Commentary for Bo

3 Jan

This week’s parshah tells the story of the night of the exodus from Egypt. Every year for more than three thousand years since this event, Jews have gathered to retell it. It is a story that every Jew knows, from the most irreligious Jew you can find to the Rabbi with the blackest hat in all of Me’ah She’arim. It is a story that unites us all, and a story that hearkens back to a time when we were all united. Every Israelite was equal, all just lowly slaves hoping for salvation, and every Israelite was treated equally. Those plagues that struck the Israelites affected them all, and those that struck only the Egyptians affected none of them. God demanded that Pharaoh release every single Israelite, regardless of gender, age, physical capacity or mental capacity. All that mattered was that you were an Israelite.

Then, when the tenth plague is about to come and the grand moment of liberation is about to be upon them, this all suddenly changes. God commands that the Israelites offer the Paschal sacrifice and spread its blood on the doorposts of their houses so that “when I see the blood I will pass over you, so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt (Ex. 12:13).” Before this moment, if the plague was not meant to strike the Israelites, all you had to do to be protected was be an Israelite. Why, then, before this final, most terrible plague, does God suddenly require obedience to the letter to this seemingly random task in order for each Israelite household to be protected?

Many commentators have remarked that is it during their journey through the desert that the Israelites truly transform from just the tribe of Jacob’s descendants into a full-fledged nation. They leave Egypt as a tribe of Abrahamic monotheists and emerge as the Jewish People. To be a member of a tribe, all you have to do is be born into it. To be a member of a people, though, you need to actively commit yourself to being a part of that people.

It is not enough to be born to a Jewish family. To be part of the Jewish People, one needs to engage themselves with their community, adhere to Jewish values and take part in Jewish practices. Anyone who refused to take part in the Paschal sacrifice and marking their doorpost with its blood would be showing that they did not wish to be part of the new Jewish People, and just like the contrary son in the Hagadah, who separates himself from the community, those people would not have been redeemed from slavery in Egypt.

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