Updated: Feb 7
January 27, 2023 - 5th of Sh'vat 5783 - Parashat Bo 5783 / פָּרָשַׁת בֹּא
Dear Beit Rabban Community,
We have shared some wonderful communal experiences over the last two weeks, including an MLK Day celebratory tefillah, the second grade Torah Reading Ceremony, and the first grade Siddur Celebration. At each of these events and rites of passage, we make sure to name the experiences and steps that stewarded us to the celebratory moment. Before our second graders stepped up one by one to read from the Torah scroll and later to receive their first chumashim, we paused to remember and list the many steps it took to arrive at this achievement and all the people who supported our new Torah readers on their journeys. Before we started tefillah at the first grade Siddur Celebration, we made sure to reflect on the history of Jewish prayer, to remember that our siddurim include prayers from the text of the Torah, from the time of the Beit HaMikdash, and even from modern-day paytanim/ot. At the MLK Day Community Tefillah, we honored the memory and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and his partners in the civil rights movement, and we also took the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of remembering that we were an enslaved people and therefore must fight the oppression of others. All this remembering anchors us in the trajectory of Jewish history and helps us understand that our memories obligate.
In this week’s parashah, Parashat Bo, God explains to Moshe and Aharon that God has hardened Pharaoh’s heart for a reason, וּלְמַ֡עַן תְּסַפֵּר֩ בְּאׇזְנֵ֨י בִנְךָ֜ וּבֶן־בִּנְךָ֗, “so that you may recount in the hearing of your child and of your child’s child.” By hardening Pharoah’s heart, God lengthened the process of the exodus from Egypt, adding more and more grand plagues, thereby both extending the Israelite’s enslavement and compounding the Egyptian people’s suffering. God is so very committed to the Jewish people remembering, that God invests with great costs in crafting the most memorable of moments. And the parasha goes on to instruct us to tell our children about this experience in an almost obsessive way. Indeed, the Torah frequently reminds us of our obligation to remember our history and to let that memory guide our values going forward for generations to come. In Loving the Stranger, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z’l, reflects on the critical importance of memory in guiding our behaviors. He writes “It is as if the Torah were saying with the utmost clarity: reason is insufficient. Sympathy is inadequate. Only the force of history and memory is strong enough to form a counterweight to hate.” Our collective memory and shared history are what shape our identity and our behavior as a people, which is why are meant to share it with our progeny.
This morning I joined kindergarten and their families for a culmination of their school study. The children spent the last few months learning about Beit Rabban, studying other schools near and far, and eventually designing their own schools. The culmination opened with a short text study of the Talmudic passage from which we derive our school’s name “the world is sustained only by the breath of the young children from the house of study.” Everyone turned to their neighbor for a short chevrutah and then shared their ideas on the meaning of this passage. Listening to children interpret a passage that describes the Talmud’s view of their role in the world was quite inspiring. Many of them said that they think the text means that kids need to learn because they otherwise will not know what to do when they are adults, and then no one will be able to take care of the world! I listened and thought about how I hope our children remember their insights from this morning and that it guides them in the future just as it guides us today.
It is a beautiful and heavy responsibility to raise our children to remember for the purpose of carrying forward our values in their behaviors as individuals and as Jews. We sometimes intensively curate these memorable moments to inspire and influence them, and other times we pause to ensure that they contextualize their memorable moments in our collective history and future. Still other times, we go about our communal experiences and celebrations and they are the ones to pause and remind us what it is all about.
Wishing all a relaxing and rejuvenating Shabbat,