January 13, 2005
Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)
As the train pulled into the Iraqi border police station, the lanky Jewish boy at the window became more and more nervous. The bulging
package under his robes felt heavy like lead. As the train came to a full stop and the passengers were ordered to line up on the platform, he moved automatically with them, dragging his feet. His fingers wanted to touch his precious and dangerous cargo, but he knew he should not make any suspicious move.
He worried the officers might find out that he was running away from Baghdad and the Iraqi army in order to go to Israel; the mere thought of the consequences of being discovered sent a shudder down his spine.
His friends and relatives warned him not to take his tefillin. "So you'll skip a couple of days. You'll find tefillin in Israel," they said. They kept reminding him that he had to blend in.
He looked just like any other native Iraqi, except for the incriminating tefillin hidden in his garments. The familiar soothing words of the ancient psalms sprang to his lips and he chanted them in a silent prayer.
He thought back to a time in Baghdad when he managed to outwit a group of Muslim teenagers, shabbab, who challenged him to recite the shuhadda, the Muslim declaration of faith, to prove he was a Muslim. A smile passed his lips as he recalled how he slightly altered the Arabic words so as not to denounce his faith.
He knew he might not be so lucky next time, so he left for Israel to escape the persecution and discrimination.
His line of thought returned to the platform when he noticed an officer, who was frisking the passengers, getting closer and closer. Four more people, three, two....
"Mustafa, telephone," a yell came from within the station.
"Wait here and do not move until I come back," Mustafa ordered as he hurried to answer his call.
Moments later he returned from the station and resumed his inspection, skipping three people and starting one passenger after the tense boy who could not believe his luck.
"I have no doubt," my father said, "that the Divine providence was there with me because I was faithful to my Judaism and Zionism."
The personal exodus story of my father, who after spending several months in transition camp in Tehran, came to Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces with pride for many decades, is for me a story that is closely connected to this week's parsha.
The Israelites' ultimate test of faith, the test that will determine their eligibility for redemption, was the Pesach sacrifice.
According to the Bible, the lamb was an Egyptian idol. Slaughtering and roasting it was enough of a provocative act, but the Israelites were asked to go one step further. They were asked to mark their doorposts and their thresholds with the lamb's blood as if declaring, "Here lives an Israelite. I do not believe in your idols, come and get me."
There was a great danger that the grief-stricken and frustrated Egyptians would turn their rage against the Israelites instead of addressing the real source of the problem: their own ruthless dictator. However, the Israelites did not shy away from fulfilling the commandment and, as was promised, God protected and did not let anyone take revenge on them. This is the real meaning of the word Pesach -- protection (Isaiah 31:5).
God promised the Hebrew slaves that if they would trust him as their redeemer and protector and proudly display that faith, they would be saved from the wrath of human beings.
Although this kind of direct connection is less evident today, it is still our duty that when we remember the national and personal exodus and its message, we inculcate in our children the love and pride of their values and faith, and teach them to strive for a world of peace and harmony.
Haim Ovadia is rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation.