Arms Control: Bo 2022

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What Passover symbol is the most confounding, and why is it the shankbone? All kidding aside, does it ever feel strange to fill a Seder plate with food and then add to it something you’ll never eat?

One interpretation of the shankbone is that it represents God’s mighty arm – and the arm carries an even greater symbolic significance:

The Pitch: “And so it shall be as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead that with a mighty hand the LORD freed us from Egypt.” – Exodus 13:16

Swing #1: “The implication is clear. By putting on tefillin, the Jew becomes engaged to God. He renews each weekday morning his fidelity to the ancient romance consummated on Mount Sinai.” – Jon D. Levenson, Sinai & Zion: An Entry Into the Jewish Bible

Swing #2: “There is absolutely no suggestion that firstborn sons, although they belong to God, were ever to be sacrificed or put to death. They had to be redeemed, but the means for redeeming them is not stipulated here.” – Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus

Swing #3: “It appears that the answer given to the simple child [mentioned during the Passover Seder] reflects the general purpose of the commandments including the Passover offering, matzah, and the sanctification of the first born. Since in his simplicity he could not differentiate between them, he said, “What is this?” Thus we see that he is answered out of his simplicity and not as a matter of enmity or heresy. That is what the Torah goes on to say: And it shall be a sign upon your arm and a reminder between your eyes that with a mighty hand God took you out of Egypt.” – Zevach Pesach on the Passover Haggadah

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentators reflect on a juxtaposition of ideas held in one verse: the command to wear tefillin, the responsibility to “redeem” our firstborn children, and the importance of teaching our children about the Exodus. While God’s arm is an instrument of destruction in the Exodus story, placing tefillin on our arms is a gesture of fidelity. What do we learn from symbols that mean different things at the same time?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: Starting tomorrow, our Shabbat Learner’s Service will move from monthly to weekly. We’ll continue to meet on Zoom from 9:00-9:30 am. You’re welcome to join the discussion, whether or not you’re learning for the first time.

The Big Inning at the End: If baseball’s owners wanted to get an upper hand in winning public sympathy during the lockout, ridding esteemed journalist Ken Rosenthal from the MLB Network just because he questioned Commissioner Rob Manfred was not the way to do it. There isn’t a lot of optimism that there will be a new labor agreement anytime soon; then again, there’s a history of getting deals done at the very last minute.

Shabbat Shalom!