Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Gal Atia. Gal first came to camp in 2008 as the first shaliach to coach basketball at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. He has played many roles at camp since then, including Rosh Sport, Ramah Israel Seminar counselor, Rosh Mishlachat, Yoetz (staff trainer) and Program Director. Currently Gal is the Educational Director at the Summer Shlichim program of the Jewish Agency.
The First Step: Reflections on Parashat Bo
by Gal Atia
This week’s Torah reading, Bo, is both important and dramatic. Moses asks Pharaoh repeatedly to let the Israelites go, but Pharaoh keeps rejecting his requests, and four more plagues fall upon Egypt. It is only after the tenth plague that Pharaoh finally sets B’nei Yisrael (the Israelites) free.
This parashah contains one of the most well-known quotes in the Bible, a verse that is a central component of our Passover celebration:
וְהִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה ה’ לִ֔י בְּצֵאתִ֖י מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃
And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt.’ (Exodus 13:8)
The words “and you shall explain to your child” direct parents to tell the story of B’nei Yisrael’s adventures in Egypt as if they were physically there. These words have been passed from generation to generation throughout our history and from our parents to us.
But why do we focus so much on leaving Egypt rather than on other events? Why not focus on B’nei Yisrael entering the Promised Land after so many years?
The Midrash tells us that B’nei Yisrael had a choice; most of them chose not to follow Moses and Aaron and leave Egypt. We are told that only 600,000 out of 3 million people left, and the rest preferred to stay in Egypt, even after witnessing all the miracles God performed.
We know that it takes a lot of courage and a leap of faith to leave the familiar (even if you are a slave in Egypt) and take a step towards something that will change your life. Even if you succeed, you know that your life will never be the same again. I think that B’nei Yisrael were both excited and scared to take such action towards a new future.
Entering the land of Israel was the outcome of this bravery, but it had no sense of sacrifice in it. The Land of Israel was the reward, the trophy.
In recent months our camp leadership and parents, campers and staff have taken very brave steps encountering something new and unfamiliar, our own plague. And just as the midrash teaches us that the first step in the process, the voluntary choice to begin the journey, is essential, so too the decision so many in our community have made to stay connected to Ramah and commit to returning to camp in 2021 – that is the key choice.
We will reunite back at Ramah this upcoming summer, which, like B’nei Yisrael’s entry into the Land of Israel forty years after leaving Egypt, is the trophy, the goal, the completion of the process. That trophy will feel much sweeter because of the choices and commitments we’ve already made.