Parashat Bo: Being ‘on the job’

The Jewish nation left Egypt to fulfill its Divine purpose: to receive the Torah, establish in the Land of Israel a state that will operate on the basis of the laws and values of the Torah.

Exodus from Egypt (Edward Poynter) (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Exodus from Egypt (Edward Poynter)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In this week’s parasha, Bo, we read about the last three plagues that finally subdued the Egyptian King Pharaoh and led him to set the Jewish nation free. The Exodus included spiritual preparation, with the peak being the korban Pesach (Passover sacrifice). Every household held a festive feast on the specified night when they ate the sacrifice. 
In the middle of that night, God brought upon the Egyptians the most painful and difficult plague of all: the deaths of the firstborn. All the firstborn of the Egyptian nation died that night. The frightened Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and begged, “Get up and get out from among my people, both you, as well as the children of Israel, and go, worship the Lord as you have spoken” (Exodus 12: 31). 
At this moment, the mass Exodus of the Jewish nation from Egypt began. This historic event is described with great festivity:
“…and it came to pass in that very day, that all the legions of the Lord went out of the land of Egypt.”
(Ibid Ibid: 41)
In the midst of the festivity of this Exodus, the Jewish nation warrants a rare and exceptional moniker: “the legions of the Lord.” If we thought of them as slaves who had just been liberated after decades of humiliating slavery, it turns out we were wrong. This is God’s army, an army recruited for a special mission:
“When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
(Ibid 3: 12)
The Jewish nation left Egypt to fulfill its Divine purpose: to receive the Torah, establish in the Land of Israel a state that will operate on the basis of the laws and values of the Torah, and sanctify God’s name by behaving morally.
This essence of the Jewish nation as God’s army was so ingrained in them that even God Himself is sometimes referred to as Elokei Tzva’ot (Lord of Hosts). Our sages explained that this name is only because of the Jewish nation (Talmud Bavli, Shavuot 35, 2).
The meaning of an army in this context is not in reference to war. The Jewish nation is drafted to advance values of God’s sanctity and charity. This is an especially condensed version of Jewish faith. This is the “acceptance of God’s rule” that is recited morning and evening. This is the source of every Jew’s self-esteem ever since the Exodus from Egypt. 
The realization of our being God’s army is not limited to the religious sphere of the synagogue. Obviously, the clearest realization of this is keeping mitzvot, such as keeping Shabbat, eating kosher, preserving family purity, giving charity, learning Torah, etc. But even when a Jew is busy with everyday matters, such as work, art, exercise… we are still obligated and privileged to be part of God’s army. Wherever a Jew goes, he carries God’s name, sometimes even against his will. A Jew represents faith, the Bible, Talmud, tradition and history.
This is where the obligation to “sanctify God’s name” stems from. A Jew who behaves morally is showing respect not only to himself but also to God. When people admire the gracious behavior of a Jew, God’s respect is increased. And vice versa. A Jew who behaves immorally, desecrates not only himself, but he defiles God’s name as well. 
Indeed, being a Jew means always being “on the job.” History has given the Jewish nation the role of sanctifying God’s name, and the Jewish nation has usually successfully, devotedly and loyally fulfilled that mission. Each and every one of us is a link in a long chain of sanctifiers of God’s name; a chain that began with Abraham and continues through us and our children to future generations.   
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.