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Parashat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)

“Now the Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not heed you,
in order that My marvels may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 11:9)

A short exchange between Pharaoh and Moses in Parashat Bo offers a profound vision of Jewish communal life. When Moses warns Pharaoh locusts will descend upon Egypt (plague #7), the royal advisors realize all is lost and admonish Pharaoh (Ex. 10:7). Pharaoh appears ready to capitulate, but before allowing the Israelites to go into the desert to worship God, he asks Moses, “…But who are the ones who will go? (Ex. 10:8).

Nachmanides (1194 – 1270; 13th century Spanish commentator) explains: Pharaoh expects Moses to list the leaders of the community. In Pharaoh’s world view, only the elite are entitled to participate in such a significant religious event. But Moses responds, “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, with our sheep and with our cattle…” (Ex. 10:9). There is no “1%” for the Israelites and Moses will not compromise on a “No Israelite Left Behind” vision of community. So Pharaoh refuses and the locusts descend, destroying Egypt’s agricultural economy.

This vision of a 100% inclusive community appears again in the instructions for pesach mitzrayim, the paschal sacrifice ritual. Each household must sacrifice and consume a lamb. If the household is too small, it shall combine forces with another (Ex. 12:4). Thus, each household is obligated to assist its neighbor to ensure the entire community celebrates together. Steve Engel (Executive Director, Tamarack Camps) reflecting on Parashat Bo’s ideal vision of community, challenges today’s Jewish communal leaders by wondering what it would take for them to respond as Moses did, and, “only move forward if our entire community is included.” Halevai (it should only happen)!

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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