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

“Take even your sheep and even your cattle,
as you have spoken, and go—and bless me, as well!” (Exodus 12:32)

Parashat Bo is about awesome and majestic power: God sends the last three plagues (locusts, darkness, and the death of the first-born), which finally break Pharaoh’s spirit so he frees the Israelites to worship God.

But Bo also tells a story about up-close and personal power. After Moses warns Pharaoh for the last time, God tells Moses, ”This month shall be lachem, for you, the beginning of the months, it shall be lachem, for you, the first of the months of the year.” (Exodus 12:2) This is the first commandment given to the Israelites as a people. Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (~1470–~1550; Italian commentator and physician) notices lachem appears twice, indicating a new relationship to time. Because they are no longer slaves, the Israelites regain control their time; that’s why the first commandment is to celebrate time. So God ordains Jewish holidays and specifies their dates, but the rabbinical court sets the calendar (controlling time) and determines when they are observed (except for Shabbat). Being Jewish means being pre-occupied with time. Time unites the Jewish people.

Time is a unique commodity because it can never be renewed, replaced, or re-acquired. The fast pace of modern life creates a relentless pressure to make the best use of time. But the things we do “in the interest of time” are not necessarily in our own personal best interests. Rabbi Abraham Twerski (1930-; American chassidic rabbi and psychiatrist) suggests the second appearance of lachem is a reminder to remain the master of your time and not become a slave to it.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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