Bo: Rising to Nobility

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Bo

Shalom friends, we’re blessedly early with our drasha this week, let’s keep that trend up . . . . .

Speaking of trends, in this week’s Torah portion, Bo, Pharaoh’s standing in the “human king as Egyptian demigod” rankings continues to decline as the plagues take a terrible toll on his country, authority and self-confidence. Before the Israelites leave, however, they are told that they must have a ritual meal, not only while they are in Egypt, but every year following, in order to remember the great liberation. This, of course, eventually becomes our Pesach seder, or Passover meal, but in Biblical days, the central ritual was the Korban Pesach, an offering of a lamb or kid.

This offering had to be roasted and eaten in a very precise way; Sh’mot chapter 12 has all kinds of laws relating to this ritual, even specifying how the bones are treated during the meal:

“It shall be eaten in one house: you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house; nor shall you break a bone of it.”  (Shmot/ Exodus 12:46)

Our Conservative Torah commentary, Etz Hayim, explains that one might break the bone of a meat meal to suck the marrow out, and one can easily imagine that hungry slaves would indeed get every bit out of the meat that they could. The medieval textbook Sefer Ha’Chinuch explains that the commandment not to break the bone is about teaching the people honor and dignity- it is not the way of princes and nobles to chew on the bones like a dog, but that’s what poor or hungry people have to do.

Thus, while at the time of the first Pesach meal, the people were, in fact, poor and hungry slaves, they needed to claim their dignity and act as if they were nobles and free people. In so doing, they would come to internalize their own sense of honor and self-possession. The Exodus could not be only a physical process of moving from one place to another, nor even a purely political act of declaring that Pharaoh’s authority was overthrown. The Exodus also had to be a spiritual phenomenon within the Israelites themselves, in which they came to realize they were not inherently slaves, they had little to fear, and past suffering did not constrain future freedom.

That’s why they need to eat like nobility. Not only was it an overt act of defying Pharaoh, but more importantly, it enacted and illustrated the most importance remembrance: who they really were. They were not slaves, but children of Avraham and Sarah and inheritors of their sacred covenant. That’s our challenge, too: to remember who we really are- not slaves to our desires or anxieties and servants to no human power, but noble, spiritual beings, called to great works.

There’s no better way to remember, to claim truth, than to act. In AA, they often say “fake it till you make it,” but perhaps the Jewish way of expressing the same idea would be: do the mitzvah, and your soul will be lifted up.

Shabbat Shalom,


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