Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) What Shall We Tell Our Children?

pensive grandmother with granddaughter having interesting conversation while cooking together in light modern kitchen
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            As we enter this week’s portion, a portion that features the final plagues, we see the opening verse which has God commanding Moses to “go” to Pharaoh to recount all the signs and wonder and then we read in 10:2, “and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and your son’s sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you many know that I am  God”.  This verse is easily overlooked coming as it does before the drama of the final plagues and the command to celebrate the Passover (12). But I want to stop and suggest that this year this verse has a particular meaning.

            We are told to tell the story of what happened in Egypt. Indeed, a central aspect of Passover and the seder is that we re-tell the story. Our story, the story of the Jewish people, the whole story. One of the questions that is being raised after October 7 is about what we tell, or do not tell, our children. Not about the war, but how we educate our children as to the meaning and drama and beauty of the Jewish story. Too many times in recent months have so many of my colleagues heard that we have failed to tell that story and, as a result, we have a generation of young Jews who do not know!

A frightening headline in a story in the December 9, 2023, issue of The Economist read “Old Hatred, new audience: Our polling shows one in five young people think the Holocaust is a myth”. We are seeing an aspect of the failure to tell out story played out on college campuses where we send our young people who, in many cases, are woefully unprepared to meet the anti-Israel wave of protests and encounters.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z’l) pointed out the interesting fact in this portion that Moses is called to tell the story before the story happens. After all, the context of the Torah portion is before the Exodus. Sacks notes that this is important by writing: “Forget where you came from and why, and you will eventually lose your identity, your continuity, and raison d’etre. You will come to think of yourself as the mere member of a nation among nations, one ethnicity among many. Forget the story of freedom and you will eventually lose freedom yourself.” (Essays on Ethics. P.94)

            This verse also speaks to many of us who are grandparents. We hold a special status and have an impact, or can have an impact, on our grandchildren. With the changes in the Jewish family that we now see, grandparents may be more important in passing our traditions, values, and story on that our adult children who are these grandchildren’s parents.

            This portion is filled with great drama. Yet, I urge you to take a few moments to consider how we can continue to tell the story of the Jewish people, our history, customs, and culture so we may continue to stand proud and strong.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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