Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Bo

This week, in parashat Bo, we read of the conclusion of the plagues, as Israel prepares to leave Egypt. The people are told to ask their neighbours for some of their wealth before leaving, and, in fact, the riches of Egypt are shared with the Israelites. On a practical level, this puts closure to any future claim of monies owed to us for forced labour, and Israel can truly disconnect from Egypt. But the question remains as to why an ancient Egyptian would want to share their wealth with a departing slave.
Immediately after instructing Israel to do this, the text says that God placed “the beauty of the nation into the eyes of Egypt.” This one phrase opens our understanding of how a people can enslave another people. The process of oppression includes steps of dehumanization. If I view another person as an equal human being, with a name, an identity, and human dignity, it becomes more difficult to hurt them or see them suffer. History has shown that to enslave, the oppressor must first believe their victim is less than human. We heard hints of this early in our text when the midwives told Pharaoh he was correct, the Israelite women are like animals.
It is not the beauty of the Israelites that God placed in the eyes of the Egyptians, it is the beauty of their humanity ­– Egypt was able to view the Israelites as people. The desire to resolve suffering and promote healing is a universal element of compassion that we all share.
In today’s world, we fall into the same trap when we group people together and reference them as ‘homeless,’ or even ‘immigrants,’ without thinking of them as people with names and specific identities. It’s convenient and practical, but the risk of where it can lead is too great. Every person deserves eye contact and an exchange of communication between equals.
There are many lessons we take with us from our Egypt experience. Some of them are grand theological messages while others are subtle, timeless human insights.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat ­– our Jewish time to regroup, rest and reinvigorate.
Shabbat shalom,