Friday, January 19, 2018

Haftarat Bo: We've Been on This Ride Before!

This week has truly been a roller-coaster. In politics, deals on funding and immigration were made, broken, repaired, and then broken again. In foreign
relations, we saw a reconciliation on the Korean peninsula after months of fearing that nuclear war was imminent. But our fears and concerns have not been fully assuaged either. It's hard to keep up! We get excited... we feel dejected. We are furious! And then celebratory again. A roller-coaster of emotions indeed. And in this, my 435th blog post, you surely know what I'm going to say next: How fascinating it is, then, to see a back-and-forth of emotions reflected BOTH in our Torah portion AND in this week's Haftarah. In fact, it is "almost" a literal push-and-pull. (And I loathe using "literal" to mean "not literal"...) So let's buy a ticket and hop on board!

Even the very name of our parashah reflects this tension. The reading is called "Bo," which most translations render as "Go." The directive is issued by God to Moses and Aaron, instructing them to return once more to Pharaoh to announce
the eighth plague, locusts. The problem is, the word "Bo" doesn't mean "go"! I could only find one translation, the Everett Fox Bible, that agreed with me, but I nevertheless feel confident with this reading. Exodus 10:1 SHOULD state "Come to Pharaoh..." The Hebrew word means "to arrive," with the thrust of "come here to me." But the rest of God's sentence tells us that Moses and Aaron are then going to be thrown out by Pharaoh for pronouncing yet another plague. Right away, we see the push-and-pull; come forward to Pharaoh, and then he'll throw you out. After the plague, he'll bring you back in, only to eject you once again!! And this "whiplash" continues in our Haftarah as well.

The parallel text that accompanies Bo comes from the Prophet Jeremiah; specifically his prophecies against Egypt. Jeremiah explicitly mentions locusts, in 46:23, so there's a pretty clear linguistic connection between the two texts. But then we have our give-and-take repeated as well:
In verse 25, God promises to punish Egypt for betraying Israel... only to forgive the Egyptians (?!) in verse 26, and pledge to return them to their land. The part that REALLY caught my eye, however - that flips side-to-side like a pendulum - is the very end of our Haftarah. God first vows to defeat our enemies. But then reminds Israel that we have been banished from our own land. Then returns to assure the people that we will not remain dispersed forever, and concludes with the most push-and-pull line of them all: "I will not leave you unpunished, but I will chastise you in measure" (46:28). I believe God is saying, "You've been bad and you DO need to suffer some of the consequences of your actions... but I will go easy on you." Is anyone else as exhausted as I am? Can we get off the roller-coaster yet???

Again, I find it interesting that this all reflects how many of us feel in light of reading the morning newspaper, or listening to a daily podcast. Of course, the text hasn't changed in millenia, but different things jump out at us, based on what's going on in
our lives. And right now, I find it helpful to know that life OFTEN consists of pushing-and-pulling. It always has, throughout our history, and it continues to this day. It is ok to feel mentally fatigued; this is tough! But there is no option to give up, or to just check out. Our ancestors went through generation after generation of experiencing God's favor tangibly and miraculously saving them from harm... alternating with feeling utterly rejected and pummeled into the ground by one enemy or another. Nevertheless, we keep going. We get back up, we try to glean meaning and purpose in all the good AND the bad that occurs,  we dust ourselves off, and we keep fighting for a better tomorrow. And yes, even when we're dizzy and a little nauseous, we buy yet another ticket to get back on that roller-coaster...

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of Sam-Pig on Wikimedia Commons
2. CC image courtesy of Ryan Child on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image courtesy of Fizped on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of Corey Coyle on Wikimedia Commons

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