Adi Alouf: Director of Student and Jewish Life, Jewish Studies Teacher 

Parshat Bo finds the Israelites on the eve of their exodus and liberation from Egypt. God inflicts the final three plagues on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, including the last plague of the death of the first Egyptian born. That same night, God instructs the Israelites to commemorate their last night in Egypt by slaughtering a lamb or kid goat and sprinkling its blood on the doorposts of their homes. God instructs the Israelites to eat the meat of the offering that night, with matzah and bitter herbs, hurriedly and with their “loins girded, sandals on [their] feet, and [their] staff in [their] hand” (Exodus 12:11). The People of Israels’ last night in Egypt is marked by practical preparedness and also sacred ritual

Exodus 12:13 reads, “And the blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you: when I see the blood I will pass over you so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” The blood on the doorposts is explicitly a sign for the people of Israel themselves – not for God or the angel of death or the Egyptians. Rashi emphasizes that this was a sign for the Israelites and only the Israelites, explaining that 1) they put the blood only inside their homes, and 2) God, of course, does not rely on such physical signs. 

So, why a sign? And a sign of what? 

First – this sign is covenantal. Painting blood on their doorposts, the Israelites remind themselves of their own commitment, faith, and obedience as they enter into a relationship with God as a collective. The Israelites show their willingness to follow the instruction of the God who is to lead them out from Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. The sign on their doorposts reminds them that in exchange for following God’s commandments, they are protected. And this obedience to God is in direct resistance to Egyptian power. The Israelites free themselves from the tyranny of the Egyptians, choosing instead to be in relationship with God. Thus, the blood splattered on the doorposts evokes deeply covenantal questions: To whom and what am I responsible? What is my source of obligation?

Second – this sign is about Israelite identity formation. Each household participated in this shared act of sacrifice, eating and putting blood on their doorposts, reinforcing the collective identity of the community. On the eve of their liberation, the Israelites engage in a unifying communal ritual that marks them and their homes as Israelites. This sign reminds them of who they are, who they want to be, and who they can become. It evokes questions that get to the heart of personal and collective identity: Who am I? Who are we? Who do I want to be? Who do we want to be?

Third – the blood on the inside of their homes was a sign that recalled the blood in the Egyptian homes that night – it mirrored the bloodshed outside their doors and the whole reality of that night. As the Egyptian firstborn are slain and the Israelites get ready to leave Egypt, they paint a sign on the threshold of their home, evoking the question: Who is hurting and suffering beyond our doors and walls?

The location of this Israelite sign is powerful. Thresholds are points of boundary and transition, marking the passage from one space to another. From slavery to liberation. The threshold is liminal, representing a state of in-betweenness that is neither fully inside nor outside. Not yet fully free. Not yet fully a nation.  

In moments of uncertainty and transition, we often practically prepare for what’s next (like applying to college or a gap year or another post-JCHS plan) and also engage in rituals (like graduation) to make meaning transition. We put on our sandals and also take the time to spiritually and emotionally center ourselves.

As we go through transitions, even the subtle transition from one semester to the next, we can pause and ask ourselves questions of responsibility, identity, and community that ground us in our core values:

On the verge of a new chapter in our lives, we can establish signs for ourselves that help us pause and personally ask, To whom and what am I responsible? Who am I, who do I want to be? Who is suffering beyond me?  

And as we go through transitions and new beginnings as a community, we can establish signs for ourselves that help us pause and collectively ask, What are our obligations as a community? Who are we, who do we want to be? Whose suffering has been ignored or pushed to the margins?

These questions, and their answers, serve as necessary grounding and support as we open new doors.