These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

בא, bo

Posted on January 6, 2011 by Avi Strausberg

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this is the parsha where it all happens.  the full wrath of God, manifested in swarming locusts and complete darkness, falls not only pharoah but on the egyptian people, while the israelites watch protected on the sidelines.  when God sent thunder and hail and fire raining down on all of egypt, which struck every man and beast in its path, only the region of the israelites remain untouched.  when there was darkness so thick, “לא קמו איש מתחתיו, no one rose from where he was” (bo, 10:23), there was light in all of the dwellings of the israelites.

and when God struck down every first-born in egypt, and a cry rose up from every house, then too, the israelities sat safely in their homes.  the text says, “ותהי צעקה גדולה במצרים כי–אין בית אשר אין–שם מת, there was a loud cry in egypt; for there was no house where there was not someone dead” (bo, 12:30).  i’m just struck imagining this cry rising up from the land, from all the houses surrounding the israelities, from all of the egyptian familities who had no part in the israelites’ oppression, and wondering what was the experience of the israelities as they listened to the sound?  were they horrified, or even guilt-ridden that their God had done this on their behalf?  or, simply thankful that their families had been spared and they would be released from oppression?  or, did they experience a complicated mix of gratitude and terror in the face of the tragedy that had spared their people?

silence in the dark
one by one voices cry out
a deathly choir

at home in their beds
did they hold their children tight?
in dreams, lie sleeping.

may we struggle with and hold on to the parts of the Torah we find most troubling,