One of my favorite questions from a student centers on Parashat Bo, from which we read this week. About a million years ago, in my first congregation, I was discussing Parashat HaShavua with the fifth grade students. We were talking about the importance of the story of the Exodus, how it’s the story of our becoming a nation, the story that drives our celebration of Pesaḥ. One student insightfully asked: If this is the story of Pesaḥ, and that story is so important to us, why do we read it now, in the winter? Why don’t we read it in the spring, closer to the holiday?
Her question parallels another question about the way the Torah tells the story of Pesaḥ, a question about the anticlimactic pause right in the middle of our parashah. The beginning of Parashat Bo tells of plagues number 8 and 9, locusts and darkness. Moshe then comes before Pharaoh with Aaron and explains what will happen for the tenth and worst plague, the death of the firstborn. And then…we learn the rules for the Jewish calendar and the procedure for celebrating Pesaḥ.
It does get back to the exciting stuff after a good bit, detailing the Israelites’ night of painting their doorposts with the blood of the sacrifice and waiting through that terrible night for the right moment to leave. But it’s a noteworthy place to have a pause in the action.
There are innumerable commentaries and midrashim offering explanations for the presence of this legal passage in the midst of an otherwise pretty exciting part of the Exodus narrative. However, the answer that speaks most to me right now is the same answer I gave my fifth grade student all those years ago: Planning ahead is important.
We read the story of Pesaḥ in the dead of winter, when we can better appreciate its twists and turns, allowing ourselves to feel the desperation and the awe without worrying about making shopping and clearing lists. This no-strings-attached reading helps us more openly engage with the story, planting a seed for how we envision our celebration of Pesaḥ a few months down the road.
Similarly, the break in the narrative right before the final plague’s execution serves as an instruction both to the Israelites and to us to pause and make a plan before jumping into something big. The plan that’s given to the Israelites in that moment isn’t intended for so far in the future; it’s meant for more immediate use. Still the message is there - before you do something, stop and figure out how you want to do it.
This is advice I need to hear and I imagine I’m not alone. From the busy-ness of our lives to the expectation that things like social media posts need immediate responses, we can easily forget the value of pausing and planning. I invite you this week to follow the underlying message of Parashat Bo and find an opportunity to pause and plan. Maybe you take a night to sleep on an email response. Or you give yourself room to breathe and think about what you want to say when a child or partner says something that pushes your buttons. Or you make a meal plan for the week before you do your grocery shopping. Find the opportunity to pause and plan that makes the most sense for your life. Try it out. I’ll be doing it too.