Thought of the Week: Yael Roberts

Written by Writings & Sermons by others — 20 January 2016

Last week we read the Torah portion of Bo, meaning “come.” The title comes from the first line of the portion, where God commands Moses, “Come to Pharoah!” in order to redeem the Jewish people from exile.

Many commentators are puzzled over the strange language of “Come.” Why not “Go!”? Why is God calling forth from the heart of Pharoah? Isn’t he on the side of Moses?

This question views the world in dialectical terms. This is good, and this is bad. Moses is good, and Pharoah and Egypt are the paradigm of all evil in the world.

This view limits us from seeing that Pharoah and the Egyptians are included in the Bible in order to teach us about ourselves.[i]

God calls forth from Pharoah because God is found in Pharoah too. Just as much as God is in me and God is in you. God is in Pharoah.

Rebbe Nachman writes about the power of not viewing biblical characters as dead, historical figures, but as facets of us all. We all have a Moses and we all have a Pharoah inside of each us.

According to the Pri Ha’aretz, the Moses is our ability to notice and be mindful, and the Pharoah is our constant inclination to forget, to dull, to fall into oppressive patterns, to place ourselves in Egypt.[ii] Moshe (who is named after being drawn forth from the water) has the power to make clear for us the Pharoah which oppresses, which constrains us in the narrow places (maitzarim) or even the narrow waters (mai tzarim), and Moses, the one pulled forth from the waters, can pull us out of these narrow places.

But we don’t leave Egypt alone.

We leave Egypt as a community. We only leave Egypt when we work together, when we collaborate. Rabbi Josh spoke about the power of collaboration during the Friday night service last week, in relation to David Bowie’s musical projects. I am very privileged to work at Alyth, in a wonderful, supportive office that fosters collaboration and creativity. So much of the work I do here is helped by my wonderful colleagues and an environment conducive to working together.

We help each other through the narrow places, through the deserts. What Parshat Bo tells me is: I need you to help me leave Egypt.

So, from the divine in me to the Moshe in you, come. Come, pull me out of Egypt. I can’t do it alone.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’era, we learn that there is a little spark of God inside each of our Pharoahs, and the moment we drown our inner enemies in the sea, we unveil the capacity we all have to stand on the other shore and break forth in song.

May our mouths be filled with a song as great as the song of the sea. May we all find the strength to pull each other out from the narrow places and into the light.

[i] Thank you to Rav Raz Hartman for this insight.

[ii] Thank you to Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels for this insight.