In this Parsha, Parashat Bo, the Egyptians and the Israelites are dealing with the last three plagues: locusts, darkness, and the killing of the firstborn. God spares the people of Israel’s first born, but kills off the Egyptians’ firstborn. These awful deaths cause Pharaoh to break down, and he tells the Israelites to go. Fast. The Israelites had to rush, so there was no time to let their dough rise. You know that whole tradition of eating matzah on Pesach? It all begins with Bo.
While reading the Parsha, I thought, “Why did God kill all the Egyptians’ first born? He must have known that some of them were innocent!” It also made me think about what God really is, and how God functions in the world.
All my life I felt that I could personally talk to God, but no one else could. I could always send him a message. I’ve never really thought about how other people felt about God, so while preparing this I kept an open mind.
While talking to David Wolf, my tutor, about my dvar, he told me about an idea that I thought explained a lot. He suggested that each person has their perception of “God.” I thought this was an amazing idea, so I looked a bit more into it. While studying Mr Savitt’s “Yak List,” a list of words that appear the most in the Bible, one word I kept coming across was ELOHEIM, which is used as a name for God, but being the plural form, it directly translates to “Gods.” I thought it was weird that the word I have used my whole life to refer to “God,” really meant “multiple Gods.” In the beginning of the Amidah, it says “Elohey Sarah Elohey Rivkah, etc.” This means the God of Sarah, and the God of Rivkah, etc. It supports my opinion that everyone has their own perception of God, which makes everyone’s God seem different. Since God is abstract and cannot be seen or touched, everyone has their own opinion of God’s role and image. God is all about faith: if you believe your God can only watch, then your God can only watch. If you believe your God can only influence situations, then your God can only influence, and so on and so on.
As for me: I believe God does not directly make things happen. Believing in God is learning from God’s stories. God as a character is less important than the meaning of the Torah’s stories. When we read the stories, we become better people–that’s God at work. That’s Judaism. There’s no point in arguing about whether or not God really did free the Jews from Egypt. It’s more important that we use those stories to learn from our mistakes and our successes. My dvar is a prime example of a story with a lesson.
The second question I want to answer is: why does God find it necessary to kill all of the Egyptians’ firstborns?
At first, I thought what God did was terrible and unnecessary. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that God made the correct decision. Why? I understood that in order to really teach a lesson, you must take something, the recipient must feel loss. This applies today too. For example, if a kid is doing something wrong and a parent says, “Stop it,” the kid may not listen. But if the parent takes away the kid’s phone–not a murder exactly, but pretty horrible–99% of the time the kid will stop the bad behavior. God did not kill the Egyptian firstborns for fun. God did it to teach them a lesson.
So what about me? I’ve read, over and over again the same Torah stories every year–and each time I learn new skills that allow me to become a nicer and better person. Well, a somewhat better person. Before studying my portion, I never would thought that in order for me to change I, Ari Gordon, might have to suffer. Now I do.