Bo is a fascinating portion. It concluded the plagues and inserts the beginnings of our discussion of the Passover. God we are told, “hardens” the heart of Pharaoh, which, for some commentators, raises the issue of God being the controlling element in the entire story. No free will for the ruler of Egypt if he really was under the control of God, and if so, what is this God trying to prove? Free will vs. determinism once again? Were Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh mere pawns in some cosmic play?
But back to the beginning. Pharaoh, we are told, feared the Israelites. They were becoming too numerous. Their God was not the Egyptian God. Was Pharaoh’s heart “hardened” because of his fear? And, to link it to us, what are we afraid of and in our fears, do we “harden” our hearts?
As I was looking at this portion and how it could relate us, it came to me that, as we get older, we often fear so much. Truth be told, much of that fear is wrapped up in how we see our own mortality and the fear of the unknown after death. That is why religions created after-life. This fear of our own mortality, I suggest, is one of the most profound issues we face. As we age, this fear is manifest in a variety of ways. Often, so many of us deny this reality, or say “I just don’t think about that much”. Yet, I think that deep within our subconscious, this fear is always present. Too many of us have begun to attend too many funerals. The reality of mortality, and the fear of our own non-existence is just too difficult to avoid.
How to deal with this? The answer may be in facing that fear. We cannot do anything to avert that “divine decree”. We are part of nature in the end. In facing this reality we may be able to celebrate the life that we have. The morning blessing of model ani l’fanecha (I give thanks to You…) reminds us of life’s temporal nature and that every day we wake is a gift, a gift not to be wasted. In blessing this gift, we face our fear, and, we pray, move on to celebrate and embrace what is truly valuable and important in our life.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.