Parshat Bo, Exodus 10:1-13:16
We get to the heart of the matter in the second verse of our Parsha, Bo. Moses and Aaron are instructed to go before Pharaoh even though God will harden his heart to their plea. The plagues will continue until the will of Pharaoh is broken and our people go free with signs and wonders that defy the imagination.
“… that you may tell in the ears of your son, and of your son’s son, what I have wrought upon Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them; that you may know that I am God.” (Exodus 10.2)
The Torah portion gives us incredible drama: The titanic clash of wills between Moses and Pharaoh, the unspeakable devastation wrought upon the Egyptians as well as our people’s mass movement to freedom. But it never loses sight of the point of it all, which is to share the story with our children so that they will know God and believe.
This is the essence of the Passover holiday that Torah commands us to observe. We are commanded to teach our children so that we never forget, even when we are blessed with material well-being.
The greatness of our people is not bound up in any building. Not for us the Parthenon, the Coliseum or the Great Wall of China. No, our people’s greatness is in the words of our story, a story we will tell our daughters and sons forever.
Stories outlast stone. At least they should.
This is why I am so worried that fewer of our children are enrolled in Jewish learning. According to the Pew Study on Jewish life in America, fewer Jews are connected with synagogues and fewer of their children are learning our story. Fewer of our kids know by heart the story of Moses, much less the stories of Miriam, Abraham, Sarah, Deborah, Gideon, Samson, David, Solomon and Ruth.
A rabbinic source claims that if we teach our story for three consecutive generations, there will be faith in God forever (“K’li Chemda,” written by Meir Dan Plotsky (1866-1928) quoted in “Itturei Torah”).
But we know this is not the case. If three consecutive generations do not hear the story, I fear belief in God and connection to our people will fail.
So tell the story! Tell it this week to your children and grandchildren:
We were slaves, and we were set free!
God kept the promise given to Abraham 400 years before!
The truth of Torah is mightier than all of Pharaoh’s chariots!
We are the only ones who can let the story die. We are the only ones who can make the story live.
“… that you may tell in the ears of your son, and of your son’s son, what I have wrought upon Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them; that you may know that I am God.”
Rabbi James A. Gibson is the spiritual leader of Temple Sinai. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.