Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: Bo



   
             
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To Shine and Reflect

By Michael Chessen

The reading of Bo formally introduces the commandments or "halacha". We need to here stress the term "formally" because whereas the book of Genesis does not codify halacha, it does provide us with much spiritually exemplary "halicha", showing us how to best navigate life's path in the service of the interests of both man and God.

It is most interesting to note however, that when the Torah finally begins to present detailed commandments, it does not do so in a strictly legalistic context, but rather in the very midst of one of the Torah's most compelling narratives, namely the Exodus from Egypt.

While the rational behind the commandments is not always given to the limitations of human understanding, explanation of the commandments involving the celebration of Passover is perhaps a bit more accessible to our reasoning faculties by virtue of their placement in the context of the narrative of the events of the Exodus. Indeed, the very nature of our Passover Seder is one which invites one's mouth to talk(peh-sach) at great length in speculation of the significance of the Passover commandments, whose observance demonstrates that our liberation was not to be merely "free", but to disseminate holiness among the nations as servants of God.

It is the sanctification of the new moon, however, as the Torah's first codified commandment, that seems to steal our reading's spotlight. This is not merely because of "firstness", but because the moon is both functionally and symbolically linked to the essence of the Jewish people as the only source of light in the blackness of night(and the appearance of the commandments in turn began to spiritually illuminate the darkness of Egyptian bondage). In addition, while the Egyptians were plunged into darkness only because of the absence of light, "all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings"(Exodus 10:23). While Egypt's worship of the sun made for an "all or nothing" proposition, a choice between the pinnacle of the civilized world and utter desolation, the Jewish people's newly received commandment to search for and sanctify that initial sliver of light in the darkness led them to merit genuine illumination.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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