The King of Narrowness: Parashat Bo

“In our society, narrowness means the decay of truth and the “relativism” of facts. 

In our society, narrowness means our lack of ability to break our silos and our algorithmical segmentation, defined by our social media preferences. 

In our society, narrowness means being customers of propaganda as opposed to seekers of information.

In our society, narrowness means the politicization of COVID and of the use of masks. 

In our society, narrowness means our lack of empathy for what’s painful or challenging to those that are not like us.

I think it is safe to say that if narrowness was a plague, we would be well infected by it”. 

This week we read Parashat BO. Now,  why does God tell Moses “BO” – Come – as opposed to “Lech” – Go and talk to Pharaoh?

Our Rabbis discuss the meaning behind the use of this word. “BO”.  I tend to think that the most compelling explanation is actually provided by the continuity of the text. The second verse of Parashat Bo [Exodus 10:2]:

למען תספר באוזני בניך

“That you might tell this story to your children and to your children’s children.”

The word “BO” denotes an invitation to listen to a story that we will need to tell our children. A story about how God needed to make a mockery out of the king of narrowness.

Now, if I said that I wanted to tell you the story of the king of narrowness you would immediately understand that I’m about to tell you a story with a moral. And that’s exactly the mindset that Torah wants us to have as we explore this Parashah. 

Egypt, Mitzrayim in Hebrew, comes from the word “narrowness”. Pharaoh, the king of Mitzrayim, is actually the king of narrowness. 

So, what do we mean by “narrowness”? Let’s think about its king for a moment and see what we can learn from him. The king of narrowness notices the growth of “otherness”, and by “otherness” I mean the children of Israel who were growing in numbers. He becomes afraid of this “otherness” and his reaction is to eliminate it. When a voice from within his household rises and calls him on it, he alienates and estranges this member of his family. When this character appears once again and it becomes evident that it’s convenient to choose a different path, Pharaoh, the king of narrowness, doesn’t change his mind. The king of narrowness cannot change his mind because his narrowness defines him. 

This Parashah, Parashat Bo, describes the last three out of ten plagues. The first seven didn’t help. Now, the land is infected by Locust. Then it becomes completely dark. The Rabbis explain that that darkness is the worst of its kind. It didn’t allow people to see each other. I wonder if it wasn’t actually worse than that  and that people couldn’t even see themselves. But for the king of narrowness it didn’t matter. Not seeing anything, or being able to only see one thing at all times, are almost alike. 

And as we all know, the 10th plague is the most terrible one, when the price tag becomes his own child and all the children of his People. 

We can finish this story thinking that this is about Pharaoh, saying that this is about someone else, somewhere else and at a different time, and that that’s where this tale belongs. But the truth is that this tale is about narrowness, and, unfortunately, in our time, in our land, we are deeply affected by it. 

In our society, narrowness means the decay of truth and the “relativism” of facts. 

In our society, narrowness means our lack of ability to break our silos and our algorithmical segmentation, defined by our social media preferences. 

In our society, narrowness means being customers of propaganda as opposed to seekers of information.

In our society, narrowness means the politicization of COVID and of the use of masks. 

In our society, narrowness means our lack of empathy for what’s painful or challenging to those that are not like us.

I think it is safe to say that if narrowness was a plague, we would be well infected by it. 

So how do we address narrowness? How do we confront this contagious epidemic?

The king of narrowness started by trying to eliminate otherness and hardening his heart again and again. The plague of darkness didn’t affect him because he was never able to see anyone else. As it turns out, he also wasn’t able to see himself.  

 Maybe we could address narrowness by looking at ourselves and by trying to soften our hearts. There is no doubt that our society and country are full of wrongs and things that are in desperate need of rectification. However, if we want to be a part of a solution as opposed to carriers of the virus, we should start by requiring ourselves to soften our hearts and by searching for expansion.

The Psalmist says “מן המצר קראתי יה, ענני במרחב יה” [Psalms 118:5]. We often translate מן המיצר as “from a place of affliction I asked for You, Oh God, and You responded with divine expansion.”

 But מן המצר also means “from a narrow place I asked for You, Oh God, and You answered with Your divine expansion.” 

As we embark in this story of the book of Exodus – Shemot – the story of our transition from oppression to redemption, we pray to recognize our own narrowness as a key, not only to bring expansion to our own lives, but also to bring about the healing, the perspective and the vision that our heart hardened society so desperately needs. 

Shabbat Shalom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s