Bo: Words Emerge From Between Them

Copyright 2013 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Bo
 
“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt  . . speak to the whole community of Israel. . “ (Shemot/ Exodus 12:1-3)
 
Good afternoon! This week we have not only the story of the plagues upon Egypt but also the laws of Passover and telling the story in future generations. In the first verses of Chapter 12, Moshe and Aharon are commanded to speak to the Israelites and teach them the laws of the new moon, followed by the laws of the Pesachofferings. It’s hard to see it in translation, but the commandment to “speak,” above, at the beginning of verse 3, is written in Hebrew in the second-person plural: dabru,or as we might say it back in Maryland, “y’all speak.” 
 
As he is likely to do, our friend Rashi notices the plural commandment and implicitly asks two questions: first, wasn’t Moshealready commanded to speak by himself in earlier chapters?  (He seems to have gotten over his complaint of being an awkward speaker.) If so, what does it mean that the two brothers were commanded to speak- does it mean they spoke together, or to each other, or one after the other? 
 
Rashi brings a beautiful midrash to explain the commandment that they both “speak to the whole community:” 
 
“[they] would apportion the honor between them, saying to each other, ‘you teach me,’ and the words would emerge from between them, and it was as if they both spoke.” 
 
It cannot be coincidental that this midrash occurs in the context of the first communal laws of the Torah, for the very essence of the Jewish tradition is learning through dialogue.  To me, Torah is best learned not from a book but in community, for in learning together we teach each other. Each one of us has a unique perspective, which arises out of our interests, inclinations, education and experiences, and your perspective is something I cannot learn if I learn Torah all alone. The words of Torah can be spiritual practices, moral teachings, stories which illuminate our lives or history which roots us deeply, but applying Torah to our lives is a team sport, as it were. The image of the “words emerging from between them” is a powerful reminder that to be Jewish is to live with others, and there find our best humanity. 
 
Shabbat Shalom, 
 
RNJL 
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