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G-d instructed Moses to take a census of the Jewish people in the desert. In all, G-d told Moses to count the Jews three times in a forty-year period. Rashi, the famed eleventh century biblical commentator, explained that G-d counts the Jews because He loves them.[1]
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Home » Bo, Education

Bo: Enter the Exodus Mindset

Submitted by on January 13, 2018 – 10:39 pmNo Comment | 354 views

Names are instructive, they tell us a lot about the things that they describe. When Jewish custom and history settles on a name for a Torah portion, the name bears a connection to the general theme of the portion. The name of this portion is Bo, which means to enter. And the theme of this portion is the exodus–redemption from bondage. What links the ideas of entering and redemption?

At first glance, there appears to be no connection. In fact, one might be forgiven for assuming that the name was chosen because it is one of the first words of the portion. Yet, upon reflection we encounter several connections and we will explore them in this essay.

Enter the G-d Mindset

The first two letters of the Hebrew Alpha Bet, are Alef and Bet. These two letters can spell only two words. Positioned in their usual order with Alef first and Bet second, they spell Av–father. Spelled backwards with Bet before Alef, they spell Bo– enter.

Alef has a numeric value of one, which refers to G-d. Bet has a numeric value of two, which refers to all of creation, ourselves included. When the Alef leads into Bet, it signifies the idea of G-d reaching down toward us. When the Bet leads into Alef, it signifies the idea of us reaching up to G-d.

When G-d reaches down, we are the focus. When we reach up, G-d is the focus. Self centered living is a form of bondage to our own whimsical interests. We are confined and beholden to a small and unseemly master, namely ourselves. When we reach up to G-d, we shed the shackles of self and emerge into the vast freedom of transcendence. We transcend our will, whims, and interests. We become part of G-d. Part of something greater than ourselves.

This spiritual redemption, is the harbinger of a physical redemption. Thus, the name of the Torah portion that describes the exodus from bondage to freedom, is Bo. The Bet leading into the Alef. The world, the whole of creation inclusive of ourselves, focuses on G-d. This is the precursor to liberation. It is the path that leads to redemption. To Moshiach.

Who’s on First?

Here is another twist. When the Alef comes first, it spells the word Av–father. When the Bet comes first it spells Bo–enter. The orderly and normative method is to progress from the first stage to the second. From step one to step two. From Alef to Bet. This is represented by the idea of father to son.

One hopes that each generation is an improvement on its predecessor. We receive everything that our forbearers give us and then build upon it; add our own contribution. This represents an orderly progressive posture. First the father generation, and then, the child generation. First Alef, then Bet.

However, the time comes when we can’t afford the slow, orderly, progressive posture that plods along from one step to the next. Sometimes we must reach impulsively for the top even though we have not yet started the climb from the bottom. Sometimes we are tasked to enter right in to the heart of the matter even though we did not cycle through the ordinary stages of preparation and graduation. Sometimes we are asked to jump right past the Alef and begin with the Bet.

When we reach for the Bet even before we have touched on Alef, we enter right into the heart of the thig. That is why Bet before Alef, spells Bo–enter.

Here is an example of what I mean. The ordinary method is to master a subject before teaching it to others. We don’t preach honesty unless we are ourselves honest. We don’t preach charity unless we are generous with our own funds. Otherwise who are we to talk? How can we preach to the next person, to the Bet, when we have not yet taken care of ourselves, numero uno, the Alef?

This is the ordinary approach. Take care of Alef first, then progress to Bet. Gradual and progressive. First the father, then the child. A teacher is the student’s spiritual parent. Before you start tending to the student, look after yourself. Take care of the Alef ahead of the Bet.[1]

However, there are times when the need is urgent, and the student can’t afford to wait until the teacher has learned all that there is to learn. The student needs to start learning now. The student wants to be shown the way and can’t afford to wait until the teacher has walked the entire walk. The student is willing to listen from a teacher who talks the talk even before he or she has walked the walk.

If you can help someone observe Shabbat, don’t wait until you observe fully or even partially. Help them now. If you can teach someone to don Tefilin, don’t hesitate. Teach them now. If you can teach someone the Hebrew Alpha Bet, don’t wait until you are fluent in Hebrew. Teach it now.

It sounds like a hypocritical thing to do and under ordinary circumstances, it is. However, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. As we get closer to the era of Moshiach, the time of our spiritual liberty and redemption, we need to be shown the way. We can’t wait around until the teachers are ready to teach. Until Alef has perfected itself and is prepared to direct its attention to Bet. Bet needs our help now and ready or not, Alef must respond. Bet first. Alef second.

Once Alef teaches Bet to do things that Alef doesn’t do yet, Alef will come around to that way of thinking too. You can’t prevail on others to do good without some of that goodness rubbing off on you. Once Alef teaches Bet to do a good thing, Alef will start doing it too. But Bo starts with Bet; teach Bet first, then worry about Alef.

This is the posture of Bo–enter. Jump right in; don’t wait until you are ready. The world can’t afford to wait until you are perfect. If you have something to teach, we need to hear it now. When we enter the era of redemption, the tag line is Bo–jump right in.

Enter the Mindset of One

We can jump right into helping others because ultimately, we and those others are one and the same. Bet plus Alef, equals Gimmel. Two plus one, equals three. One represents G-d. Two represents all of existence. There is a dichotomy between Alef and Bet. They are worlds apart. Three represents the consciousness of absolute unity. G-d, Alef, and the rest of existence, Bet, is really one and the same.

When you feel that I am coming at you from the perspective that you and I are one, then you feel the same way. You don’t see it as me reprimanding you before correcting myself, you think of it as us improving us before us is completely perfect. If us requires improving, we need to start somewhere, and there is no difference between starting with my part of this single equation, or yours. So long as we are improving, the era of redemption, liberty, and spiritual freedom is on hand.

[1] The airlines always encourage us to place our own masks on before placing masks on our children.

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