Rabbi Michael Barclay
Bo: Divine Partnership
Come to Pharaoh … that you may know I am HaShem” (Exodus 10:1-10:2).
The story in this week’s portion is as recognizable as any in the entire Torah. Discussed at the Passover seder, it begins with Moses and the eighth plague of locusts, continues through the plague of darkness and culminates with the Pesach, the death of the firstborn and the release of the Hebrews from Egypt. While the arc of the story is powerful and awe-inspiring, there is also a simple teaching found in its first words, which can enhance our lives in every moment.
In Genesis, God tells Abram (he had not yet received the “h” in his name) to “lech lecha,” to go “for/into/to yourself.” These words are the instruction to look within and find our truest path. They are extremely different and yet deeply similar to God’s instructions to Moses at the start of this week’s portion.
Abram was at the beginning of his journey when God instructs him to “go,” to look within and travel without to know himself and bring a new awareness and consciousness to the world: monotheism. Abram’s following of this direction becomes the starting point for a different theology than had ever existed before, leading him to become the ancestor of the entire monotheistic world.
It would make sense for God to tell Moses to “go” to Pharaoh to warn of the forthcoming locusts. Like his ancestor Abraham, Moses is being directed by God where to head. But the language of the Torah is specific, and God, rather than saying “go,” tells Moses to “come.” “Come to Pharaoh” seems like an odd choice of words, but the implication of that one simple word, bo, is an important guideline for us all.
The implication is that Moses will “come with God.” They are in partnership and come together as they approach the ruler of Egypt. While Abram “walked before God” (Genesis 17:1) after being told to “go,” Moses begins a different relationship with the Almighty: that of a partner. This is the relationship that has been passed to all of us today and becomes a theme not only in this portion, but in every aspect of life.
The partnership between God and us is exemplified throughout the rest of this portion and continues throughout the Torah. The firstborn are killed by God, but the Hebrews need to put the blood on their doorposts and are commanded to remember that evening each year. And we are given a great reminder of our relationship with God in the last verses of this portion, where we are commanded to wear tefillin, a “sign upon your arm and an ornament between your eyes, for with a strong hand HaShem removed us from Egypt” (Exodus 13:16). Tefillin become the wedding ring between us and God, a daily reminder of the Divine partnership.
Ultimately, this partnership will be sealed in contract form at Mount Sinai, where God gives us the Ten Commandments — the ultimate partnership agreement. It will be the ketubah, the eternal agreement between God and us, that begins with Moses being told to come with God to Pharaoh.
“I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, with justice, with kindness and with mercy: and I will betroth you to Me with fidelity, and you will know God” (Hosea 2:21).
These words are recited both upon the wearing of the tefillin, and at most weddings. They are the constant reminder of a special partnership in the same way a wedding ring reminds us of our beloved. They are the essence of what we are instructed to do in this portion: to enter into a true partnership with the Divine.
Abram goes on a journey to achieve self-awareness through God’s directions and tests. Moses comes with God on a journey together, and enjoins each of us to remember that partnership through the rites and rituals that are given to us in the Torah. Whether it is the seder, the wearing of tefillin or the practice of any of our other rites, we are constantly striving to remember this partnership, its obligations and its benefits. God created the garden, but we are the gardeners.
May we all come to be in a conscious and joyous partnership with life, and to honor our Divine partner in every moment.
Rabbi Michael Barclay
January 6th, 2022
5th of Shvat, 5782