Parsha Bo: Finding Freedom in the Bread of Blah

| parsha reflection |

This week the Exodus story continues as G-d rains plagues down on Egypt to defeat Pharaoh and free the Israelites from slavery. This week’s parsha, Bo, meaning “Go,” begins with G-d’s telling Moses to go to Pharaoh and warn him of the eighth plague, locusts. The warning, of course, falls on deaf ears, and the plague of locusts is followed by the plague of darkness, and finally the most terrible, the death of the firstborn.

Between the ninth and tenth plagues, the Israelites are instructed to sacrifice a lamb and paint their doorposts with its blood, so that the angel of death will pass over their houses. They are also told that in the future, they are to remember and observe a week-long holiday every spring, when they eat unleavened bread, perform the passover sacrifice, and explain to their children the reason for the holiday. (This is Passover, which, these days, is the most-celebrated Jewish holiday.) After these instructions, the tenth plague strikes, and immediately afterward, the Israelites set out to leave Egypt.

And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had taken out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, since they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay; nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.” (Exodus 12:39)

Leavening is what makes bread rise, and it’s also a word we use to indicate that something has been changed for the better. Humor in serious situations is considered a leavening agent, for example. Unleavened bread, then, is generally considered inferior to leavened bread. During the seder, the Passover meal and ritual, we call the unleavened bread the “bread of affliction.” However, we also refer to it as the “bread of freedom.”

A number of years ago I served on a jury. I discovered that a large part of jury service is waiting, and it gets boring. However, it was so interesting to be part of the justice system that I was even interested in the boring parts. “Wow, this is really boring—that’s fascinating!” That’s rare, though. Waiting, doing routine tasks, just getting through the mundane parts of everyday life is usually not fascinating to me. It feels flat, flavorless, unleavened—maybe not the bread of affliction, exactly, but the bread of blah.

Could this same bread be the bread of freedom? How is our experience of waiting or performing mundane tasks changed as we cultivate mindfulness?

My kavannah for this parsha is to open ourselves to the parts of life that are less interesting, and consider how we might find value in them—how they make us more free, or, to turn it around, how our freedom is what allows us to have that particular boredom. May we increase the meaning in our moments by noticing and living in the flat ones as well as the leavened.