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Home » Bo, Passover

Bo: Linking to the Divine

Submitted by on December 29, 2006 – 2:16 am2 Comments | 1,411 views

The Name

The name of the Torah portion that describes the exodus from Egypt is Bo, which means enter. Names of Torah portions comprise messages and instructions. What is the message of this name?

True Greatness

What do you do when you get a sense that your world is confined and you’re not living up to your full potential. Do you break out of your mold and try a new career or hobby? Would you seek out something new and novel? Something exhilarating and fulfilling? Something truly grand? In fact, what is true grandeur?

We live in a big world; what we know is incredible and what we don’t is immeasurable. The vast expanse, the unlimited potential, the endless promise, all characterize the magnificent thrill that is life.  There is no end to knowledge and no end to exploration. There is no end to travel and no end to discovery. There is always a new horizon, always a grand plateau. Who tires from the mystery of life?

As humans this question gives us pause. As Jews it gives us occasion for a reality check. The great Rabbi Shimon spent thirteen years in a cave in the Judean hills. When  he emerged, he could not countenance society’s behavior. Men scurried about and worked for their livelihood. Women scrubbed  and washed . Children whiled away their time in idle occupation. “What folly,” he mused, “to reject eternity  for temporal gain.” (1)

I doubt Rabbi Shimon would think highly of the grandeur described above. Voyages across oceans, travel to outer space, anthropological exploration of ancient civilizations and the unquenchable thirst for sciences are all awe inspiring, but Rabbi Shimon wouldn’t qualify them as true grandeur. Love of family, hobby and career are important, but they are not the epitome of greatness.

True Greatness cannot be measured in finite dimensions. It is measured only by the infinite expanse of the divine. It is measured by the extent that one reaches out and touches the divine. (2)

But how can one touch the divine? In a materialistic world, intangible beings of deified nature are abstract and counter intuitive.

Contemporary Mitzrayim

Our sages taught us to regard our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt as a contemporary tale that plays out in every generation. Taken literally, this can be perplexing to someone who has never set foot in Egypt. But our sages were addressing a higher plane; a different kind of Egypt. A different form of Exodus.

The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is a double entendre. It means Egypt, but it also means confinement. Our world is a world of confinement. We cannot imagine, let alone comprehend, what lies beyond us. It is truly beautiful, Outer-Space-Moon-Earthinfinitely meaningful, eternally noble and yet, completely unknowable. We are not only ignorant of its nature, we are ignorant of its existence.

We often act as if the realm beyond us does not exist. We act as if the vast expanse of infinite splendor is immaterial to us. We concern ourselves with the temporal and the transient. We chase fame, honor, pride and wealth. We are interested in the limited sliver of knowledge accessible to the human mind, but are completely oblivious to the true beauty that lies beyond.  (3)

This is the confinement to which the Hebrew word, Mitzrayim, alludes. This confinement was exemplified by ancient Egypt, an idolatrous nation led by a Pharaoh, who refused to acknowledge the superiority, even the very existence, of G-d. This mitzrayim is indeed contemporary. It is not only an ancient phenomenon, we labor under it every day.

Reaching Beyond the Confinement

Yet we are not doomed to remain confined. It is possible to break out of our confinement. This is the metaphoric exodus from Egypt. When our ancestors left Mitzrayim, the country, they were granted an exodus from their metaphoric Mitzrayim, their confinement. They were granted the ability to discern that the quest for true greatness must lead to G-d.

How does a finite human make contact with an infinite G-d? Through fulfilling his commandments, through prayer and through studying the Torah, His Divine mandate. When we reach into our pockets and help a person in need we are linking with the Divine by overcoming our selfish nature and touch the divine. When we devote ourselves to teaching children about life morality and G-d we serve a purpose, greater than ourselves.

These moments of Mitzvah become eternal; graced with infinite potential. The infinite creator wants us, finite humans, to conduct ourselves according to his divine code. When we fulfill this mandate we form a link between ourselves and G-d.

