THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“This day you shall go forth, in the month of Aviv” Exodus 13:4
READING through Parashat Bo, almost every verse cries out with questions to answer (Why does God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Who were the mixed multitude who left with the Israelites?) or prompts six different memories of Seder meals.
In Bo we have the second half of the plagues and the defeat of Pharaoh as he sends the Israelites on their way. The story goes back and forth between the Exodus and the commands of how we should commemorate and re-enact Pesach; rich, enthralling, horrifying narratives.
The verse above might not be the most obvious one to choose. It jumped out at me because it is translated in several places as “this is the day you shall go free”, though the Hebrew has more to do with leaving or going out. Perhaps the translation of freedom is an attempt to remind us of the meaning underneath this hasty exit from Egypt.
It is easy to forget that freedom is at the root of Pesach – after manic deep cleans, 17 trips to the shops in four days, and cooking more eggs than we’d eat in the rest of the year, it can feel more like enslavement. Perhaps the reality should place us somewhere between freedom and slavery. Although the Exodus freed us from Egyptian slavery, it was not freeing us to do whatever we chose whenever we wanted to. Pesach is tethered to Shavuot seven weeks later because we are freed to a task — to Torah. Freedom has to be regulated by responsibility.
Perhaps this is what we should carry with us whenever we go out anywhere, let alone beginning an intrepid journey. We are hugely blessed with what freedom we have, but that must be married to responsibility, for our own sakes and for the sake of the collective.