Parashat Bo: The Jewish home

The path to freedom and goals.

The Jewish home (photo credit: PXHERE)
The Jewish home
(photo credit: PXHERE)
The exodus from Egypt, which we read about in this week’s Torah portion, came at the end of a series of incredible events that occurred in ancient Egypt. The 10 plagues, supernatural phenomena, hit the Egyptians until they internalized the message of morality and faith that God wanted to teach them. This led them to liberate the Jewish slaves.
We’ll come back to the plagues but for now let’s focus on the homes of the Jewish slaves in Egypt. Several days before being set free, the great leader Moses instructed them to take a lamb and sacrifice it as a korban Pesach (Passover offering) on the evening before the liberation. When we look at this week’s Torah portion and examine Moses’s instructions regarding the sacrifice, we notice a definite emphasis on the house and home.
“On the tenth of this month, let each one take a lamb for each parental home, a lamb for each household. But if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor who is nearest to his house... on the houses in which they will eat it... a sign upon the houses where you will be... and you shall not go out, any man from the entrance of his house until morning... and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses... He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt... and He saved our houses... It must be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the meat out of the house to the outside” (Exodus 12).
Meanwhile, what was happening in the homes of the Egyptians? The Midrash provides us with a fascinating glimpse into what occurred. The description is important not only as historic documentation, but even more so as it facilitates our understanding of the differences between the Egyptians and the Jews and what the Jews hoped to attain by this family feast on that historic night.
When Moses said, “At the dividing point of the night... and every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die,” the Egyptian firstborns went to their fathers and said, “Everything Moses said happened! Don’t you want us to live?! Let’s release these Jews from among us, for if not, we will die!”
They answered, “Even if all the Egyptians die, the Jews are not leaving here!”
What did the firstborns do? Each took his sword and killed his father (based on Yalkut Shimoni for Psalms, siman 883).
The polar opposite of a Jewish home is one in which the son is capable of killing his father. When the Jewish people wished to disconnect from Egyptian culture and become free, they gathered in their homes, with their families, with their chain of generations, and there they found significance and spiritual strength.
It’s interesting to note that the name of the Egyptian king, Pharaoh, means “the great house” in ancient Egyptian. The Jewish home wanted to be the alternative to the Egyptian home embodied by Pharaoh and his palace.
The foundations of the Jewish home are not made of stone, wood or cement. The home is based on the outlook that family and inter-generational relationships are the core values for Jewish existence. A moment before embarking on the journey to freedom and toward their purpose, the Jews were commanded to gather in their homes, to spend time with their families, and discover the secret that will accompany the Jewish nation thousands of years forward – the value of family.
This is not merely a means. Ancient traditions are passed from parents to children in all cultures. But in Judaism parents must see their children as those who will help humanity advance toward its purpose. The goal has not yet been reached, but generation after generation we strive to reach our national goal of being “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” and the universal goal of “nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore... for the land shall be full of knowledge of the Lord” (Isaiah).
Therefore, already in ancient times, the Jewish nation was careful about education from early childhood and on. Halacha (Jewish law) instructs us to start teaching our children Torah from the time they begin to speak. This conveys the view that our children are not only our economic future, but our spiritual one as well.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.