No in Bo
BY AMY JOSEFA ARIEL
BO EXODUS 10:1 - 13:16
20 JANUARY 2018 / 4 SHEVAT 5778
God said to Moses, “Go again to the Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart so I may display My signs to the people. It is these signs which will enable you and the generations after you to recognize Me as your God. This is the story parents will pass down to their children and their children’s children. I will be known as the God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
God tells Moses to warn Pharaoh about the plague of locusts. Moses does, Pharaoh refuses to let the people go, and God sends the plague. Something new happens: Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “I have sinned against your God and you, Moses.” But still Pharaoh’s heart is hard, and there is no freedom. Then came the darkness. For three days the Egyptians were plagued by complete darkness. Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Your people may leave but do not take your animals.” Moses insisted, animals, too. “No!” shouted Pharaoh.
God explains that the last plague will make Pharaoh insist you leave. “Tonight at midnight I will go among the Egyptians and kill every first-born. Now no Hebrew first-born shall die if they follow My instructions exactly . . . . First, have all the Hebrews ask the Egyptians for their objects of gold and silver. They will give easily to you since they hold you in high esteem. Then, make sure every household has a lamb. These lambs are to be slaughtered as a community and then each family shall return to their home and place some lamb’s blood on each side of their doorposts. Then each family shall feast with roasted lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs.” And then God establishes the future observance of Passover.
After the death of the first born, Pharaoh indeed demanded Moses and the Jews leave Egypt. The Jews hurried from the land, carrying their unleavened dough before it could even rise into bread.
“Remember also,” Moses tells us throughout time, “to redeem every first-born, whether animal
or child, so that your children will ask, ‘what does this mean?’ Then you can answer to them, ‘It was with a mighty hand that God brought us out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage.'”
In Honor of my 3rd Grade Hebrew School Students
When I was about ten years old, Beth came over to play. I grew up on a farm, and she lived in town. On my farm, we had a pond. I used to love going swimming in that pond. On hot days it was a marvelous, if muddy, way to cool off. The day that Beth came over, it was hot. I really wanted to go for a swim.
“Hey, let’s go for a swim!” I said.
“Where?” Beth asked. “You don’t have a swimming pool, do you?”
“In the pond!” I explained.
“But, it’s so . . . muddy,” she said scrunching up her face.
“Sure is! Come on, it’ll be great!”
“But, I . . . didn’t bring a swimsuit,” she said.
“So what? We can swim in our clothes.”
“I . . . don’t want to get my clothes muddy,” she said.
“You can borrow some of mine,” I countered.
“ . . .” She didn’t say anything, but she did look at the ground.
“Come on!” I pushed. “It’ll be fun!”
Really fast she said, “I don’t think my mom would like it if I went swimming in a pond.”
“Why wouldn’t she? You go swimming other places.”
“Well, yeah, but . . . I don’t want to go swimming right now.” Beth looked angry.
I finally realized I wasn’t listening very well. I should have been hearing that Beth didn’t want to swim in our pond. When she said, “but it’s so muddy” and “I didn’t bring a swim suit” and when she looked at the ground and didn’t say anything at all, I should have heard her. In so many ways, Beth had been trying to say, “no.” By not hearing what she was trying to say, I was pretty much saying “no” right back. “No, I won’t listen” or “No, I don’t care how you feel or what you want.” I am so glad she kept saying she didn’t want to swim in different ways until I heard her.
“Okay,” I said. “You don’t want to go swimming right now. I wish you did, but you don’t. What do you want to do instead?”
“Well, you have a sprinkler, right? Could we run around in the sprinkler?”
“Great idea! That way we can still cool off, but no muddy pond!”
Once I heard that Beth was saying, “no” she didn’t want to swim in the pond I could ask her what she did want to do, and when we figured out what would be fun for both of us, we had a great day together.
We hear a lot of “nos” in the Torah right now, too, but first let’s back up a bit and remember what has been happening in Egypt.
Pharaoh and the Egyptians enslaved the Jewish people. They forced the Jewish people to work really hard in ways that hurt their bodies and their spirits, and Pharaoh ordered all of the Jewish baby boys drowned in the Nile. Moses was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the palace. When he grew up, he killed an Egyptian who was beating one of the Jewish people who was a slave and Moses had to run away from Egypt. Eventually, God sent him back to Egypt to reunite with his brother Aaron so they could go to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Jewish people go.
When Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh, they and all of the Jewish people were saying, “No, we will not be slaves anymore.” “No, we don’t want to be forced to work.” “No, we don’t want to be beaten and hurt.” “No, you may not be cruel to us.”
In the Torah portion last week, Va’era, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh SEVEN times to say “No, we will not be slaves” and to ask him to let our people go. Seven times they asked, and seven times, Pharaoh said “no” back to them. “No, we won’t be slaves, let us go.” God made the water turn into blood, and still Pharaoh responded, “no.” “No we won’t be beaten, let us go.” And God sent frogs. Pharaoh didn’t listen and just said, “No.” “Let us go,” we said. God sent lice. Pharaoh said, “No.” Flies. “No.” Sick farm animals. “No.” Boils. “No.” Thunderstorms of hail. Still ‘No.” “No, I don’t care that you want to be treated fairly or that you want to be free people.”
The “no” of the Jewish people was “No, we don’t want to be slaves.”
The “no” of Pharaoh was “No, I will not listen to you, I will not hear you.”
In this week’s parsha, Bo, we have two more plagues, locusts and darkness, two more “no I won’t listens,” before God sent the tenth plague – the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians. It’s so hard to think that Pharaoh was so stubborn and so mean that he wouldn’t listen to the Jewish people saying, “No, we don’t want to be slaves” until Egyptian people died.
Well, finally, after the tenth plague, Pharaoh stopped saying “no I won’t listen.” He finally heard, and he demanded that the Jews leave Egypt immediately. No waiting for the bread to rise. “Just. Get. Out.”
Really different from me and Beth, this Pharaoh was never a friend of the Jewish people, and we know for sure that what happened next was not everyone having a fun day.
From the story in this week’s Torah portion, and from Beth, we can learn that like Moses and Aaron and the Jewish people in Egypt, we can keep saying “No” in all the ways we need to until we are heard. We can call in back up – God was Moses and Aaron’s back up (pretty good back up!), Beth’s mom was her back up – if we need to. And we can remember not to be like Pharaoh. We can hear someone else’s “no” when they are telling us “I don’t want to go swimming” or “I don’t want to play basketball” or “I don’t want to watch that movie.”
And when we are friends and we listen to each other, we can still have a great day doing something fun.