D’var Torah:  Parashat Bo

Exodus 10:1 – 13:16
“Being Humble”

Every synagogue is a beit tefillah, a beit midrash, and a beit Knesset:  a house of prayer, study, and assembly.  We are here on this Sabbath to celebrate a movement that combines all three:  Scouting.

Scouting, Judaism and I would hope all religions appeal to the strengths of human beings – not to their weaknesses.  It appeals to their hope – not their fear.  It appeals to their desire to learn – to not be ignorant.

Last week we discussed the first seven plagues brought upon the Egyptians by G-d, as Moses had warned.

This week we conclude the ten plagues with locusts, darkness and the death of the first-born.  The laws of Passover are presented, as well as consecration of the first-born animal and redemption of one’s first-born son.

We also learn to not eat anything leavened like bread on Passover.  We are instructed to eat flat, unleavened matzot (13:7).  Our sages learn a big life-lesson from this.  Leaven, which causes dough to rise, can be compared to haughtiness, the feeling a person has that he is somehow ‘better’ than others.  Unleavened matzah, in contrast, represents being humble and down to earth.  While it is a positive thing to like and value ourselves, we should be careful not to puff ourselves up with the feeling that we need to be better than everyone else to feel happy.

Depending on G-d

We all have certain things that we’ve grown to depend on and take for granted in order to be happy.  These things are often not as important as we think.  Sometimes these dependencies can even limit a person, preventing him from seeing things clearly; from reaching his full potential.

The ancient Egyptians worshipped idols and even sheep.  In our Torah portion, G-d had the Israelites slaughter and roast sheep.  This showed the Egyptians – and the Israelites – that the “sheep-gods,” which Egyptians were so dependent on, were quite powerless.  They discovered the truth that the only higher power worth depending on is G-d.  In a sense, G-d used a version of the EDGE method:  Explain / Demonstrate / Guide / Enable.

We may also be shown at some time in our life that some of the things that we think we depend on are also not real, like money, fame and material possessions.  Recognizing this truth – which some never will – may not make us feel comfortable, but we should be happy in knowing that we are being given an opportunity to come closer to G-d – or maybe the Great Scoutmaster of the Universe, on whom we can always depend.

Finding Courage

It took a lot of courage for the Israelite slaves in Egypt to publicly do things to show that the Egyptians’ false gods were useless.  It takes a lot of courage for us to publicly stand up for what’s true and right even when it’s not popular.  But that’s just what G-d asked of them – it’s what He asks of us.  In the Jewish community, we find ourselves doing this rather frequently.

In researching this week’s Torah portion, I read a story about a boy, Mark, a neighborhood ping pong champion at the local rec center.  Mark loved to brag about how great he was.  One day, another boy, Brian, brought in a friend, Zach, who played ping pong even better than Mark.  Not knowing how good Zach was at ping pong, Mark taunted, then challenged Zach.  Zach beat the pants off of Mark.  Mark did not come back for a few days.

Feeling a bit guilty about driving him away, Brian went to check on Mark.  He convinced Mark to come back, even though he knew he was no longer the best ping pong player.  Brian told Mark that he was still their friend, whether he was champ or not.  With Zach unlikely to return, Mark would still be the rec center champ anyway.

Sure enough, Mark did return.  But it took his friends a while to recognize him.  He was very different: no “I’m the Greatest” shirt; no “I’m #1” hat.  But Mark’s biggest change was in the way he acted.  Even when Mark won, which he usually did, he acted much more humble about it; he even tried to make his opponent feel good about the way he played.  He seemed much happier too, and a warm smile replaced Mark’s usual sneering scowl.

As they were leaving on his first day back, Mark said to Brian, “Today was the most fun I’ve ever had here.”  “Thanks to you, and that ping-pong whiz, for teaching me that I don’t have to be ‘#1’ to be happy.  I just have to be me.”

Ages 6-9

Q.  Why do you think Mark started to act differently after he lost his championship?
A. Mark was a good ping-pong player.  Unfortunately he let it go to his head, and it started making him into a not-so-good friend.  He acted haughty and puffed-up. But once he discovered someone even better than he was, his puffed-up bubble burst, and came to realize that it wasn’t a person’s ability that makes him worthwhile, but the person himself.  So from then on he was able to treat his friends respectfully.

Ages 10 and Up

Q.  We’re taught that Moses was the greatest person who ever lived, yet he was also the most humble.  How could this be?
A.  Moses was well aware that he had talents well beyond any of his peers.  However, he also realized the source of those talents: G-d.  So he didn’t act as though his greatness was his doing, or as a reason to be haughty.  Instead he felt privileged that G-d had chosen to give that greatness to him; this made him extremely humble.

Q. What should a person do if he feels himself growing haughty, and wants to eliminate this negative trait?
A.  One effective technique is to temporarily go to the other extreme, and act extra humble.  For instance, we could let people go ahead of us in line, even if we don’t feel like it.  Another thing is to try to grow in our awareness of G-d.  The more we become aware of His greatness, we will realize that we don’t have that much to be haughty about.

Quote of the week:

Failures are divided into two categories:  those who thought and never did …  and those who did and never thought.

Shabbat Shalom

David Kanter gave this d’var at the Scout Shabbat on Fri, Feb 3.