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

“Pharaoh hurriedly summoned Moses and Aaron and said,
‘I stand guilty before the Lord your God and before you.’” (Exodus 10:16)

The war of wills between God and Pharaoh continues in Parashat Bo, with the plagues of locusts and darkness. Then God informs Moses of the awful final plague: the death of the firstborn. But God interrupts the narrative before sending the plague to give detailed instructions for two rituals: pesach mitzrayim, the paschal sacrifice, a one-time only event for the Israelites about to be freed, and chag hamatzot, the holiday of matzah, to be observed in all generations.

Parashat Bo specifies (with regard to the paschal sacrifice), “Each of them shall take a lamb according to beit avotam, their parental home, a lamb for a household” (Ex. 12:3). Later, however, it states, “The whole community of Israel shall offer it” (Ex. 12:47). So, is the pesach sacrifice a private home ritual or a public communal ritual?

The m’chilta (~1st Century CE; rabbinic interpretation of the book of Exodus) highlights the connection between the family and community: while the original pesach mitzrayim was a private family ritual, in the future, when every family observes the ritual (in memory of the original event), it becomes, by definition, a community ritual.

Rabbi Shelly Marder (Rabbi and Department Head of Jewish Life at the Jewish Home of San Francisco) puts an additional twist on the m’chilta’s perspective: 21st century families comprise many configurations beyond the historic definition of mother, father, and biological children sitting around the table. And there are people who, for whatever reason, don’t fit into any family configuration. The community is obligated to make a place for each person, thereby becoming a family and fulfilling both verses.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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