August 7, 2018

The secret of Jewish continuity (Bo)

Parshat Bo describes the final three plagues that were meted out to the Egyptians, it details the laws of the Korban Pesach, and it instructs us to observe the laws of Pesach. But in addition to all of this, Parshat Bo reveals the secret of Jewish continuity and teaches us how to maintain our identity in a society whose values differ from our own.

As we know, Bnei Yisrael were instructed to take a bundle of hyssop, dip it into the blood of the Korban Pesach, and place the blood on their doorposts, so that ‘the blood shall be a sign for you upon the houses where you are’ (Shemot 12:13). However, while one opinion in the Mechilta (see Mechilta 12:7) states that this blood was placed on the outside of the Israelite homes to publicly oppose the ways of the Egyptians, the Mechilta records two further opinions stating that the blood was placed inside the Jewish homes, and it is noteworthy that it is this opinion that Rashi records in his commentary (to Shemot 12:13). But what was the point of placing blood on the inside of the homes?

I believe that embedded in this interpretation is a deep message about how to achieve Jewish continuity. While the Egyptian’s worshipped lambs and lived according to values different to those of the Israelites, our ancestors were told to makes signs inside their homes as a way of showing them that the best way to maintain our identity and not through public acts that oppose alien cultures, but through personal commitments that affirm our connection to our own heritage. From here we learn that the place where Jewish continuity is forged is the Jewish home, and this is why the Jewish home is the true centre of Jewish life. Our homes must contain clear signs of Jewish pride and palpably reflect Jewish values, and when we enter our homes, we should know that it is here where the Jewish future is borne.

Yet it is important to point out that the signs of a Jewish home are not merely the mezuzot affixed to its doorposts and the kosher food in the kitchen. Judaism does not simply emerge by surrounding ourselves with Jewish items. Instead, the true sign of a Jewish home is when families live Judaism together, share Judaism together and take pride in Judaism together. Far too often I meet young Jewish men and women whose homes had mezuzot and whose kitchens were filled with kosher food, but whose Jewish identities are weak. Their parents thought that this was enough to inspire their children. But they forgot one key ingredient, which is that a Jewish home is about human interaction and human emotions.

Ultimately, while mezuzot cost money, and kosher food costs money, the true ingredient for a Jewish home is far less costly but far more valuable. It can’t be found on a doorpost, and isn’t found in the fridge. Instead, it is the time, love, and joy that we give to our family in the pursuit of a life that is guided by Torah values. This, more than anything else, is the secret of Jewish continuity.

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