“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.

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