“This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months;
it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” (Exodus 12:2)
Parashat Bo brings the final two plagues, darkness and the slaying of the Egyptian first-born, which lead, finally, to the Israelites’ release from slavery. The parasha (portion) begins with God telling Moses the reason for hardening Pharoah’s heart and sending the plagues: “…and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians…” (Exodus 10:2). God is looking to trend on Twitter?
Bo makes an important statement about peoplehood. The Exodus from Egypt is the beginning of the Jewish people (as opposed to the Jewish families of Genesis). But if the event is to have enduring meaning, the story needs to be told over and over again across the generations, engraving it in the collective memory of the people. The point of all that story telling is so when people hear the familiar trope, “A long time ago, in a land far away…” they will already know what comes next, and they will know it is their story.
Obviously, there is more to Jewish life than just telling a story. But it’s also fair to say everything in Jewish life is just a reason to tell some part of that story. That’s because the rabbis of the classical period knew the power of stories. It is hard to connect emotionally to abstract concepts like freedom, justice, or monotheism. But those ideas, played out through the familiar characters of Moses, Pharoah, and God in the drama of Exodus? Goose bumps every time. If Jewish living and learning sit at the heart of the JCC, the Jewish story is the beat of that heart.