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Parashat Bo

01/31/2020 03:32:45 PM


        Shabbat Shalom. This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Bo, in which we read the three final, terrible plagues of Egypt. This parasha is not for the faint hearted, as we read about locust destruction so thorough even the kosher critters couldn’t feed Egypt after they consumed all the crops; a darkness so intense the eye could not adjust and people were afraid to move; and finally the death of the first-born sons of Egypt.

          Typically, when we talk about the final plague of Egypt and the blood on the doorposts that gives our Passover holiday its name, we are speak of the Angel of Death. Yet, in reading the commentaries this week, it was made clear that God did this terrible deed alone. The Torah tells us, “For that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and I will mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt, I the LORD.” Rashi quotes Tobiah ben Eliezer, a near-contemporary midrashist of his to clarify, “I, myself, and not by means of a messenger.” Sforno offers that God must be the one to execute this judgment due to the fact that God alone can discern who is truly the first issue of his mother’s womb. Even the traditional liturgy of the Haggadah, which we read every year and should inform how we think of and discuss the Passover story, says: “I will pass”—I, and no angel; “I will strike”—I, and no seraph; “I will mete out punishment”—I, and no messenger; “I am G‑d”—I am HaShem, and no other.

           Although there are other times when God does send angels to do the dirty work - Sodom and Gemorrah, for example - it seems that for this defining moment of the Israelite people, God must take charge and be the one to carry out this ruling. There are times when delegation is appropriate and times when we have to fulfill our own tasks, no matter how distasteful. In fact, I think it is precisely when the task is most unpleasant that the time comes for us to step up and just do it ourselves. This is what we are seeing in this week’s Torah reading. Only God can measure out the proper punishment, to discern who needs to be killed and who is exempt. Only God can take responsibility for this moment that will define the Israelite and Jewish religion and culture for the next 3000 years. This is a serious task that must be done by the Highest Being, and none of the other lesser Divine beings.

        What are the tasks you have been putting off, have thought about trying to delegate, that you may need to tackle on your own? For me, I pass off to Philip almost any task that requires technological knowledge or having to call a customer service line. I’m not likely to step up to the task of making my own phone calls, because they cause me more stress than they’re really worth. But perhaps it is time I learn how to use my own computer beyond accessing gmail, Word, and my three go-to video games. This is a trivial example, of course, but you get the idea. I’m sure if you really dig down, you could think of better examples of difficult tasks you know you need to do yourself. Remember that there’s no time like the present. Distasteful tasks don’t get easier with time; procrastinating often makes them worse or at least more stressful. Trying to get someone else to accomplish them adds to the likelihood of something going wrong, miscommunications causing the issue to worsen as well. Whether it’s laying off an employee, making a difficult phone call, or making difficult choices regarding your health or the health of someone you love, be sure to take the time necessary to scrutinize and discern, to achieve the desired goal precisely, and then muster the courage and act with confidence.

          May each of us find ourselves able to judge clearly and righteously, and accomplish our goals with sensitivity and strength. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.



Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780