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In this parasha, the Jews actually leave Egypt! First we have the final plagues, including the death of the first born, and an announcement that the children of Israel should leave Egypt having sacrificed a lamb, and that these events should be remembered in all generations. The children of Israel finally leave and God describes the details of how the Passover should be commemorated.

Another voice

Bo by Helena Miller :: 5768

Helena Miller is the Director of Research, Evaluation and Community Israel Engagement at UJIA and is immediate past co-chair of Limmud International.

If ever there was a verse in Torah that emphasizes the importance of educating our children for the future of Judaism, it can be found in this week's sedra. After afflicting Egypt with seven terrible plagues, the sedra opens with God, once again, sending Moses and his brother Aaron to Pharoah. This time, a devastating plague of locusts is threatened. Pharoah's advisors counsel him: "Let the men go - don't you yet realize that Egypt is lost?" (Exodus 10:7). Pharoah calls Moses and Aaron back and appears to be relenting. He agrees that the Jews can leave to serve their God, but before he can give the final approval he asks exactly who is going. "We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters" (Exodus 10:9). With these words, Moses proclaims to Pharoah and to all subsequent generations, that for the Jewish people, religious service includes our children.

Pharoah says "no" and tells Moses to leave the children behind. He knows that without the children, the Israelites have no chance of religious survival beyond the present generation. Moses refuses, and as we know, locusts and two further appalling plagues are visited upon the Egyptians before all the Israelites are permitted to leave Egypt.

Muskin (2000) comments that Moses understood that if you leave children outside the religious experience, then Jewish heritage is jeopardised. This resonates directly with the modern Diaspora experience. As the generations became more distant from the strong Jewish family lifestyles of nineteenth century Eastern Europe, assimilation became the prevailing trend (Alderman 1999). Many efforts in the last twenty five years have sought to redress that balance; the increase in Jewish day school provision, attempts to invigorate the chedarim, Youth Movement activities, resources and initiatives to tempt young people to participate in Shabbat and festival synagogue events and services.

We know from initiatives from the 1980s and beyond how crucial participation is in Jewish life of the whole family. Jewish family education and programming, where parents and children learn together and in parallel, is key to making a Jewish home and raising a Jewish child. Schein (2007) describes successful family education as inspiration and support for "the Jewish journeys of our families".

The ultimate Jewish family learning experience has its origins in this week's sedra, and that is, of course, the annual seder, the re-telling of the Exodus from Egypt at the beginning of Pesach. The dramatic story, told in answer to the four questions traditionally asked by the youngest present, is meant to capture the attention of young people. In this week's sedra, we find three out of the four questions asked at the seder. How many of us have sat through sedarim in our own youth that seemed entirely focused on the adults at the table? There is no excuse for that today! Many, many interactive Haggadot have been published and an array of creative activities and ideas exists for livening up your seder, and making it meaningful for the whole family.

So, in this week's sedra we have a contemporary blueprint for the future of Judaism: bring children into the Jewish experience, educate the whole family, and make the educative process interactive. Sounds like a year-round Limmud conference...


More by Helena Miller

Another voice by Natalie Grazin

As we emerge from the UK's "festive season", during which I once again avoided Christmas by taking refuge at Limmud Conference, the issue of time is in my mind. It's fascinating to observe how Diaspora Jews operate simultaneously in two separate timeframes, with the secular calendar and Jewish calendar both strongly shaping the rhythms and patterns of our lives. It's a profoundly different experience from the greater coherence of the Israeli experience.

The first of the many commandments contained within Parshat Bo is the instruction to observe Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon. During the Greek occupation of the land of Israel that culminated in the miracle of Chanukah, observing Rosh Chodesh was one of only three commandments whose observance was prohibited, the two others being keeping Shabbat and performing circumcision. Why was Rosh Chodesh given such prominence?

Rosh Chodesh is the cornerstone of the entire Jewish calendar. Unless the new start of each new month is correctly identified and proclaimed, there can be no festivals, no progression of the Jewish year. Without Rosh Chodesh, our dual timeframe, which so oddly but strongly runs through our engagement with the world, would come to a halt. The Greeks understood how powerful "Jewish time" is in maintaining our unique identity.

Moreover, Rosh Chodesh symbolises renewal, the ability of something seemingly vanished to re-emerge, to grow and to brighten up the earth. At this dark time of the year, the neglected mitzvah of marking Rosh Chodesh makes us think about our inner Jewish clocks and helps us to count the time until Pesach - the time of the first Rosh Chodesh, as told in this week's parsha - can arrive.


More by Natalie Grazin

Other Divrei Torah on Bo

  • 5766 (Viva Hammer)
  • 5766 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5767 (Shlomit Naor)
  • 5767 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5769 (Colin Bulka)
  • 5769 (Lucinda Glasser)
  • 5770 (Danny Burkeman)
  • 5770 (Emma Sevitt)
  • 5771 (Jeremy Stowe-Lindner)
  • 5771 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5772 (Michael Rosenfeld)
  • 5772 (Eleanor Green)
  • 5773 (Dan Glass)
  • 5774 (Rachel Montagu)
  • 5775 (Michal Kohane)
  • 5775 (Taste of Limmud Team)