Vaera and Bo — Sanctify freedom

by | Dec 6, 2013 | Torah Thought

The two consecutive Parshiyot in the Book of Exodus (Sefer Shemot) of Vaera and Bo serve as the most dramatic setting for a contest between two contenders for the divine title. Moses represents the unseen God of Freedom of the enslaved Israelites. In opposition stands Pharaoh, a totalitarian ruler who is considered by his Egyptian subject and himself, to be a God. Is the outcome in doubt?

However, the God of Moses while invoking the ancestral bond is saddled with the formidable task of convincing both uncertain Moses and the devastated Israelites, that menacing Pharaoh is only a human being with clay feet; that he is no match for the One whose values and ideals are radically different from the one who has terrorized them for so long. God is set to teach the Egyptians and Israelites enduring lessons in spite and because of the human proclivity to resist God’s call for individual and communal transformation.

Moses, raised in Pharaoh’s palace as an Egyptian prince, struggles like Joseph before him to recapture his very early Hebrew identity. Unlike Joseph, it would endanger his life and deprive him of a most privileged status. For both Joseph and Moses, it is human misery of brothers that draws them back to their Hebrew roots, and shared fate. In time, Moses would be enshrined, far beyond any Pharaoh’s fame, as Israel’s and humanity’s paradigmatic leader, liberator and lawgiver. The rabbis would bestow upon him the most coveted title of “Moshe Rabbenu,” “Moses our Rabbi,” reflecting their own preferred emphasis on instruction and learning as vehicles for sacred growth and change. Moses was destined not to be the architect of confining pyramids of death, but of liberating principles of life through a towering Torah of ennobling teachings and tradition.

Ironically, God’s stubborn yet successful attempt to draw reluctant hero Moses to his assigned sacred mission, helping him to overcome objections from within and without, is reminiscent of Moses’ own challenge. Moses recruits his exhausted and doubtful people to follow him in a mighty endeavor that will persist throughout his lifetime.

The saga of the Exodus has loomed large in Jewish memory, empowering us to persevere throughout history’s enslavements and in the process to inspire humanity to believe in its obligation to overthrow tyranny and sanctify freedom, which is both a divine gift and a birthright. Our awesome journey from Egypt’s (Mitzrayim’s) constricting House of Bondage—physically, spiritually and psychologically—toward the enabling promise of the Promised Land will always be a fulfilled reality, as well as a lingering quest.

—Rabbi Dr. Israel Zoberman, Congregation Beth Chaverim.