JUDAISM AS A CONVERSATION
Welcome to the conversation.
Moshe: I don’t want to go.
God: But you have to go. If the people can be gone from here, you have to go.
So Moshe went to Pharaoh who turned him down—again.
Does this sound familiar? Which part?
I don’t want to go, or you have to go.
But first the Torah. Bo is the first word of God’s commandment to Moshe. The entire sentence reads:
Then God said to Moshe, “GO to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and of your son’s sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know I am God.”
And then “Let my people GO so that they may worship me.”
And so, Moshe went to Pharaoh, for the eighth time, and Pharaoh refused when Moshe upped his request on who should go with him. When Pharaoh refused he said, “GO and worship your God but they stay here as surely you are bent on mischief.
From then on—until the last plague that God had told Moshe would indeed change Pharaoh’s mind—the bantering continued. Through locusts and darkness and finally the death of the first born. Each time until the last when Pharaoh asked who Moshe wanted to take with him, and Moshe kept to his goal of removing all people and animals it wasn’t until the threat of the last, the killing of the first born sons that Pharaoh told them to be gone.
A breathless journey with supplies quickly gathered and questionable valuables (possibly reparations) and food they are off into the desert and so many stories and undoubtedly family sagas as the formally captured slaves are suddenly free.
Because they could GO as God had told them he must.
When we read or listen carefully, we know the end because God told Moshe the people would be freed by the last plague. Perhaps we didn’t know it when we first read it or had it read to us when we were first engaged in the study of Torah. Perhaps we didn’t even begin to think about how it might relate to us as we became adults, parents, bosses, or all of those who give requests/orders to move on and push forward. We may think we know what is right, but isn’t there always a chance that we have been misdirected?
Now I know that it depends on who is telling us to GO and how the directions are told. This conversation, whether you believe it or not, is very familiar to us. We are told in this section that God is telling Moshe that he has to continue the fight to free the people. How disheartened must Moshe be or for that matter must God be. So he says, with tough love, and no secret that he will be refused again for God has hardened Pharaoh’s heart but only for two more times. We cannot skip ahead, we must continue the bartering and then we must see the final exacting punishment. The conversation continues.
How many times have all of us convinced someone, or tried to convince them, they have to continue to GO even when they don’t want to - because it is the right thing to do? Finish the course, take the next step, don’t fall back even if you want to. Chances are this conversation is not with God, but comes from the learning, the education that has been planted within us. God reminds Moshe that one of the reasons he must do these things is so he can tell his children, and his children’s children what happened. This is a continual lesson in Torah, to teach our children and our children’s children to do the right thing by doing it ourselves. So the conversation is internal, as well.
If you believe in coincidences, when I opened my traveling Tanakh, Etz Hayim, tucked into many of its pages are Post-It notes, pictures of adorable grandchildren, airline tickets and things I use for bookmarks. This time, placed into the portion of today’s writing was a letter that was written to me on January 13, 1994, carefully folded and yellowed with age and love. It was a letter from my dad that starts:
“Dear Mar, etc. along with all the other names I’ve called you.”
He then goes on to recall that he hasn’t written to me since my early University days and he didn’t know how to start or how to say what pride, nachas, he felt for all that his children have done. In capital letters, he writes loud and clear.
“MY KIDS ARE HAPPY RAISING A FAMILY ON THEIR OWN WITHOUT SEEKING HELP AND KEEPING WITH THE JEWISH TRADITION.” Being the wonderful funny man that he was he said he would take all the credit along with mommy who was a good stage mother.
I know we had those conversations I mentioned before, the bantering of making us do things we did not want to do because it was the right thing to do. Nothing as dramatic as Moshe, God, and the Pharaoh, but in my kid brain just as difficult. I remember the instances as my dad recalled to me in parts of the letter and of their encouragement. He claimed he seldom told me he loved me and perhaps in words he did not. But he did in so many things including telling us to do the right things. He closed this letter, yellowed with age and experience, with this, as I will close this writing because it matches the dialogue with Moshe and Adonai.
“Our love of you and family and what you have accomplished means that our investment paid off. We love U and don’t U forget it. Pop”
In Torah talk, we might say that God loves God’s people and what they could accomplish if they stay on the path and do what is right. We should not forget that.