A parsha’s name usually comes from its first important word. Bo is the fourth word this week. This parsha starts, “The Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart … that you may recount to your [descendants] how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them — in order that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Genesis 10: 1-2)
The Conservative movement’s chumash, titled “Eitz Hayim,” proclaims on page 374, “the events of this parashah record the birth of the Israelite people.” So Happy Birthday to all of us!
Those events include the final three plagues, the first Passover seder, and Pharaoh’s concession (represented by Cecil B. DeMille words [not from Torah], in the film “The Ten Commandments,” as said by Yul Brynner): “Their God is God.”
“Bo” is an action verb. God tells Moses to act — to “go” to Pharaoh. Moses is the messenger; God is the author of the events to come.
Why such drama? Was this the right pathway? Absolutely. Drama was the right — might we say the only correct — call in this case.
Decades ago, I was a drama student, then teacher. Ancient Greek drama was a religious ceremony. The actors were priests and their goal was “the expurgatory of the emotions of pity and fear.” They wore masks (the
proper Greek name was persona) so as to generalize the emotional content to the audience (i.e., the congregation). The tragic flaw of the protagonist was thus exposed for all to see and to, subsequently, avoid.
Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. Why did God do this? Because God saw Pharaoh’s response to the ten plagues. Only after the third plague was Pharaoh’s heart hardened. Three strikes and you’re out. The tragic flaw was revealed. The witnessing congregations — the Israelites, the Egyptians and the other nations — saw and understood. Pharaoh did not.
In Bo, and throughout Exodus, God wears no mask. To the contrary, God unmasks Pharaoh. In this great confrontation between the “God who is God” and the declared god of Egypt, the God of Israel wins, hands down. Our God is God.
As a consequence, we can celebrate a birthday — the birth of the Israelite nation, later consecrated through the covenant at Sinai.
We pride ourselves in being a people over 3,500 years old. We take pride in the re-establishment of the State of Israel, as a 20th century sign of that heritage.
It is incumbent upon this generation — we who take pride in Israel as well as in America — to act. Bo, go to those who advocate for Israel, whether AIPAC or J Street, or others like them. Speak on behalf of peace. Let us all pray that the tragic flaws of our generation may be resolved in peace, that no more plagues shall endanger us.
May the One who established peace in the heavens, grant peace to us, to all Israel and to all humanity.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)