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Drash on Bo 2024

Rabbi Moshe Givental

North Shore Temple Emanuel

The world of Parshat Bo is not the only world filled with tyrants, dictators, and demagogues. Those external Pharaohs are well known to us. However, the Torah teaches that in addition to this, we all have a Pharoah inside, an internal tyrant as well. The word Pharaoh is broken down into two peh/mouth ra/evil/destructive. This the internalized voice of destruction, violence, toxic criticism, and shame. The voices outside of us are hard enough to fight, but at least we can see them clearly. How do we fight or negotiate with the Pharaoh inside?

We have a hint in the very first sentence of the Parshah. It says, “God spoke to Moses, and said to him, come to Pharoah.” Shouldn’t it say “go to Pharaoh”? When instructing someone to go somewhere else, we say “go.” The word “come” implies an invitation to come towards the speaker. Since it is God speaking, “come to Pharaoh”  is transformed to mean “come towards God” as well. This means that even inside Pharah is God. So too, perhaps inside of our internalized Pharoah, is God waiting for us. This is very easy to say, but hard to experience. The voice of Pharaoh inside of us, the angry voice, the critical voice, the shaming voice, the hard-hearted voice, the voice overwhelmed with pain, is terrifying. Usually, we either succumb to and believe it, or we wrestle with it to exhaustion. Both paths lead to more suffering.

I want to offer two other polar opposite directions which might serve us better instead. Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotz taught “There is nothing as whole as a broken heart.” I read this in contrast with Pharaoh’s increasingly hardened heart throughout the plagues. The hardened heart is a heart of stone, the weight of the world and its suffering has imploded and collapsed upon itself. There is no more feeling, it is numbness. There can be a sense of safety and refuge within that. Rabbi Mendel suggests we risk breaking it open, we risk confessing to ourselves that painful reality which we are numb to, we risk feeling it even more deeply. I don’t suggest that we risk alone, but with the support of community and faith. Faith, that perhaps Leonard Cohen was right, that once there is a crack, “that’s how light gets in.”

My second offer comes from this Parshah’s refrain for freedom and worship! Worship doesn’t mean rote repetition of rites. Real worship is joy, as psalm 100 demands, “Serve God with joy, come before God with loud song!” This second suggestion is to introduce our internalized Pharoah, that sense of our heart being hard as a rock, to joy. This too absolutely requires community. Reb Nacham of Breslov in Likutei Moharan Part II, 23:1 taught using an analogy, he said, “Sometimes, when people are happy and dance, they grab someone standing outside the circle who is depressed and gloomy. Against that person’s will they bring them into the circle of dancers; against their will, they force them to be happy along with them. It is the same with joy. When a person is joyous, gloom and suffering stand aside. Yet greater still is to gather courage to actually pursue gloom, and to introduce it to the joy, such that the gloom itself turns into joy.”

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