The Choices We Make
Rabbi’s Message – January 19, 2021
This week we read from Parashat Bo, where we complete the narrative of the plagues in Egypt and receive the commandment to celebrate Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the future. (The Red Sea crossing happens in next week’s portion.) In this generally well-known story, there are two verses that stand out, and are not usually part of the retelling. Just before the final plague, God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to “borrow” from their neighbors’ objects of silver and gold and that God would dispose the Egyptians favorably to them (Exo 11:2-3). While seemingly out of place, Rabbi Reuven Greenvald in Reform Judaism’s commentary gives us some additional insight. He points out that in early liberated life, the Israelites would need a little money to get started. Some commentators attribute these verses as laying the groundwork to explain where the Israelites got precious metals from to erect the tabernacle and the Golden Calf. Continuing his commentary, Rabbi Greenvald focuses on the relationship between these actions and the plague that follows. But, if we look at the Israelites instead, here they stand on the precipice of a new life of freedom, with these precious metals in their hands, and a choice about what to do with them. We know, as Rabbi Greenvald reminds us, that some of those materials will be used to make the Golden Calf – for purposes that are not ultimately to the benefit of the community. We also learn that some of them will be used for the most sacred of uses – the service of God. And I’m sure some were used for more mundane purposes as well.
Life is full of transitions. (We have talked about them a lot lately.) The turning of the year, the upcoming transition of leadership in our country, personal changes and adaptations to our current pandemic life, and the evolving outlook towards hope on stopping this virus – to name a few. Fortunately, we all have different tools to help us navigate these transitions. What precious items will we carry with us – material or intangible – to lead us successfully forward? Will we be like the Israelites who used their precious metals to construct the Tabernacle? Or is there a Golden Calf in our future? I will close with words adapted from last week’s blessing of the New Month, which seem particularly apt right now:
Our God and God of our ancestors, may the days ahead bring us goodness and blessing: long life, peace, prosperity, Torah and reverence for the divine, and may the longings of our hearts be fulfilled for good.