The Familiar and The Unknown

Rav Ori Lifshitz • 2018

The dialogue between Moshe and Pharaoh regarding ‘Hag Hashem’ (the festival of the Lord), is extremely relevant to our religious life.



Our parasha, Parashat Bo, primarily deals with the exodus. Additionally many halachot dealing with the Pesach seder and Pesach itself are to be found here. Along with this, we find in the dialogue between Moshe and Pharaoh two points relevant to our religious life, to our Avodat Hashem.

This first point deals with the centrality of the family in our religious life. As the Parasha begins, after the warning over the plague of the Locusts, Pharaoh offers to Moshe and Aharon to allow only the men to leave: ‘לכו נא הגברים ועבדו את ה’ - You menfolk go and worship the Lord’ (Shemot 10:11). Pharaoh holds that Avodat Hashem can be performed only by men, he sees them as the natural and only partners to religious rituals. Yet Moshe and Aharon see things differently. For them, Hag Hashem (the festival of the Lord) demands all the people, ‘בנערינו ובזקנינו נלך, בבנינו ובבנותנו… - We will go with our young and with our old’ (Shemot 10:9). For them, Avodat Hashem cannot only be secluded to the male gender. Rather, it by its very nature demands all the people. The religious experience, one whose nature is whole and festive, demands for the communal - children and elders, men and women; all are called upon. So, too, in our days we should consider the Avodat Hashem as portrayed by Moshe. It is an Avodah that grows far beyond generations, genders and social features, demanding religious festivity - communal joy and intimate family warmth.

The second point is once again brought up by Pharaoh. He goes back on his demand that only the men should be allowed to leave, yet he brings up another condition. You can take the children, he says, yet ‘רק צאנכם ובקרכם השאירו במצרים - only let your flocks and your herds shall remain behind’ (Shemot 10:24). This proposition is also refused by Moshe. Yet, this time he brings a different reasoning: ‘גם מקננו ילך עמנו… ואנחנו לֹא נדע מה נעבד את ה’ עד באנו שמה - Our cattle also shall go with us… for we know not with what we must serve the Lord, until we come thither’ (Shemot 10:26). Moshe seems to be unaware over what Hashem will demand the people to offer Him, forcing them to take the herds along as potential offerings. Yet here, too, we find an important message relevant to our Avodat Hashem. The religious experience can never be an expected experience; it will always be one that ‘we know not with what we must serve the Lord, until we come thither’. There is an aspect of astonishment, of an occurrence that cannot possibly have an earlier description, of liveliness. Today’s Oved Hashem should strive to reach the condition of the unknown, ‘until we come thither’. Religious inspiration ties itself to this unknown dimension. Even if one has, over the years, experienced many religious practices, still, he shall learn - as Moshe did - the ability to ‘not-know’, the ability to allow the occurrences to occur.


The Sefat Emet brings up another point of view:

At the Exodus, Bnei Israel became a whole new creation… Therefore, it is written ‘I am the Lord, thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt’ (Shemot 20:2). ‘Who brought thee out’ and not ‘who created thee’, Because this is more central than the creation. And in truth, this itself is the desire, that the Exodus will be the foremost and primary Hidoush (innovation) for Bnei Israel - it being the purpose - while the creation’s Hidoush being comparatively minor.

The renewal, the ability to ‘become a whole new creation’, is higher than the first creation. Israel are blessed for God took them out of Egypt (and renewed their spirit), not for the fact that He created them. The ability to be renewed and to change, demands much strength and generates more ovation than the creation of a thing that did not exist beforehand. It demands devotion and readiness to relinquish the already existing and typical, the everyday that we so cherish. We must leave it for an unknown desert - one of freedom and pursuit, an area where the challenges are many - yet still holding the belief that one can be renewed, that there is a destination and a purpose, that there is life, happiness and belief.


These two focus points - family festivity and the ability to go to the ‘unknown’, to the new ‘location’ -we may internalize already now, two months before Pesach.

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