Parshat Bo

By Rabbi Elisheva Beyer, RN, MS, JD ’06

Leaving Mitzrayim: A Journey of a Lifetime

Parshat Bo is one of the most important of the weekly Torah portions because this section tells about G-d actually delivering the Israelites from Mitzrayim. We are commanded with an “eternal decree” to celebrate Passover. Also, we are told to see ourselves as leaving Mitzrayim. As it says in the Talmud, “In each and every generation one is to regard oneself as though he came out of Mitzrayim.” Pesachim 116b. Indeed, if we do so gladly, we have a share in the Next World. “Every person who joyfully tells about the Exodus from Mitzrayim is destined to rejoice with the Shechinah in the World to Come.” Zohar HaKadosh, Ra’aya Mehemna, Sec. 2, 40b. So, what exactly is Mitzrayim (letters mem-tzadi-resh-yud-mem)? Is it literally Egypt? Yes and no. What is known today geographically as Egypt is called Mitzrayim in Hebrew, as it was in the days of Moses, but it’s so much more. In looking at the root of the word, (letters mem-tzadi-resh) pronounced meitzar, means narrow pass, boundaries or distress. Another root of Mitzrayim is (letters tzadi-resh-resh), pronounced tzarar. As a verb, it means to bind or tie up, or to be restricted. As a noun or adjective, it means distress, narrow or tight. Since there are no vowels in the actual Torah, we can sometimes read the word in more than one way, giving it more than one meaning. For example, depending upon which vowels are used, it can be “from our enemy” or “from our narrow place” or even “from our distress.”

During our Passover seders, we celebrate leaving that tight, narrow, uncomfortable place. Does that mean that we have taken our passport and hopped a plane ride out of Egypt? We often look at it as a metaphor for the narrow places in life we leave behind. Thus, we see ourselves leaving those tight and narrow places of discomfort where we are a slave to our own concerns. We move away from “the enemy.” It’s a yearly opportunity to look at the lives we’ve created and leave behind that which is no longer of service to G-d. However, it’s more than a big Spring cleaning.

As a Jew, part of our work is to evolve our self: to keep growing and learning, especially Torah. The Sages tell us how important this work is that we do here in this world, noting that this world is like an entrance hall before the World to Come. They say, “Prepare yourself in the lobby (this world), that you may enter into the Palace (the World to Come).” Pirkei Avot 4:21. Ultimately, leaving Mitzrayim means doing the work in this lifetime which is a prerequisite to entering the Palace.

The commandment to tell the story of the Exodus is required annually at our seders, however, it is also required that we mention it daily in our prayers. How could one story be so powerful? Rabbi Nachum of Rishyn asked his students, “Do you know the rules of the game of checkers?…The first is that one must not make two moves at once. The second is that one may only move forward and not backward. And the third is that when one has reached the last row, one may move wherever one likes.” Martin Buber’s, “The Way Of Man.” p.24. Growing in the paths of Torah, we move forward. Once we make it to the last row, we are crowned by our life’s work and, G-d willing, achieve Exodus from Egypt.