Sunday, January 21, 2018

Parashat Bo: Quality Time Together

Quality Time Together
A Message for Parashat Bo 2018
Click here to view as PDF

The Hebrew root shamar (שמר) is mentioned several times in Parashat Bo, each time referring to a different verb or action. Am Yisrael were commanded to separate a lamb prior to its sacrifice le-mishmeret – “for examination” (12:6), they were furthermore instructed u-shmartem et ha-massot – to “safeguard the massot” (12:17), and they were twice told u-shmartem – to eternally “observe the service of the korban Pesah” (12:25, 13:10). Indeed, the very night of departure from Egypt was designated as a night of shemirah:

It is a night of “shimurim” for God, to take them out of the Land of Egypt. This was the night for God; a “shimurim” for all Bnei Yisrael for their generations. (Shemot 12:42)

This pasuk implies that the night of the 14th of Nissan exhibits a “shared shemirah,” as both God and Am Yisrael will experience it as an evening of “shimurim.” What is the meaning of this “shimurim,” and how do we perform it “for generations”?

R. Avraham Ibn Ezra suggested that shemirah in this context refers to this word’s standard association – to guard and protect. God commanded Am Yisrael to treat the night as a guard (shomer) protects a city. Just as a responsible guard must stay awake all night at his post, so too must Am Yisrael stay awake throughout this night. But what was the purpose of this “all-night” endeavor? It surely wasn’t to eat the korban Pesah, as according to most authorities it needed to be consumed by midnight. It wasn’t intended for the retelling of yessiat Missrayim either, as that must be done while eating the korban Pesah, massah, and maror. Why, then, was Am Yisrael signed up for an “all-night shift” on the night of the 14th of Nissan?

Let us shift our focus to the beginning of the pasuk, which details God’s role in this shemirah: “It is a night of shimurim for God…this was the night for God.” The pasuk clearly states that God, as it were, took ownership of this night – it is “His night.” The shimurim duty of Am Yisrael thus flows from His possession. God seemingly says, “Since it is my night, and on it I will perform my own shimurim, you, Am Yisrael, must do so as well.” It appears, then, that there is no practical, action-based purpose to this all-night endeavor of leil shimurim beyond the simple (yet awesome) experience of sharing the night awake and in the presence of God – “on His night.”

R. Shimon ben Semah Duran (Rashbass) suggested a similar understanding of leil shimurim in his commentary to the Haggadah. In the well-known anecdote recited at the seder every year, several prominent tana’im retold yessiat Missrayim throughout the night, until their students informed them that the time for the morning keriat shema had arrived. Rashbass suggested that the reason for the rabbis’ long-winded retelling of yessiat Missrayim was in order to fulfill the mandate of leil shimurim. Beyond the structured missvot of korban Pesah, massah and maror, the night of 14 Nissan sets forth the obligation to stay awake and experience the entire night.

Since most of our lives and the decisions we make are driven by practical considerations, the concept of leil shimurim may seem foreign. It is difficult to see the “gain” in staying up all night without a set plan of action. Conceptualizing our relationship with God as similar to that of a loved one, however, may help our understanding. We can relate to the enriching experience of simply spending time together with a person whom we cherish. It is not the food that we eat, the show that we watch, nor the game that we play that endures. It is the simple reality of quality time spent together. Similarly, leil shimurim is the night designated for us to “spend together” with God – without a scripted plan or course of events.

The concept of leil shimurim must extend further than one night a year. It must serve as our paradigm for connection, and become our guiding light on a continuous search for moments in the presence of God. Those moments, we know, are invaluable. They represent our opportunity to bond with God during the simple, yet ever important quality time together.