As years turn to decades and we enter the twilight of life we each face the immortal question. What have we achieved during the course of life that we can take with us to heaven? Fame will not accompany us, neither will health or wealth. Our families must take leave of us at the gate. So what will we take along on our eternal voyage?

Entering our Days

The Torah describes our Patriarch Abraham as having entered into his days. He made the most of every day and carried them along with him into his afterlife. We too can enter into the true purpose of our days. We too can engage the truest meaning of life.

Every human endeavor presents an opportunity to engage G-d. And we must seek out those opportunities. Food provides energy for Torah study. Commerce enables us to fulfill the Torah laws of business ethics and also give to charity. A visit to the mall presents an opportunity to reach out to others in the spirit of, “Love your fellow as you love yourself.”

Every pursuit has a divine element and when we seek it out we engage its essence. When we enter its truest meaning we are linking with the Divine and these actions accompany us on our long voyage to heaven.

The opportunity to engage the true meaning of life was afforded us at the moment of our exodus from ancient Egypt. It is the contemporary exodus that is experienced in every generation and is offered anew every year as we read the Torah portion that describes the exodus.

This is why the name of the Torah portion that describes the exodus is Bo, which means enter. It carries an eternal message. The content of this portion, the exodus from Egypt, enables us to enter the inner meaning of every endeavor. To engage the truest and greatest meaning of life. To reach for infinity and grasp it in the palm of our hand. (4)

Footnotes

    1. Bab. Talmud, Shabbat, 33b.
    2. I am a people watcher. I am fascinated by people. I like to walk the crowded streets, watch the multitudes and muse. How many have traveled widely? How many have explored the beautiful secrets of life?How many love what they do? How many love themselves? How many have experienced the heights of love and the depths of despair? Do they live fully? Do they  fulfill their potential? Do they engage life the way only humans can?These questions always give me pause because I remember that it is not the experience that makes life valuable, but the attitude toward it. Love can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse. It all depends on our approach. The only way to embrace the full meaning of life is to devote it to a higher being, to a cause greater than ourselves.

      I ought not ask myself whether these people embrace life, but whether they embrace G-d. In fact, I ought not ask myself whether they embrace G-d before I ask myself whether I embrace G-d.

 

  • By way of example consider time and space, two elements of existence. G-d is infinite and eternal. To G-d, the past, present and future are wrapped up in one. He experiences the past  as he experiences the future. He is present in one place as he is present in another.

 

Compare this absolute freedom of time / space mobility to our limited existence. We exist in the present and only in the present. We occupy our space and only our space. You cannot sit in my space while I sit in it and I cannot sit in your space while you sit in it. We can switch places, that is true. But as I move from my spot to your spot I drag my space with me. Even in motion, I occupy space. No one can occupy my space as I move along.

The same is true with time. We exist only in the present. The present is in continuous flux. By the time you read this line, the present from the previous line has already passed and a new present has arrived. Try as you might, you cannot travel back to the past nor forward into the future. You are confined to the infinitesimally small moment of the present that moves along with you through the continuum of time.

G-d enjoys total freedom of mobility. He is not confined to one present or one space. We, on the on the hand, are severely confined. Yet, I have never met anyone, who exhibited symptoms of claustrophobia from such confinement. Why is that? Because we are blissfully oblivious to our confinement. We blessedly assume that we are free and have no idea that greater freedom is possible.

In the same sense, we believe that our world is great and have no understanding of G-d’s true greatness.

  • This essay is based on a talk given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on January 22, 1983.

 

 

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2 Comments »

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Anonymous,
    You are entirely welcome. I am glad these words served as a source of inspiration. The divine link between us is that I wrote and you read. I did not have you in mind and you did not have me in mind. The divine brought us together to form a link.
    The real thank you belongs to G-d.
    Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Rabbi: That is a very beautiful sermon, and very helpful with some decisions I am trying to make about my future. Thank you!
    I live in the U.S., and, while not a member of Chabad, am a frequent visitor to the Chabad.org website, which linked me to your article when I put the word “decisions” in its “search” function.

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