Bo: Coming, Going, and Heaviness
Plaut p. 406
Source Sheet by Yair Robinson
This is an unsettling text, as God commands Moses to go to Pharaoh, who’s heart God has explicitly hardened in order that God may display divine signs and miracles, not for Pharaoh’s benefit, but for later generations, “that you may recount in the hearing of your child and of your child’s child… how I displayed My signs among them.” What are we to make of this moment where God–as if it could be said–takes the wheel? Two words, I think, inform our understanding. The first is that work used to command Moses to go, bo. Except it doesn’t mean ‘go’–it means ‘come’. The second is the word used for harden–הִכְבַּ֤דְתִּי–which is more like ‘heavy’, and comes from the root word both for heaviness and honor. The use of these two words make God’s instruction somewhat counterintuitive: by commanding Moses to ‘come’, is God suggesting that the divine presence is actually with Pharaoh? And by using the word kavod, is God suggesting some measure of honor bestowed upon Pharaoh in this moment?
In our struggles with antisemitism in the wake of the awful events 105 days ago in the south of Israel, there is, perhaps, a desire to diminish those who refuse to listen to us and our pain, or who would choose to dismiss it out of hand, or even declare themselves to be our enemies, hostile to us as Jews. It would be quite natural for us to describe them as base, as evil–to stoop to their level. And it’s not like their words or actions–like the mob that ‘protested’ at Sloan-Kettering this past week–are helping. And it might make us feel good for about a second and a half. But it doesn’t fix anything. If anything, it cuts off avenues for dialogue, resolution, and learning.
Last week, an interfaith group of us travelled to Dover to get a resolution passed affirming this State’s opposition to bigotry of any kind, including antisemitism. It could have been stronger, to be sure, and that’s a conversation for another day, but it did provide an opportunity to start something like a healing process. And even the people speaking with the most hostility toward us ended up voting for it, which means it passed unanimously in the House. Does that open a door for us to try again, to discuss more meaningfully with those who seem to want to do us harm? Only if we are willing to come to them, and give them some modicum of kavod. As Rabbi Alan Morinis teaches: each one, a holy soul. Even when they disagree with us or even hate us. So may we remember that as we try to stamp out the evil in our midst. Amen.
(1) Then יהוה said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, (2) and that you may recount in the hearing of your child and of your child’s child how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know that I am יהוה.” (3) So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says יהוה, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go that they may worship Me.
(א) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה בֹּ֖א אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה כִּֽי־אֲנִ֞י הִכְבַּ֤דְתִּי אֶת־לִבּוֹ֙ וְאֶת־לֵ֣ב עֲבָדָ֔יו לְמַ֗עַן שִׁתִ֛י אֹתֹתַ֥י אֵ֖לֶּה בְּקִרְבּֽוֹ׃ (ב) וּלְמַ֡עַן תְּסַפֵּר֩ בְּאׇזְנֵ֨י בִנְךָ֜ וּבֶן־בִּנְךָ֗ אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁ֤ר הִתְעַלַּ֙לְתִּי֙ בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם וְאֶת־אֹתֹתַ֖י אֲשֶׁר־שַׂ֣מְתִּי בָ֑ם וִֽידַעְתֶּ֖ם כִּי־אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָֽה׃ (ג) וַיָּבֹ֨א מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְאַהֲרֹן֮ אֶל־פַּרְעֹה֒ וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֵלָ֗יו כֹּֽה־אָמַ֤ר יְהֹוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י הָֽעִבְרִ֔ים עַד־מָתַ֣י מֵאַ֔נְתָּ לֵעָנֹ֖ת מִפָּנָ֑י שַׁלַּ֥ח עַמִּ֖י וְיַֽעַבְדֻֽנִי׃
Source Sheet created on Sefaria by Yair Robinson