This week's Torah portion, Bo, speaks about the last
3 plagues and the final freeing of the Jewish people from the Egyptian
bondage. Mitzrayim, which means narrow places, is the Hebrew word
for Egypt. The Jewish people leaving Mitzrayim is the model not just
for the future redemption when G-d will take us out of this long,
difficult and confusing exile but also the model for each and every
time we have to break out of our own negative situations that control
This is the deeper meaning of the Passover offering, which was taking
the physical manifestation of the god of the Egyptians, slaughtering
and eating it. To be free we have to end our worship of the 'idols'
of the secular society that surround us.
And why did they have to eat the offering 'in haste'? Because change
does not come in comfort, only with focus and effort.
With haste is also how in the end Pharaoh chased out the Jewish people.
We have to make a clean break with the past to be able to receive
There are many other hidden instructions. The Lubavitcher Rebbe reveals
one of them, pointing to our ability to lead. The verse says (12/11)
"This is how you should eat the Pesach offering, your thighs
belted, your shoes on your feet and your staff in your hand."
In general a person's life is divided into three parts, the person
himself, i.e. his inner personal life, his ties to his immediate environment
and his ties to the more distant world.
These three divisions are hinted at in the 3 details mentioned in
the verse, thighs, shoes and staff.
You first have to achieve freedom on an inner level. This is hinted
at by the word thighs since the thighs support the whole upper
body, in particular the head that tops it off. The first transformation
has to be with himself.
But a person has to know that just working on himself is not enough.
We must also transform and elevate our surroundings, particularly
what we come into contact with regularly, to also help them to come
to completion. This is not just for their sake. We need it also to
be able to thrive in our new freedom.
This is hinted at with the word shoes. Shoes allow us to touch
what is outside of us, including the earth on which we stand. Not
only do our shoes protect us from the thorns and rocks, snakes and
scorpions, they allow us to open new paths and clear the way for others
to walk, even without shoes. This is the next step in true spirituality,
in going out of our personal exiles, to be careful to no longer be
affected by our surroundings and to affect it for the good. To bring
holiness, kedusha, into our surroundings.
But a person might also think this is enough. That if we do not come
into regular contact with it, it is someone else's affair. We have
This is what the words 'staff in your hands' teaches us. A
staff is used to touch things we can not reach with our hands. This
is a clear hint to the world farther away from us that we do not have
an immediate connection to. We can and must also affect it, fixing
it, elevating it, each person in the way appropriate for them. It
could be signing a petition or making a phone call, advising another
or joining a demonstration. A Jew and his staff. We were not created
to ignore the world but to change it for the better.
This is the Passover offering that is teaching us our responsibility
to make an impact where we can, not just on ourselves or what is immediately
surrounding us. We have to also use our 'staff', to go to even the
places where we can not easily reach with our hand. (from "Dvar
A wealthy man flew in from California to New York just to meet with
the Rebbe Rayatz (The Rebbe's father-in-law, whose yahrzeit is this
Monday) to ask him advice for success in his business affairs. Afterwards
the Rebbe asked him about his personal life and his children's education.
The Rebbe advised him to change certain behaviors, to strengthen some
areas he was weak in and said it would bring blessings on him. The
person frowned and answered, it is unlikely to happen; it's not practical.
"I am surprised at you," the Rebbe responded. "For
business advice you travel all the way from California to get my advice
while we both know that I am not a businessman or the son of a businessman.
But when it comes to Torah and the Commandments, which is my and my
father's specialty, on this you say my advice is not practical?"
(from "Sichos Hashavua")
Shabbat Shalom, Shaul
(for a free weekly email subscription, click
For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this
week's Reading, see the archive.