We humans are, at our core, storytellers. Or at least story listeners. Our music, our television, our literature, of course, all of our culture—all of every culture—tells stories. And our very real lives are really just poetic riffs on prose, fiction meeting non-fiction. Stories we live based on stories we tell, to ourselves and to one another. Our reality is shaped by perception is shaped by stories.
The totality of Jewish peoplehood—of belief, of practice, of cultural expression, of fellowship—is continuously formed and shaped through storytelling. And our Torah portion this week, Bo, contains the penultimate narrative of our purpose-filled redemption from slavery: just before they are led out of Egypt, the Israelites are told how they should tell their story to their children and their children’s children.
Of his instruction to the Israelites to offer a pascal sacrifices and place blood on the doorposts of their homes, Moses says, “When your children ask you, What does this ceremony mean to you?, then tell them, It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians… On that day tell your child, I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt… In days to come, when your child asks you, What does this mean?, say, With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
Our story takes form. We were redeemed with a mighty hand. But not our mighty hand. And not for the sake of freedom but for the sake of obligation. Not for the sake of power but for the sake of responsibility.
When we care for the sick at Shalom Park, when we care for the lonely at Kavod, when we feed the hungry widow through the Weinberg Food Pantry at JFS or the widow in the former Soviet Union through the Joint Distribution Agency, when we return Ethiopian Jewry to Israel, or when we help build the Negev through our partners in Ramat HaNegev, our narrative continues. We write a new chapter in our unfolding and millennia-long story, lifting up lives together with our outstretched hands.