I have been wanting to start posting notes on the weekly Torah portions (‘parsha’) for ages, and I have been planning to alternate between the Torah portions and the Anglican weekly lectionary readings for Sundays.
I would have liked to start in the Autumn with the beginning of the new Jewish year* and/ or in November at the beginning of the new Church year, but moving house and getting ill got in the way.
I can’t promise to be consistent, but I am at least at home, pretty laid-up and so with plenty of time on my hands for writing.
So instead of waiting for the next appropriate starting point, I thought I would just jump right in and look at the next portion, which is Bo! (Go!) in Exodus.
Torah: Exodus 10:1-13:16
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-26
Brit Chadashah: Luke 22:7-30
1 Corinthians 11:24-34
For those not familiar with the Jewish ‘lectionary’ as it were, the weekly Torah portion is a set passage from the Pentateuch, the Haftarah is a passage from the prophets which in some way recalled the Torah passage to memory, when in times past Jews were forbidden from reading the actual Torah portion itself.
Brit Chadashah means ‘New Covenant’, or what is commonly referred to as the New Testament. Obviously this last selection does not come from Jewish tradition, but is selected to match the Torah and Haftarah portions according to topic. There is no agreed-upon selection from the Brit Chadashah across the board. Individual congregations may select their own passages, or they may use the suggested passages in The Complete Jewish Bible. I am using the selections from the Hebrew for Christians website.
Bo! is the penultimate installment of the Exodus story as the battle with Pharaoh comes to a dramatic end with the last three plagues: Locusts, Darkness, and the Killing of the Firstborn.
Pharaoh is still stubbornly refusing to let the Israelite slaves leave Egypt to go and worship their God in the desert, despite his officials telling him
“Do you not yet realise that Egypt is ruined?”
But, cryptically, we are told that God himself has ‘hardened Pharaoh’s heart’, “that you may know that I am the LORD.” From our modern perspective, this seems wrong, even cruel. If the story is to be taken literally, it is surely hard to understand. But is it perhaps rather that God allowed him to be hardhearted? Allowed him to be his worst?
After the plague of Darkness, Pharaoh loses his temper with Moses – as though it is Moses stubbornly keeping on asking, as though the plagues were meant to change his mind instead. Pharaoh just doesn’t seem to get it. His stubbornness is greater than his fear of the LORD, even after the awesome plagues.
Then, before the last plague, God tells Moses that this incidence in the month of Nisan is to be marked in the calendar as the beginning of the new year* for the Israelites…
“Because the LORD kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honour the LORD for the generations to come.” Exodus 12:42
…and instructions are given for the Israelites to avoid being struck by the Angel of Death when he ‘passes over’ to kill the firstborn of every household: the slaying of the Lamb, the painting of blood on the doorposts. It’s important to notice that the Lamb is not just selected and killed, it is brought into the house to live with them for four days before being killed. Can you imagine?! Can you see the children loving those little lambs, cuddling up to them, and being heartbroken with they are killed for them to eat?
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven“ – Jesus in Matthew 18:3
Midnight comes, and the Angel of the LORD strikes down the firstborn of every household not protected, including Pharaoh’s, at which time he tells Moses to Go! Get out of Egypt! So the Israelites leave, but the Egyptians hand over their silver, their gold, their clothing to them as they go! “And thus they plundered the Egyptians.” What are we to make of this? Is it a kind of re-payment for the 400 years of slavery?
The Parsha ends with instructions on the consecration and ‘redemption’ of firstborn males (both of livestock and of their own sons).
“It will be like a sign on your hand a symbol on your forehead that the LORD brought us out of Egypt with his might hand.”
The Haftarah passage is a message from God to the prophet Jeremiah about His judgement on Egypt, and specifically the god Amon of Thebes, through the attack of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Interestingly, each of the ten plagues of Egypt were linked with one specific god of the Egyptians, apparently designed so that everybody would see that the LORD ‘Jehovah’ is supreme over them all. See chart here (opens a pdf file)
Both new testament passages relate to the Last Supper and Jesus’ inauguration of the eucharist; or, as Messianic Jews understand it, Yeshua’s addition of a fifth cup to the Passover seder. (See a really helpful analysis of the mystery of the fifth cup here.)
It is said that there are 70 aspects to the Torah, like a priceless cut diamond – every time you look at it, you see another facet. Beyond the literal interpretation which is often fraught with difficulty and disturbing scenes our modern sense cannot cope with, there is a rich treasure trove of symbolism that is easily missed if we don’t have our minds open to search for them, and of course I am barely scratching the surface here.
* On the topic of Jewish New Years, the new year at Passover as instructed her is not observed with any notable traditions that I am aware of, although it is called the ‘religious new year’ by some, the traditional new year is in the Autumn at ‘Rosh haShanah’, which is more properly the Feast of Trumpets. For a discussion of how Jewish New Year came to be observed in the Autumn, see here.
Happy New Year to you!