Bo: Hearing Another’s Cry

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Bo

Before we begin this week’s Torah study, we have an announcement from the
of Overzealous Spellchecking: Last week, my overzealous Appleworks program
“Pharaoh” to “parsha” in a couple of places- I trust nobody was too confused and
will look
for this in the future. With that-

Happy Groundhog Day! I don’t know how many more weeks of winter we have, but I
know that parshat Bo is the third parsha of the book of Shmot/ Exodus, and tells
of the
last few plagues and the instructions for the Pesach offering. The final plague
upon Egypt
is the death of the firstborn, which will bring upon the Egyptians the horrors
that they
themselves have inflicted upon the Israelites. Before this terrible blow to the
nation, Moshe
is told that the Egyptians will “cry out”, clearly evoking the “crying out” of
the Israelites*
under bondage:

“And there will be a great outcry throughout the entire land of Egypt, such as
there never
has been and such as there shall never be again.” (Shmot/ Exodus 11:6)

Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that this verse illustrates the tragedy of the
all-too-human indifference to the sufferings of anyone but their own group.
After all, the
Israelites had been enslaved and beaten and murdered for years, and no Egyptian
cried to a god or the king against the injustice! “Never again” would the
Egyptians cry out
like they did when their own first born died- perhaps this verse teaches us that
remained indifferent, and could not redeem themselves through introspection and

Maybe this is the true evil of Pharaoh and his nation: not only that they
imposed suffering
upon others, but were unable (unwilling?) to turn their own experience of grief
compassion and t’shuvah [repentance/ return] for what they had done. We all cry
for a member of our own family than for someone far away, and that’s perfectly
but spirituality also calls us to feel another’s suffering as our own. If there
is a genocide in
Darfur (and there is)- we should be crying out. If the poor in America are
unable to access
basic health care or enough food (and many can’t)- we should be crying out. If
the actions
of our country are not consonant with our highest ideals of justice- we should
be crying

To sum up: Pharaoh thought that there is no god other than myself, and therefore
I can
ignore others as less than human if I wish. Judaism teaches: we are all children
of the
Living God, and therefore every human is my brother or sister, and deserves
compassion and lovingkindness I can muster.

Shabbat Shalom,


PS- As usual, the first link is to a page which leads to a summary of the parsha
additional commentary (including more by yours truly) and the second link leads
to the full
text of the parsha and haftarah:

*(Cf. Shmot 2:23, for example.)

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