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Parshat Bo Sermon

Sermon by Rabbinic Intern Aaron Sataloff

Friday, January 15, 2016

We all need space. We need open space ­ Space to think, space to breathe, and space to move. Sometimes the space we need can be physical, or at other times, emotional. Space can be a vacation from work, 6 inches of extra legroom on an international flight, or even a divorce from a spouse. The space between us and other people, between places, things, and also time, is critical. Try to think about a time you may have needed temporal space from a saddening or heart­breaking event. Or better yet, emotional and physical space. The words: “I just need space right from you,” holds such an incredible amount of weight ­ of anxiousness, sadness, anger, or even frustration. Whatever the space, either the quantity or dimension, the concept of space defines and characterizes so much of our lives. Space shapes us just as much as we shape it.

Robert Fripp, a​n English guitarist, composer and record producer, says that “silence is the field of creative musical intelligence, which dwells in the space between the notes, and holds them in place” In a song, it’s the space between the notes that forms a composition. The space is what defines each note. If all the notes were played all at once it would just sound like incoherent noise. Without space between notes, space between frets and vocal harmonies, we wouldn’t be able to distinguish our favorite song from street traffic. Space is a necessary ingredient for creation, continuation, and evolution. When children go off to college or move away, space penetrates that relationship. But what happens in that space, that distance between two people, two places? Suddenly children have a space of their own. Space to grow and develop in their own way. We send our children out into the world with the hope that the space we give them will allow them to mature and become independent ­ To think for themselves, to take care of themselves, to be themselves. Everyone needs space. We need space to grow, to discover ourselves, to be unique and to be heard like a note in a song. Space to think differently – to be different.

In our Torah portion this week, Parshat Bo, we observe a people in the midst of struggling within a lack of space ­ the enclosures of Egypt and a ruler that holds them captive. The israelites are smothered by a land in which they are slaves. But Moses and Aaron come to free them. In chapter 13, God sends the last three of the Ten plagues upon Egypt: 8) A swarm of locusts that devoured the crops 9) Darkness that enveloped the land, and finally 10) Death of the firstborn. This is the reaction of a God who observes his children suffering from the confines of Egypt. God hears them crying out, slowly dying from their imprisonment.

The text goes on to tell us that “God hardens Pharaoh's heart (Ex. 10:1).” Think for a moment about the metaphor of a hardened heart: a coagulated, stiff organ whose primary function is to keep the body moving, blood flowing, and mind. This vessel of life that God has callused demonstrates the tightness and immobility the Israelites are faced with. They’re stuck. And so, after Pharaoh's firstborn dies, Pharaoh's heart finally shatters, driving the Israelites out of Egypt. Mi Mitzriyim ( )ממצרים

Mi, meaning from, and tzar, meaning narrows. Egypt literally means “from the narrows.” By making an exodus from Egypt, God provided them the opportunity to leave this narrowness. Moses leads the people into the wilderness, into a plethora of space, to form their covenant, to make laws, to become independent, to mature and develop, to distinguish themselves from among the other nations. God opened this space in order to form a nation. A space to be free. Because when we give ourselves open space, we are also allowing room for new creations – room for newness. Therefore, the real questions then become: What does it mean to be a people that once came from the narrows? What makes space so crucial in defining who we are as individuals, or as a people? What does space help us accomplish?

Rabbi Nahman of Breslov tells:
“the creation of the world came about in essence by way of open space, without which all would have been endless divinity and there would have been no place for the creation of the world. Therefore, God withdrew light to the margins, and the open space was formed, and in that space God created the world, through acts of speech. And so it is, too, with disagreement – For if all the sages were of one mind there would be no place for the creation of the world. It is only by way of disagreement between them, and their dividing from another, each one drawing to a particular side, that open space comes into being between them – which in its nature, is like the withdrawing of primordial divine light to the margins – in the midst of which creation can take place.”

What I believe one lesson of many lessons we can learn from the Exodus story and the words of this Rabbi Nachman is thus: Open space allows for for the creation of something new. Open space allows for differentiation and uniqueness. We need open space. Like a college student or even the Israelites, open space allowed room for discovery and formation. Open space provides room to think differently, to challenge established thoughts, to have new thoughts, to be ourselves ­ To not be ourselves – to become something completely different. Whether it’s in the wilderness or our living rooms, open space gives us the opportunity for something new to exist.

So let us widen our sense of perspective, let us not get caught up in the box, let us not imprison and enclose our minds, like the Israelites were enclosed in Egypt. Let’s open ourselves like God opened the way towards freedom ­ Let us create these openings to give way to something new – whether it’s a new thought, idea, or concept. Don’t smother it, but give it space to grow and mature. Let us strive to continue to open our minds, not harden or stiffen them. Because if we have open minds and make these openings for creation, we can discover something new about ourselves or the world around us. Let’s emancipate our thoughts, our minds from the bonds of others who tell us how to think and who to be. Let us not become slaves to the narrowness of thought. Let us make an exodus from

mitzriyim, an exodus from the narrows. Ultimately, who knows what we will find, who we might become, or what we might discover in the open space. 


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