Leann Shamash
Author of the blog Words Have Wings

We Are The Players of Parshat Bo

Passover Seder drawing by Emily T.

In Chapter 12 of Shemot, in Parshat Bo, the text travels with us far into the future. Even as primary events of the Exodus have not yet occurred, we are told that this will be a holiday to forever remember the exodus from Egypt, led by the power that is God.

In his book, Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Franzen Foer writes, “JEWS HAVE SIX SENSES Touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing… memory.”

It is interesting how memory is transferred from generation to generation. We read the words of the Haggadah where we recall a story of slavery and God’s role in liberating those slaves through great drama and miracles, but fast forward two thousand years, the tangible memory is transferred through the actions we take preparing and participating in the seder. It is through work, preparation and experience that we perpetuate lasting memories.

Parshat Bo also repeats the word home many times. That is the brilliance of the seder and Passover; that it takes place in the home year after year. The players change, the customs might vary a bit, but the seder goes on.

For most who have attended a seder, there will be many common memories, but each family’s seder has its own quirks that mark them as unique. The important part is continuing to do the work to perpetuate memory making, using the tools the rabbis have given us plus a touch of our own personal brand.

Welcome to a few memories from our family’s seders. I hope that it helps you think about Passover, even though it is a few months from now, but for now,  we are front and center with Passover in Parshat Bo.

We Are the Players of Parshat Bo

and although I don’t remember the Exodus from Egypt, I do remember our family’s yearly exodus from our house to our aunt’s house for the seder as I gazed out the windows of my dad’s old Cadillac through the gritty spring streets of suburban Boston.

I don’t exactly remember what little clothing the Hebrews took from Egypt, or the gold and silver that they took with them, but I remember the apron my beautiful aunt wore each year to the seder, so now every year I wear her blue flowered apron to ours each year.

I don’t remember the sounds that the Hebrews made when they huddled by their blood spattered doors, but I clearly remember the sounds of freedom in the singsong recitation from the Haggadah by my father and uncles at the Passover table after they survived the Holocaust.

I wasn’t there to grab my barely risen dough on the night that the Hebrews left Egypt, but I can hear the loud collective crack as everyone around the table takes their first bite of matzah and then reacts with laughs and groans.

I don’t remember the bricks that the Hebrews made but our seders would not be the same without the Persian charoset made from dates, ginger, pepper and pomegranates each year.

I wasn’t there when the rabbis decided upon which concepts to use for the four questions, but I remember the pride of singing the questions as a child and the power of listening to tiny children stumble through the questions for the first time, followed by applause as loud as the water of the raging sea when it opened for the frightened Hebrews.

I was not present for slavery and don’t understand its bitterness, but we do understand digging for horseradish root in spring and watching others at the table as they take their first tastes and then fan their mouths.

I was not there for the terror of the plagues, but I do know how serious and quiet we are each year when we dip our fingers in the wine. No matter how many people are in the room, it is always quiet.

I don’t remember the Song of the Sea and the timbrels that Miriam held, but I know the joy each year when our son, with his sweet voice, leads us in Hallel.

I wasn’t there to recall the taste of the onions of Egypt but I watch with glee as our grandchildren whip the adults at the seder with scallions.

I wasn’t there when the rabbis decided that the word Va’ooch’loohoo would be the turning point of the seder, signaling the time to eat the festive meal, but I am there every year as the entire family cries out Va’och’loohoo as though they are cheering on a football team.

We were not there when Moses entreated Pharaoh on God’s behalf ten times to release the Hebrew slaves, but Moses didn’t give up and either do we. We don’t give up on the seder; coming together rain or shine, happy or sad, young or old, far or near.
We weren’t there for to see the miracles in the desert, but we are here now to see the miracles of the Jewish people still here; still remembering so many generations later.

We weren’t there when the our story was first told, but we are here now, sitting crooked on pillows placed on folding chairs at our seder tables, with our wine stained Haggadot and each year, in our own little houses, we make Pesach,

We make memories.

We make history.

We are the players of Parshat Bo

and how sweet it is.

About the Author
After a career in Jewish education, Leann Shamash is the author of the blog Words Have Wings, which addresses the parsha of the week through poetry.
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