In this week’s Torah portion, Bo (which comes from the opening verse of the parashah: “And YHVH said to Moses: ‘Bo! Come to Pharaoh…’”), we encounter the plagues in full swing.
In this parashah, we read about the last three plagues: arbeh, choshekh, v’makkat b’khorot (“locusts, darkness, and the death of the firstborn”). Just when you thought things were bad, they get worse. The locusts denuded the land. The darkness lasted seven days and we are told that the very air became opaque. The rabbis teach us that it was the elemental darkness that existed before there was even light. Rashi teaches us that four-fifths of the Hebrew population died that week. (If you use Torah numbers, then somewhere around 12 million Hebrews died that week!).
We read that Pharaoh wanted to let Moses and the Hebrews go, but again, YHVH hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he became no longer willing to let the Hebrews go and so followed the tenth plague, the Death of the First-born. And it would be devastating. The Torah says “there was a great scream in Egypt.”
We also learn that before the final plague, YHVH gave instructions to the Hebrews that would ultimately save them from the final plague and would prepare them for their liberation from slavery. This was the Passover sacrifice.
The story of the Plagues is a perfect metaphor for those of us who deal with addiction. We learn from the Big Book of AA that after it was already going bad, it got worse.
Bill’s Story: “It gradually got worse.”
Doctor Bob’s Nightmare: “…so that I rapidly got worse.”
There is a Solution: “As matters grow worse….”
How It Works: “But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got.”
More about Alcoholism: “Over any considerable period we get worse, never better” and “In some instances there has been brief recovery, followed always by a still worse relapse.” Get the picture?
Rabbi Shais Taub in his book G-d of Our Understanding speaks about “active addiction” as “self-help: ‘I take care of myself the only way I know how; because no one else can or will.’” “Recovery is G-d-help: ‘I can’t continue trying to do for myself what only G-d can really do for me.’” He continues: “By the time one is an addict, there is no human power that can make the addiction go away. Addiction must be treated by a miracle.” (p. 35) And that’s the story that we read this week. After the devastation, there is a prescription – a recipe – for a miracle.
But miracles don’t come easily. Our miracle of recovery requires hard work. I find it interesting that it is not until Step Ten – after having done all of the “hard” steps – that we read: “We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it.” Work first, then miracles happen.
So, in this Torah portion, YHVH gives the Hebrews “steps” that they need to take in order to begin their process of being freed from enslavement. We are also taught that it was not just the enslavement from the Pharaoh and the Egyptians and their taskmasters, it was also a spiritual enslavement that almost brought the Hebrews to a point of no escape. And we are told to keep this ritual. Why? So that we remember – that we remember there is freedom for us – freedom from our enslavement, freedom from our addictions. And not just chemical or substance addictions, but the freedom from the slavery of our distorted and limited thinking that leads to bad choices and bad behaviors.
Then, at the end of our parashah, come the first steps of freedom. It is a journey into the unknown, fraught with danger. But there is also a reminder – for the Hebrews and for us – that it was G-d who brought us out of our slavery and leads us as we move forward one day at a time.
In this new calendar year, let us all do the work so that we might discover the miracle of freedom.