Drash on Parashat Bo 2017

Max Jared Einsohn
Temple Beth Israel
St Kilda, VIC

 

For those who may not know me, my name is Max Jared Einsohn. Last year I finished a Masters in Jewish Education from HUC-JIR, and have just completed my first summer as Education and Engagement Coordinator for TBI in Melbourne. Though I have been to Australia many times before, this is my first time as a resident of Melbourne, and my first time offering words of Torah in my new role, and I truly feel honoured.

Amongst the many firsts, this summer I had the opportunity to go to my first Netzer Camp and meet with Bogrim (young leaders) who recently returned from Israel. Their enthusiasm for living Jewish life was palpable, and their world seemed as bright as the summer days that we spent outside with the chanichim (campers).

Yet, as I kept meeting with these young leaders from different communities, different synagogues, and different backgrounds, I found that they all asked me the same question. I was surprised to hear them enquire “why does it appear that our Progressive Day Schools, Youth Movements, Supplemental Education Programs, and Prayer Communities are not united?” Each of them expressed a feeling that, though we all call ourselves Progressive Jews, we seem to be in competition with each other, rather than in community with each other. It appeared that even in the brightness of summer, that they feel that we are obscured or distanced from one another.

Our conversations made me think of this week’s Torah portion, Bo, where “Moses raised his hand toward heaven and there was a great darkness in all the land of Egypt ... people did not see their fellow and no one could rise from where they were seated” (Exodus 10:22-23). The penultimate plague of darkness is real in the Biblical text. It meant that the Israelites were alone and frightened.Confronted by the reality of the darkness, our ancestors chose to take advantage of that darkness to take what they thought was theirs. But today, we may understand darkness as a metaphor.

Here in sunny Melbourne, darkness is difficult for us to imagine, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t darkness in our lives and in our communities. We are so often busy taking care of ourselves, our synagogues and our organisations, that sometimes we create darkness. Sometimes we feel like the Israelites in Egypt:  fixed, stuck, and unable to rise from our seats” (Exodus 10:23).

Exodus 10:23 states: “And people did not see their fellow” - teaching us that not only were our ancestors not able to physically see each other, but that they were not considering each other, or “taking to heart how much they can learn from the people around them.” [1] Thus, “no person could rise from where he was seated” (Exodus 10:23), meaning that nobody could increase their knowledge, spiritual connection, or grow in any significant way.

While reading our Torah I found myself wondering what took Moses and the Israelite people so long to get out of such a horrible place. Could it be that our people, the Israelites, soon-to-be-former Egyptian slaves, were not ready to leave Egypt? Could it be that the horrible plagues were not upon Pharaoh or the Egyptians, but for us, to force us to unite as one so that we might leave in the mass Exodus? An evacuation of a few Israelites may not have been worthy of writing down… but the mass evacuation of millions of people? That is a story of a united people that can make an impact.

We need to learn the lessons of Torah and stop judging and questioning that which others have and that which we don't have. We need to pull down the shades that bring darkness into our lives, open ourselves and our organisations, and bring light into our community. Only when our focus is the concern for the other, will we revel in the light of our communal success.

This week’s parashah offers words that teach us that by not seeking to learn each other’s respective wisdom, we are all left living in a metaphoric darkness. We must share our brightness with each other, united as one. We must find ways to better support each other, learn from each other, and share the space in people’s lives together.

So, how do we respond to darkness? We must pull down the dividers that we've created. Netzer is a perfect example of the natural conduits that run between us. Netzer is one of the places in which we can come together, but there is so much more we must do. As we go into a new year of learning and growth, I pray that we are aware of the light and wisdom in each other, and focus on uniting our communities so we can leave the darkness. Shabbat Shalom.

 

[1] Green, Arthur. Speaking Torah. Volume 1. Pg. 184

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