Stories we tell over and over again stick with us; they become part of who we are. As we we affirm each year in the retelling of the Exodus, the Torah is a part of our people not just because it was given to us, but because we continue to give it.
I 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.
- 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?