This week we read Parshat Bo. The parsha introduces us to the mitzvah of Kiddush HaKodesh, the sanctification of the new moon. The Jewish people's attention to the waxing and waning of the moon is the basis for the Jewish calendar, without which there would be no holiday observance. The Syrian-Greek king Antiochus realized this, for one of the prohibitions he placed upon the Jewish people was that of announcing Rosh Hodesh, for if the Jewish people did not know when the holidays occurred, they could not be observed. This was one of the ways he hoped to eradicate Judaism. The calendar therefore was crucial for our continued survival. When would we blow the shofar or have a seder if we did not know when it was Tishrei or Nisan?
We also find in the parsha the mitzvah of the Pesach sacrifice, the offering of a lamb right before Pesach. The blood of this animal was placed on the lintel of the Israelites' homes as a way to distinguish their homes from those of the Egyptians, in many ways like the mezuzot on our homes today. At the very end of the parsha there is a mention of tefilin and the Ramban. Rabbi Moshe Nachmanides (1194-1270, Spain) goes into a lengthy explanation that the Exodus from Egypt is so fundamental to our identity as Jews, so much so that we are commanded to mention the Exodus everyday. We do so in our twice daily recitation of the Shema.
What occurs to me is what an amazing tradition we have. We have wonderful rituals in Jewish life to be sure; rituals that bind us together as a family; as a people. But we must remember one important thing; Judaism is more than ritualistic. Jewish life is one that calls upon us to be responsible, to be compassionate toward other people, to stand up and act, and to think beyond ourselves. Jewish tradition provides us a template for living a full, moral ethical life, taking into consideration how we interact with other people. The rituals are nice; the rituals are important, but without the ethical part of Jewish tradition, the rituals are empty of meaning. To live as a Jew means to live with a sense of nobility. We will experience that nobility, even a touch of majesty tonight as we welcome the Shabbat Queen.