Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Let My People Bo

Don't know what it is, but I'm not feeling particularly witty today, so this is going to be a brief Baum-drop. Maybe it's new the 6 a.m. workout routine. Or maybe the fact that I'm currently doing the majority of this post at work.

A quick recap: It is at this point of our narrative where things have gotten downright unpleasant for Pharaoh and the Egyptians. They've gone through seven fairly gross plagues, Pharaoh's heart has been constantly hardened and softened by God, and the land smells like dead frogs ... not quite harsh enough payback for 400 years of oppression and humiliation, but in the words of Ol' Blue Eyes, the best is yet to come. Moses and Aaron (or apparently MJ and Scottie Pippen. Man, I wish I saved my conversation with The Brooklyn Boy about basketball players and their biblical counterparts) have implored Pharaoh several times to let the people of Israel go so that they can serve God, and have been turned down. Hold onto this thought.

Now comes Parsha, Bo: Locusts, darkness and death of the firstborn. Not sure if you have ever lived in DC when the cicadas invade, but it's straight nasty to walk on dead bugs, and I can't even imagine what Egypt was like when the locusts came to town. Actually, I'd like to keep that thought confined to my imagination, because you couldn't pay me enough money to sit through The Reaping.

Then comes the darkness, which is both a practical and metaphorical punishment. The Torah and ancient Judaism seem to be cut and dry about where they stand on darkness: Light good, darkness bad. God created light and saw that it was good. The authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls were preparing for a war between the Sons of Darkness and the Sons of Light. The ancient Jews understood the significance of the plague of darkness; in complete darkness, physical and spiritual, not only can't you see, but you cannot see. Word.

The next two chapters highlight the Passover story, several commandments and the death of the firstborn for all Egyptians. This is real important in the history of the Jewish people, but I'm going to save that exegesis for when we get there in April.

You know the powerful spiritual by now, Let My People Go. But the song leaves out a crucial part -- God told Moses to tell Pharaoh to let his people go so that they can serve God. Yes, the Israelites had been brutally enslaved by the Egyptians for centuries, yes, God heard the cries of his oppressed people, yes, God has a beautiful way of setting free the captives ... but the one condition for freedom was for the lives of the Israelites to serve a purpose. What good is freedom if it doesn't mean anything to the free? Why not just be slaves?

I'm not going to get all Pit Preacher on you and claim to know exactly what God likes or wants, but if I had to take a guess, I think living a life of purpose and meaning qualifies as serving God in a positive way. Relationships between people matter, and so does a positive relationship with your surrounding environment. May 2008 be a year in which you can discover or strengthen your life's purpose, and know that it can change (and that's OK) as often as this 20-something has changed careers. If at some point this year you come to foolishly believe that you are contributing little to this broken world, remember that a smile, a kind word, and some compassion toward your fellow people makes waves, and you're actually helping to save the world from itself.

Damn, that was kitschy. Happy New Year.

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