Drash on Parashat Bo
Rabbi Aviva Kipen
Progressive Judaism Victoria
We are familiar with the imperative form of verbs from an earlier parasha, Lech Lecha (Gen 12:1-17:27 Plaut p91). “Lech - Go!” is the commanded form of the act of going, of walking. So the idea of its opposite in this week’s portion, “Bo – Come!” also in the imperative form, is a related pairing. Certainly T’NaKh is full of comings and goings.
With the preamble “vayomer Adonai el Avram” (p91), Avram is told to go from the threefold reassurance of his home. The Hebrew matches the form of the command enjoined upon Moshe this week, “Vayomer Adonai el Moshe -Then the Eternal One said to Moses” (Ex 10:1 Plaut p406). The plagues have been arriving to vex the Egyptians (the 2018 sedarim based on the outcome, are not so far away in our diaries.) But the translation in Plaut misses a Hebrew conundrum with which we are confronted in the next word of Bo.
Previously in Va’eira, Moshe is commanded (Ex 7:15 Plaut 385) “Lech el Par’oh – Go to Pharaoh”. No question: he is not with the king and is being sent towards him to impress God’s power with the snake display and thereafter to threaten the plague of blood. But after much shuttling to and fro, in this week’s sedra Plaut renders God’s instruction to Moshe “BO el par’oh – come to Pharaoh” as “Go.” Apart from dismissing the transposition of come bo and go lech as an ancient copyist’s error, where then was Moshe? As a piece of stage direction it seems confusing. Did Moshe enjoy princely entitlements that meant he could come into the court without summons? (Echoes of Queen Esther’s risk in the court of Achashverosh remind us that royal protocol requires proper arrangements for access.)
Which is the correct perspective? If you were directing the humans in a reenactment, how would you handle the character of The Spirit of God in a staged depiction of the story? If God were a cast member in the drama, where would The Divine be standing as the opening scene of Bo begins? God has hardened the heart of the Pharaoh and will continue to do so. Moshe had been advised of this prospect in Va’eira and God’s warning was palpable for him and Aharon.
As the plagues and portents have been unfolding, who is being tested here? Are Moshe’s patience and courage lagging? If Pharaoh’s heart has been made heavier and heavier by God, then whose resolve is under greater scrutiny? Is it Moshe? Might God’s stage presence lurk just behind the throne, facing Moshe, coaxing despite what he has been warned will be a visible worldly failure, so that God’s other-worldly power will be of impact? Is God testing Moshe’s resolve in the face of a temporarily hopeless task, so that his resolve will inspire God’s people (both Hebrews and the multitude who leave with them) to scramble despite their great terror when the final plague has hit?Plaut’s translation invites us to wonder how we sometimes gloss over the details of the Hebrew text. It also invites us to be critical enough of our own readings not to miss the subtleties of God’s place in our complex narratives. Where we stand in relation to God’s place in our lives may determine whether we stay or go in the face of life challenges, seeming failures and short-term errors. If God’s place in each of our current stories seems hard to find, ask ‘Am I coming towards or walking away from a challenge that seems overwhelming?’ Life will bring challenge. Let it COME! Let’s GO and meet it, come what may.
© Aviva Kipen 2018