Parashat Bo

Pharaoh's Courtiers

We can identify with Pharaoh's servants--and this need not make us uncomfortable.

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One commentator (Hizkuni) sees this transfer of goods as the Egyptian people's attempt at economic reparation--they are paying back wages for years of the Israelites' hard slave labor. Another (Ibn Ezra) goes further, claiming, "the Egyptians actually begged the Israelites to borrow their wealth. This is quite miraculous, totally the opposite of the ordinary way of the world." 

Two Crucial Lessons

Rather than feel uncomfortable about identifying with servants in Pharaoh's court, Jews of the Global North can gain insight and inspiration from their actions. The Egyptians teach us two crucial lessons:

Speak truth to those in power. The courtiers begged Pharaoh to stop his stubborn destructiveness. They, who themselves lived under tyranny, advocated for change. For those of us living in a democracy, how much more are we responsible for active advocacy?

Share wealth. How can we provide helpful support to those working toward political, economic, and social justice? Can we give in a way that feels "miraculous, totally the opposite of the ordinary way of the world?"

This week, Jews all over the world chant the story of the Israelite Exodus from Egyptian slavery. We will continue to identify with the Hebrew slaves, struggling toward freedom and justice, saved by the outstretched arm of God.

Reading the Exodus this year, our challenge is to acknowledge the role we play as Egyptians in Pharaoh's court. In an earlier age, Abraham Lincoln warned, "We--even we here--hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free…" How will we raise our voices and stretch out our arms for economic justice and liberation?

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Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman

Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman is the Rabbi Martin Ballonoff Memorial Rabbi-in-Residence at Berkeley Hillel.