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Shabbat Bo 5781 Dvar Torah from Rabbi Saul I. Grife

What Will We Tell Our Children?

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

Parshat HaShavuah, the Torah reading this week is Bo, from Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus 10:1 - 13:16. "Bo" means "come", referring to 10:1 when God tells Moshe to come to Pharaoh and demand of the Egyptian demigod to free the Israelites from their servitude so that they might serve the Lord. This week, the last 3 of the Ten Plagues will afflict Egypt: locusts, darkness and the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn. Afterwards, at the end of 430 years of slavery, the Egyptians cry out in the wake of the killing of their firstborn males and exhort the Israelites to leave Egypt. The parsha ends with Tefillin being just one of the signs testifying to the Tradition that "with a mighty hand the Lord freed us from Egypt".

Every week Jews worldwide believe that the words of the Torah speak to us and lend us wisdom and perspective concerning the events and challenges of our lives.

This week, parshat Bo presents us with a poignant question about our identities as Americans and Jews!

The parsha outlines much of the original Passover story and how the Jews are to observe Pesach throughout future generations including the rituals of the Pesach, the Paschal sacrifice and the Matza, the unleavened bread.

Exodus 12:24 states...

You shall observe Pesach for all time... and when your children ask, "What does this rite mean to you?", you shall answer, "It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, because God passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses!"

My friends, when our children ask us, "In recent days an unruly mob infiltrated the Capitol Building resulting in the death of 5 people. The sacred halls of Congress were desecrated. The election results were greatly challenged. The peaceful transfer of power was uncertain. And the nation steeled itself for further violence by summoning 25,000 National Guardsmen to Washington DC and placing 50 state capitals on alert...

Why did this happen? What did all that mean? And what are we going to do about it?"

How will we answer?

I hope that regardless of our respective political perspectives, we will all say as proud Americans...

"Again, as has occurred before throughout the annals of American history, the most fundamental institutions of our nation were tested but as always, democracy prevailed!"

In a little over a couple of months from now we will gather around the Seder tables as we do annually to celebrate the Pesach festival, be it on Zoom, live or a combination of both. As the Torah and the Haggadah states, on that night we as adults, parents and teachers must expect our children to ask us...

What does Pesach mean to you? On this night every year, why do we do these things?

How will we answer?

Will we say we do them because of Tradition? Because I do as my parents did before me? Because we love Judaism? Because the observance of Pesach complete with all the rituals is critical to Jewish life?

Will we say to them because others find meaning in it? Or will we say that we do them because Pesach teaches us the most rudimentary and valuable lessons found within Judaism, namely that to enslave and to oppress another is wrong, to include, to feed and to find a seat, a place and a home for all others is divine and to appreciate the freedom and the blessings we enjoy by striving to share that freedom and those blessings with all others is truly godly. What will we say about Judaism and its significance to us when our children ask us on Pesach and throughout the year about what it means to us as they endeavor to learn and to decide what Judaism means and will mean to them?

When we are queried about the significance of what happened in America in recent times and what America and Judaism ultimately means to us...

How will we answer?

My friends, I hope that all of us will strive to be honest yet encouraging and optimistic with our heartfelt attitudes and responses. I hope that all of us will reveal our deep love and admiration for America and Judaism when our children and others seek to learn from us. I hope we can admit that while nothing is perfect and we are often tested, the inherent value and blessed significance of both our country and our religion has always proved resilient enough to prevail in the face of intense tests.

When our children ask us... how will we answer?

My friends, I pray that when encountering these moments around the Seder table and every day, we will possess the courage and conviction to speak to the best of who we are and who we strive to be as dedicated Jews and loyal Americans. I hope we say that while nothing is perfect, we will never surrender nor shrink from building "a more perfect Union" in America and from developing meaningful Jewish identities.

I have no doubt that at some point in our lives, others including ourselves will pose these basic questions to us.

This week the Torah asks us...

Are we ready to answer? And what will we say?

May God bless America as we celebrate the tenacity of our democracy witnessing the 245-year-old Tradition of the transfer of power from one administration to another!

May God bless all of our leaders and inspire them to lead us towards a more just, free, secure and equal America!

May we all feel responsible to move America and Judaism in the right direction and may we live to see that more "perfect union" along with the enhancement of our glorious heritages in our lifetimes for our sakes and the benefit of all others!

Shabbat Bo Shalom u'Mevorach!!    

Tue, January 26 2021 13 Shevat 5781