Before I was born into my family, my parents had a little poodle named Bo. I don’t know much about Bo, although I have heard stories from time to time. Just reflecting on his name right now, though, I find myself smiling a little bit….smiling about family, about childhood, parenting, and that dog’s name.
Bo seems a great name for a dog, at least when I think of its meaning in Hebrew. “Bo” can be translated several ways, but most poignantly it can be the word used to tell someone to “come here”. It is not a suggestion, but rather a command. Go from there to here….come here. Now, I know my parents didn’t speak Hebrew, so this most assuredly wasn’t part of their naming approach, but what a great name for a dog. “Bo…bo…come here! Good doggy!”
“Bo” can be translated differently in Hebrew to also mean “Within him”… almost as if to say “within himself.” I’m not sure which Hebrew translation seems more apt for this week’s Torah portion, which is in fact name “Bo”. You have heard the story before. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and then God commands Moses to go and tell Pharaoh to let the people go. Pharaoh doesn’t listen, and the plagues start appearing before Pharaoh and all his courtiers.
Why is this called “Bo,” though? Maybe Moses is going to have to tell the Israelite people to “Come. Let’s get out of here. It’s safe to go. We’ve been given the green light.” (I guess they wouldn’t have had green lights back then…poor idiom use by me.) Maybe “Bo” is to imply that Moses had to go within himself to find the courage to approach Pharaoh, to be the leader we have all come to know as Moses. We are told, time and again, about how Moses often doubted his own ability to step-up to God’s commanded role for him. He doubted his ability to lead. He was insecure, and needed to find that strength within himself. All of this was in my mind as I reflected on this portion, the week that my own family just experienced, and on my experience of parenthood.
This past Sunday, our household was gripped with the sickness that’s been making the rounds (not the flu, thankfully). Michelle was down for the count, and I was running off to the temple to share music and lessons with our students. That always makes me happy, to share the music, but I was also concerned about Michelle. She had both the kids at home, and they were filled with the energy that you would expect of a five-year-old and two-year-old. I rushed home, as soon as I could, to find Michelle dozing on the couch, and our daughter, Talia, trying to play with her by using her toy doctor’s kit. “Mommy, let me check your ears. Let me see your eyes.” Adorable as that was, and after Michelle was able to take a proper nap, it seemed wise to get her an appointment at an urgent care facility to rule out the flu that has been making the rounds so virulently this winter season.
I have learned several lessons in my parenting, one of which is that if you need to get somewhere quickly, kids will likely not be in as urgent a mindset as the parent. That’s saying it gently! I was determined to get Michelle to the doctor, to make sure my wife was okay, yet my children weren’t on board. Alex really, really wanted me to see the fort that he built, and to crawl inside, and Talia was just waking from a nap and wanting to run around a bit. I was repeatedly saying, “We need to go. I need to take care of Mommy” but the more I said it, the more upset the children got. “No, I want someone to play with me in my fort” said my little boy. “I can’t right now, son. I need to take care of Mommy. Let’s go!” I was getting more frustrated. My voice was rising, my son was crying. I felt horrible, yet determined to get us out the door. I wasn’t being as gentle as I desired to be. I was commanding…. “Bo!” Let’s go.
We eventually got out of the house, to the clinic, and back home with Michelle confirmed to not have the flu, and ready to rest through the evening. As we settled back in the house, and the kids calmly played on the couch, I walked over to Alex, and kissed him on the head. I said, “Son, I am sorry that I raised my voice earlier. I know it upset you, and I didn’t mean to. I was trying to take care of Mommy, and I want you to know that I think your fort was really cool. I’m sorry.” “That’s okay” said my boy.
In that experience, I see where my heart was hardened as I ran around trying to wrangle my children out the door. I disregarded their needs because I had a different agenda, and I dealt with them harsher than I had wanted to. There have been many other times when I have had a stressful interaction with my kids, and then an hour later I feel a bit guilty, and reflect on how much I just love all that they are for me. It’s hard to have that perspective in the moment. I need the distance, sometimes, to appreciate what I have. Maybe that’s what Pharaoh felt as he eventually let the Israelites go from Egypt, and why he sent his armies to go reclaim them. You often don’t know what you have until it is distant from you. In that clearing, I needed to go within myself to dwell in my thoughts on what happened, how I felt about them, and if I acted in ways that were consistent with my desires for how I want to be as a parent. Then…then I could make amends, if necessary, or course correct if appropriate.
One last thought regarding “Bo” as a command to come. A command is given to another. It is inherently a verb, an action, and in Hebrew, that verb can only be said to someone else. “You come”…or maybe “You all, come.” There is no command for “We come!” We are each responsible for ourselves. We can only implore others to do actions we can’t directly control with our own beings.” Because of this, a command is inherently separating. I separate myself from you if I command you to do something. We become a “me” and a “you”. Maybe a gentler or more powerful add-on to “Bo” would be the Hebrew term “iti” (yes, pronounced like E.T., the extra-terrestrial). “Bo iti” would mean “Come with me.” I like that. Come with me. We’ll go together. I’ll be there with you on the path, and you join with me.
I need my kids on the path with me, so I can learn to be a better parent, or a parent that more closely resembles my ideals. My kids need me so that I can help by being their tour guide to the world and being human. I need my wife. Boy, do I need my wife. Many of us have areas in life where we are parents, but not literally to children. Rather we parent organizations, or groups, or communities in which we hope to make an impact, to cause change in the world, to leave a mark. I hope that each of us has the chance to step back, to recognize places where maybe our hearts have hardened, ever so slightly, and find the clearing that reunites us to affinity and love for those with whom we share the path. Bo. Come on the journey. Bo. As did Moses by going within himself, go within yourself. What a beautiful world we are creating together.
- Shabbat Bo - January 18, 2018
- Shabbat Va-y’chi - December 28, 2017
- Shabbat Vayeitzei - November 22, 2017
- Shabbat Noach - October 18, 2017
- Shabbat Nitzavim-Vayeilech - September 13, 2017
- Shabbat Eikev - August 10, 2017
- Shabbat Balak - July 5, 2017
- Shabbat Naso - June 1, 2017
- Shabbat Tazria-Metzorah - April 27, 2017