Parashat Bo: The Internal Process in the Exodus from Egypt
Every external process starts with an internal process. The question here isn’t merely what a person is prepared to exhibit, out in the open. It’s mainly about how much that person is prepared to expose inwardly, or, in other words, a person’s self-identification and self-determination.
By Rabbi Nechemia Krakover, Headmaster of Neveh Channah High School for Girls, Named in Memory of Anna Ehrman
It’s midnight. The angel of death is passing from door to door and smiting every firstborn child in Egypt, from Pharaoh’s firstborn son to the firstborn of the maidservants. Yet there are some houses that, for a reason that is unclear, the angel spares. No external sign or indication of any kind appears on these houses. Upon closer examination, it turns out that these are the homes of the Jewish people, who had strictly observed the commandment of Pesach, the Pascal lamb sacrifice.
We know that the sign that indicated to God which houses had observed the commandment of Pesach was the blood smeared on the doorposts. Where was this sign placed, though? Was it in the houses’ interior or on the exterior?
One possibility is that the blood was smeared on the exterior of the front door, indicating that the Jew who lived in the house was prepared to unreservedly demonstrate his faith, despite the risk involved in exposing his faith to the Egyptians strolling about. This type of person is worthy of being redeemed by God. However, Rashi, Ibn Ezra and other commentators read the verses closely and conclude that the bloodstain was on the interior. If so, how could this be a sign to the angel of death to spare the residents of the house? Was would this sign symbolize?
I feel that that there is a profound message here.
Every external process begins with an internal process The question here isn’t merely what a person is prepared to exhibit publicly. It’s mainly about how much that person is prepared to expose internally, or, in other words, a person’s self-awareness and self-identification. Only after clearly defining oneself can one proceed to external definitions, which are much simpler.
We know the teachings of our sages, who tell us that mar’it ayin – or certain actions which give an appearance of sinning – are prohibited, even in private. Technically speaking, our sages teach us that if we do not completely prohibit mar’it ayin, a person could misstep where it’s most problematic. On a deeper level, however, we could say that the greatest danger is in the most private spaces, where a person can more seriously deviate from the rules. After all, behind closed doors, no one else can see. It is there that a person comes face to face with his or her innermost self, and realizes how stable he or she is, and what that innermost self is really saying, when all of the outside considerations have been stripped away.
In today’s modern, or rather, post-modern reality, this is a fundamental question. Our culture is replete with external definitions, social influences, and mutual relationships. Interpersonal communication is vast and diverse, while intra-personal communication steadily declines. Questions of self-identification are becoming even more pointed. People – and young people in particular – are increasingly struggling with how to define who they are, and within these vague definitions, internal contradictions and emotional difficulties emerge, to a much greater extent than ever before.
The same applies to the religious world. Increasingly, people are either unwilling or unable to boldly define where they stand, on a religious level, or to determine where they are, and where they would like to be. It’s quite convenient to avoid making these determinations, since this is what allows us to behave in all kinds of ways, ways that might even be contradictory. No one is there to judge us, there are no guilt trips, and no one is criticizing us, because in this undefined reality, everything is possible. The question of what is right and what is wrong is no longer relevant. However, along with this freedom comes a sense of frustration from a lack of direction and stable ground. This frustration can be felt in the education system, but it is mainly a frustration with education at home, where the parental and educational authority is in danger – not because children don’t respect their parents’ authority, but because parents don’t have the backbone to back up their credo with action since, oftentimes, they don’t even have a credo. This situation dooms any educational initiative to failure.
The Torah is here to explain that redemption hinges, first and foremost, on internal redemption, emotional clarity, and on one’s ability to stand tall and define who or what one is, while identifying strengths and weaknesses.
A social, cultural or education system need not impose its views on its students, but it must be able to tell itself what it believes, and what path it must take. Those who succeed in standing tall, marking their doorposts and the “doorposts of their souls” with their faith in their God and their own lives, will also merit to witness external and revealed redemption.
The Hebrew word geula – redemption– is derived from the root gilui – discovery. To be redeemed, we need to ensure that below all of the layers and burdens, there is something that is possible, necessary and worthy of discovery.