31 Jan/ 1 Feb: Bo : Shabbat comes in 4:33 pm, ends 5:39 pm
This week’s Torah portion opens partway through the narrative of the plagues. The opening lines, from which the parashah gets its title, are from God telling Moses to approach Pharaoh to bring about the plague of locusts.
Here is how that opening phrase is usually translated (Exodus 10:1):
‘And God said to Moses: “Go to Pharaoh…”’ The word translated ‘go’ is the title of the Torah portion: ‘Bo’. However, ‘bo’ does not easily translate to ‘go’. ‘Bo’ more precisely means ‘come’. The opening phrase should read: ‘And God said to Moses: “Come to Pharaoh…” ’ This may seem to be a small change in the language, but it shifts the meaning significantly. For if God tells Moses to ‘come’ to Pharaoh, it implies that God is there with Pharaoh – perhaps even in Pharaoh.
There is a Jewish concept that the spark of the Divine exists in all human beings. We were all made ‘b’tzelem Elokim’, in the image of God. How easy it is to see the Divine in the smiling faces of someone we love. How much more difficult it is to be reminded that the Divine also dwells in a man like Pharaoh.
I wonder what Moses thought when he heard God say ‘come to Pharaoh’. What difference might it have made to Moses’s mission, to know that he was also approaching God when he approached Pharaoh? What might change for us all, if when we were faced by someone we might despise, we reminded ourselves that it is possible to see the spark of the Divine in them?
‘Come to Pharaoh’ does not imply that Pharaoh is good, or that Pharaoh’s actions should be tolerated. But it should have implications for the way in which we approach Pharaoh. In this one small word, the Torah reminds us that we are charged to see the face of God in the places it is least comfortable for us to do so.
Rabbi Natasha Mann
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman