January 6, 2022


1.7.2022 Weekly Torah Portion

Every morning as my wife and I prepare to get out of the house with our two young kids, our house is a bit of a frenzy – we rush to make breakfast, pack lunches, get the kids dressed, do our morning routines, and get ourselves ready for our day and work. The inner and sometimes outer dialogue goes something like this:

Have you packed enough snacks for the kids; diapers for the baby? Are there enough water bottles for everyone? Sweatshirts and warm clothes in case the weather changes on us?  Keys, wallet, covid vaccination card? Damn it, I forgot my mask again!!! Benjamin, please bring a sweatshirt; for heaven’s sake, it is winter in Los Angeles!!!

It’s a seemingly never-ending list of to dos and items to check off before we’re fit to leave the security of our home for the chaos of the day. And if this is what we go through just to get out the door every day, imagine the night before leaving Egypt. Imagine what it would be like to know that after 430 years of enslavement, tomorrow we are free.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, the Israelites are preparing to leave on their greatest adventure.  It’s the night before the Exodus, the night of the Passover seder.

What do you do to prepare?  How do you get ready the night before?  What do you bring with you?

Interestingly, the Torah discusses the mental state of the Israelites the night before and how they should eat their last supper as slaves:

“This is how you shall eat [the Passover offering]: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it [b’hipazon] hurriedly: it is a Passover offering to the LORD” (Exodus 12:11).

To be in a state of hipazon or “haste” and be ready to go in a moment’s notice.  No time to waste to even put your shoes on.  No time to worry about a packing list; just be ready to move and move quickly. Because when the chance to leave slavery comes, you don’t want to dilly dally.  In fact, all you need is your walking stick to support you on the trek ahead.

Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin adds an interesting reason for being in a frenzied state.  He writes:

When one first enters into the service of Hashem, one needs to be in a state of hipazon, haste, just like the passover offering that was eaten in haste in Egypt. Because in the beginning, when one disconnects himself from all cravings of the [physical] world that he is bound to, one needs to protect the moment that God’s will awakens within him, in order to quickly depart from the desire…(Gems of Torah, Commentary on Exodus 12:11).

When we’re starting our journey, we must be swift, nimble, and awakened to be in service of something greater than our urges, lusts and whims.  We must look beyond what is comfortable and safe and simply Get. Out. Of. Slavery!

What am I waiting for to get started on my journey?

What must I do b’hipazon (in haste) without overthinking or wanting it to be perfect?

What cravings am I still enslaved to?

But there’s also a downside to this state of hipazon: it’s not sustainable.  It’s not enduring for the long trek through the wilderness and into the promised land of life.  And if it is left unchecked – like most mornings in the Shamash household – it is also possible to forget about what’s really important.  To forget about the sanctity of the moment, the sanctity of living our values over the long-term, and instead to endlessly chase after the wind and get caught up in the rat race of life.

In this state of hipazon, we forget about those who are suffering.  We don’t have enough time for our neighbors in need, or to call our parents, siblings, loved ones.  Or worse, we don’t have enough time for each other.

Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen notes that it is important to start out in the service of God b’hipazon, but after that it’s a slower journey.

…After that, once he has entered into the service of Hashem, one continues to go in moderation, slowly according to the laws of Passover over the course of generations” (Gems of Torah, Commentary on Exodus 12:11).

Our journey must be kickstarted in a frenzy, but once we leave we must move forward intentionally. Methodically.  Patiently.  We have to be prepared for the long haul of the marathon that awaits us without the wasting away of precious moments that perpetual haste creates.

And I’m guilty of this all too often. Not only at home, but if you’ve ever seen me walking through the halls of Beit T’Shuvah, it’s easy to see that there is a lot of hipazon in my stride.  I’m rushing from one thing to the next, trying to fit in as much as possible and bend time – as if it doesn’t apply to me like it does to everyone else.  There is an endless amount of work.  There is always more to do.  The fire is always burning.

And the inner work is to slow down.  To pause.  To manifest presence.  To be here now and stop trying to play God!

In what ways does my frenzied state of hipazon or haste imprison me?

In what ways must I be more intentional with my actions?

While I may be gaining accomplishment by hurrying, what am I missing out on in fulfillment?

And the truth typically integrates the both/and: every day needs a bit of urgency and haste to spring us into the service of something greater than ourselves. And at the same time, we need to stop and smell the roses along the way.

Leaving slavery wasn’t done in chaos, it was orderly.  It was not “run for your lives before the Egyptians change their minds!” (which they did), but rather the Torah says God liberated us b’tzevaot, “in ranks.” We left together, like a military marching in formation. Stride by stride, step by step. Hand in hand along the long road to freedom.

May we continue to march together!

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Joseph