Bo -- Exodus 10:1-13:16

Chagall_MosesAccording to American statesman, lawyer, poet, and Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish (May 7, 1892 – April 20, 1982):

There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American Dream.

Liberation powers the Exodus story, and it continues to resonate to this day.

This parsha serves as one of the main moments for the etiology of Pesach -- to "pass over" the marked homes of the Hebrews when the Angel of Death comes to smite all firstborn children. The roasted Paschal offering is to be eaten that night, together with the matzah and bitter herbs. Of all the plagues, it is the smiting of the firstborn which breaks Pharaoh’s recalcitrance, so the Israelites depart hastily [b’hipazon], not leaving time for their dough to rise, which results in unleavened bread. The commemorative seder celebrated to this day incorporates elements of this narrative through the Haggadah, which is composed of: telling the story of redemption to the next generation [magid]; consuming matzah at nightfall; eating bitter herbs of maror; enacting the plagues by spilling drops of wine. The last three of these ten plagues spilled are in memory of those visited upon the Egyptians: locusts swarm the crops; thick darkness envelops the land; firstborn smitten at the stroke of midnight on the 15th of Nissan.

It is telling at this moment of liberation that the Israelites are commanded to restructure their understanding of time through the establishment of a monthly rebirth by the lunar calendar. The Israelites are also instructed to bring a Passover offering as a slaughtered lamb or kid, with its blood sprinkled on the lintels of every Israelite home. In addition to the annual commemoration of Passover, reminders of the Exodus abide daily with the donning of phylacteries on the arm and head which symbolize the ongoing human-divine covenant.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: "Moses spreads the darkness over Egypt," by Marc Chagall, 1931

Va'eira -- Exodus 6:2-9:35

god-turns-moses-staff-into-a-serpent-1966.jpg!Blog"Demagoguery sells. And therefore, radio stations will put it on. But that doesn't mean that you can't do something else and also make it sell."

So says the American comedian-cum-politician Al Franken. What exactly is demagoguery? From time immemorial, demagoguery is that recurring situation we encounter when political leaders seek support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument. Even in the most democratic context of ancient Greece, one could encounter a leader or orator who espoused the cause of the common people.

Pharaoh is one such paradigmatic rabble-rouser, a firebrand and provocateur. He sells himself on a platform of fear-mongering where he is the one entirely in control of the universe — he takes the place of God.

It is this demagoguery that Moses and Aaron must confront, demanding in the divine name,

Let my people go, so that they may serve Me in the wilderness.

Pharaoh’s recalcitrance leads to the moment where Aaron’s staff transforms into a snake, swallowing up the surrounding staffs of the Egyptian sorcerers, followed by the famous plagues. Water to blood; swarms of frogs; lice infestations; hordes of beasts; pestilence; painful boils; all culminating in the seventh plague, a hail of fire and ice. Immune to the plagues, however, Pharaoh’s heart remains hardened.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: "God Turns Moses' Staff into a Serpent," by Marc Chagall, 1966