Parshat Bo: Exodus 10:1-13:16; Jeremiah 46:13-28.

In the midst of our Torah portion today, we read (Exodus 12:1): “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt.” At first glance, this verse seems very common; we read numerous times in the Torah, “The Lord said to Moses …” or “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron …” But here, in our reading today, there is an additional phrase: “in the land of Egypt.”

These words might seem innocuous; after all, the Torah often identifies a particular location where God speaks to Moses and Aaron, such as in the Tent of Meeting, on Mount Sinai or in the steppes of Moab.

Rabbi Robert Gamer
Rabbi Robert Gamer

Today’s verse comes between the telling of the first nine plagues and the 10th plague. Because we know that Moses didn’t leave Egypt during the plagues, why does the Torah bother to add the phrase, “in the land of Egypt”? Is it not perfectly clear to us that Moses and Aaron are still in Egypt? 

Commentators have approached this phrase in differing ways. Rashi says that Divine words were not uttered in the capitol itself, which was full of idols; so, Moses went out of the city to receive this revelation from God. Nachmanides says that the location is specified because all the other commandments of the Torah were given at Mount Sinai. Rahmbam agrees but takes a more liberal approach and says that the rest of the commandments of the Torah were given at Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting or on the plains of Moab.

I believe that revelation is always here, in our present moment. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in God in Search of Man, “God is not always silent …There are moments in which … heaven and Earth kiss each other; in which there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a vision of what is eternal in time. The voice of Sinai,” concluded Heschel, “goes on forever. (Deuteronomy 5:19): ‘The Lord spoke these words to your whole congregation at the mountain, out of the fire and the dense clouds, with a great voice that goes on forever.’” For Heschel, revelation is both a moment in time and eternal.

If God is always talking to us, how do we hear that message? I believe that we have a chance to hear God’s revelations through study, prayer and living a life of mitzvot. Torah is both eternal and personal, meaning that we study the texts of our tradition “as if it were given to us today.”

As the Talmud teaches, every one of us stands at Sinai; and every one of us has the obligation to receive God’s revelation of Torah in our day. 

Rabbi Robert Gamer is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park. 

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