  The Jewish people as a whole, throughout history, go through cycles of suffering and prosperity. 
The light of the moon is helpful; when it is full we can sometimes see even without a flashlight.  But, when the moon is a tiny sliver at the beginning or end of a month, it can be very difficult to see anything at all at night.  Each of us as individuals may also find ourselves in this cycle of dark and light, but it’s the cycle that reminds us that even in darkness there are brighter days ahead.    
ללמוד  To Learnללמד  To Teach: Our parshah this week speaks of the commandment to tell the story of our people to the next generation.  The Torah teaches us that our collective memory is what sustains us as a people as one generation teaches the text.  There’s no time like now to learn and share your family’s story.  Check out for a start, or register and attend Dallas LearningFest 2012 and learn how to do the research through Meyer Denn’s Class.  
לשמור  To Keep:  לעשות  To Do: So often we see the pages of the calendar turn so quickly that we feel like time is racing by.  Living according to a lunar calendar allows us the awareness to check the sky every night and be keenly aware of the passing time.  Take a moment once each week with your family to track the moon’s changes.  Use this time to reflect on your week and make goals for the coming week. 

Tell Me More, Tell Me More – Parshat Bo 5771

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:
  1. TELL YOUR STORY.  Spend some time this Shabbat sharing your family’s narrative history with your children.  
  2. 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?