The Right to Question

The Right to Question

Jan 15, 2000 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

The custom at many a Seder table is to have the youngest child recite the famous four questions which open the evening’s dialogue. Often the child, still several years away from knowing how to read, recites from memory, having learned them by heart in pre-school. The performance is more than a moment of pride for parents and grandparents. It is a taste of the spirit of Judaism which the child will only come to appreciate years later. Judaism is a religion that not only permits but encourages us to ask questions. Because things are sacred does not mean that we have forfeited the right to think for ourselves.

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Angel Analysis

Angel Analysis

Feb 3, 2001 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

The Passover seder song, Had Gadya, is sung to a merry little tune that belies the violent content. Why this song is sung at Passover is the subject of varying interpretations, but one connection seems clear: malakh ha-mavet, the angel of death. After all wasn’t it the angel of death that slew the first-born of Egypt? Actually, it was not.

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Dread of Darkness

Dread of Darkness

Jan 11, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bo

Darkness unsettles us. As children we went to sleep with a small light on; as adults we prefer to come home to a dwelling not totally dark. We fear what we cannot see. It is for this reason that we start the evening service with the recitation of a verse from Psalm 78: “But he, the compassionate one, would expiate sin, and not destroy; he would again and again turn back his anger, and would not arouse his full wrath” (v. 38, trans. by Edward J. Greenstein). As the darkness of night envelops us, we affirm God’s nearness. God does not withdraw with the setting of the sun.

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Fear and Power

Fear and Power

Jan 19, 2002 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Bo

The final blow is about to fall. The tenth plague, the killing of the first–born of Egypt, is soon to occur. Yet in contrast to the unfolding of the first nine plagues, this one must wait a bit. Two things must happen first: the Israelites must ask their Egyptian neighbors to give them objects of gold and silver, and they must prepare for the first Passover. The Torah explains why the Egyptians would agree to give the Israelites what they request: “The Lord disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people. Moreover, Moses himself was much esteemed in the land of Egypt [literally, was seen as very great] among Pharaoh’s courtiers and among the people.” (Exodus 11:3)

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The Significance of the Tenth

The Significance of the Tenth

Jan 15, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bo

The tenth plague finally shatters Pharaoh’s resistance.

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Labor & Leisure

Labor & Leisure

Jan 31, 2004 By Joshua Heller | Commentary | Bo

The eve of the Exodus, as described in Parashat Bo and as we relive it in the Passover seder, reflect a peculiar admixture of labor and leisure. On the one hand, as the Mishnah (Pesahim 10:1) teaches, on the seder night, “even the poorest in Israel should not eat until he reclines.” (In this context, reclining is the classic sign of leisure.) At the same time, we eat matzah, the bread of poverty and affliction. In ancient times having more than one “tavlin” (dipping sauce), was a sign of luxury, and yet even as we dip twice, one of the things that we dip is bitter herb, and one of the sauces is salt water. This contradiction has its beginnings in this week’s parashahBo, which describes the Paschal sacrifice (the true first seder) and carries through to a central paradox in modern life.

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Free Will and Dental Care

Free Will and Dental Care

Jan 26, 2007 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Bo

After years of neglect and in response to the prodding of my dentist, I have undertaken a much more rigorous program of care for my teeth.

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The Final Plague

The Final Plague

Jan 28, 2012 By David Levy | Commentary | Text Study | Bo

Each year, when we read the Exodus story and again when we encounter it at the Passover seder, we are confronted with a serious moral question. We must ask ourselves how we feel about the nature of the collective punishment of the Egyptians.

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