Daniel D. Stuhlman

Parashat Bo — Inconsistencies

Parashat Bo January 28, 2023

The parasha continues with the last plagues and the process of changing pharaoh’s heart to let the Israelites leave Egypt.  The story of the Exodus has aspects related to the individual and community.  On the individual level each person who left Egypt had to look upon himself as going from slave to free person.  On the community level the people had to change from a bunch of tribes to become a nation with a heritage, collective experience, traditions, and laws.  We ask ourselves what does freedom mean to us personally and what does it mean to be a free people?

The Torah has many inconsistencies.  There was no copy editor to make sure all the pieces fit without contradiction.  Our tradition saw these inconsistences as part of the Divine design of the documents.  Commentaries have tried to explain the differences between one section and another.  We don’t need to explain the differences between Torah and science.  God sent the plagues upon the Egyptians, but he didn’t go against the laws of science.  Locusts existed in the time of the Torah and today.  The “miracle” is the timing of the plague so that the Egyptians thought it was the work of God.

If we find two sources that are inconsistent, we look for a third source that can resolve the difficulty.  Sometimes that does not work.  For example, in one place (Genesis 15:13) we read that Avraham’s offspring will be enslaved for 400 years.  In another accounting the period was 210 years. The dating systems present us with two aspects or perspectives on the Exodus.  They are not historical facts. If I say delivery of a package will be in 7 days, is it a contradiction if it comes in 5 days?  Things change.  There is no way for someone to accurately predict what will happen in200 years.

Every count of years and days in the Torah is not about trips around the sun or spinning of the Earth on its axis. The Torah is a book of Jewish religions, laws, morality, and nation building, not a book of history. Numbers have a lesson for us even if we don’t understand why the Torah uses exact numbers.

The business lesson is that we have to look at Exodus from an individual and communal perspective.  The business is made of individuals who in a well-run organization act as parts of a community with common purposes and goals.

Discussion questions

  1. What are some aspects of an organization that would show common purpose? What are examples of the opposite?
  2. How does an individual deal with contradictions in the organization?
Open Torah scroll.
About the Author
Lives in Chicago, Illinois USA. Academic and synagogue librarian for more than 40 years. Graduate of Columbia University in the City of New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jewish University of America. MHL and DHL in Tanah. Gabbai Sheni of Kehilath Jacob Beth Shmuel in Chicago for more than 40 years.
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