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Parshas Bo

Vayomer Moshe Bin'ureinu uv'zikneinu neileich, b'vaneinu uviv'noseinu b'tzoneinu uviv'kareinu neileich ki chag L'Hashem lanu. Vayomer Paroh aleihem y'hi kein Hashem imachem ka'asher eshalach es'chem v'es tap'chem (10:9-10)

Due to the intense suffering imposed by the plagues, Paroh was finally forced to relent and allow Moshe to take the Jews to worship Hashem for 3 days. The problem was in the details. Moshe insisted that not only the male adults but also the elderly, the children, and the females would go. Paroh responded that under no circumstances would he allow the children to go as the sacrifices were anyway to be brought by the adults. In his response, however, no mention is made of the women. The Radva"z suggests that Paroh's original refusal to allow the Jews to leave for three days was predicated on his fear that if they did so, they would become cleansed from the spiritual impurities they had absorbed during their time in the immoral Egypt. Therefore, even now that he was forced by the plagues to allow the Jews to go serve Hashem, he attempted to do so in a diabolical way which would prevent any permanent "damage" to his wicked plans. He knew that Judaism is heavily dependent on the concept of mesorah, of transmitting our beliefs from one generation to the next. He therefore refused to allow the elders to lead them to the desert, and he also insisted that the children not be present in order to cut off a vital link in the educational process. Yet he was still concerned that the adult males would come back inspired and share their newfound enthusiasm with the others. He therefore refused to allow the women to travel, as he recognized that the spiritual level of a Jewish house is ultimately determined by the woman, and it was for this reason that Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to first give the Torah to the women, as it was their acceptance which would ultimately be the determining factor in the religious level of the Jewish nation. Therefore, even if the men would return home with a newfound inspiration, it would be short-lived as their wives wouldn't have been able to share in it. Even Paroh recognized that as long as the women remained in the morally impure environment of Egypt, there was no chance for the Jews to accomplish permanent spiritual growth!

Ha'chodesh ha'zeh la'chem (12:2)

Although a literal reading of our verse presents the mitzvos of sanctifying the new moon and of making Nissan the first month of the Jewish year, the Chiddushei HaRim suggests that it can also be interpreted to read that Hashem was giving over to the Jews the ability to create newness (his'chadshus). While it's true that the natural world appears to be governed by the forces of inertia and habit, and effecting lasting change seems impossible, this is only the case for the non-Jews who are governed by the arbitrary laws of nature. The verse (Koheles 1:9) tells us that mah she'hayah hu she'yih'yeh u'mah she'naaseh hu she'yeaseh v'ain kol chadash tachas ha'shemesh - what has been is what will be, and what has been done will continue to be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. However, while there is nothing new under the sun, there is constant renewal on front of Hashem, Who is the Source for the constant re-creation of the universe every moment. We therefore find that the lechem ha'panim (showbread) in the Beis Hamikdash miraculously stayed completely fresh for 7 days, as it was placed before Hashem in His Holy Temple, and it was therefore exempt from the laws of nature which "require" it to become old and stale. Our verse contains the first mitzvah which was given to the Jewish people as a nation, and it therefore contains this fundamental principle of Judaism. We should take inspiration from this uplifting recognition that while the non-Jews repeat the same "new year's resolutions" every single year, we aren't bound to the past. As long as we recognize that we don't live under the sun but rather in front of Hashem, and conduct our lives accordingly, then we may move our lives in any direction that we so desire, as the invaluable power of renewal is uniquely ours!

V'raisi es ha'dam u'fasachti aleichem v'lo yih'yeh ba'chem negef l'mashchis b'hakosi b'eretz Mitzrayim (12:13)

With the relatively recent proliferation of unprecedented weapons of mass destruction and talk of chemical and even, G-d forbid, nuclear warfare, it seems quite natural to fear for one's own fate and that of the entire Jewish people. With neighbors who would desire nothing more than its total annihilation, Israel would certainly seem to be perched in a precarious position should such a war even break out. However, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel notes that for a believing Jew, this trepidation and anxiety is misplaced. The Torah tells us clearly that throughout all of the plagues in Egypt, Hashem placed an artificial "wall" at the border of the Jewish region of Goshen and protected them from the various plagues. Even though the laws of nature would seem to indicate that frogs, lice, and hail shouldn't discriminate within the Egyptian borders, even "nature" is subservient to Hashem's commands. He who declared that under normal circumstances animals shouldn't distinguish between potential victims also decreed that during the plagues an "alternate" set of laws of nature should govern, a set which indeed afforded apparently miraculous protection to the Jews. Even the mass destruction caused by the plague of the first-born completely passed over the Jews, even killing an Egyptian attempting to hide in the house of a Jew and protecting a Jew in the house of an Egyptian (Rashi 12:13). Similarly, it would seem that with the tremendous destructive abilities of today's bombs and missiles, there should be nowhere to hide from the invisible radiation and chemicals which could be deployed by our enemies at any moment. Fortunately, the Torah teaches us otherwise, that as long as we continue in the ways of our ancestors in Egypt in remaining separate from our non-Jewish neighbors and maintaining our beautiful Jewish customs, then we remain above CNN's "inviolable" laws of nature, and we have nothing to fear at all!

U'vnei Yisroel asu kid'var Moshe vayishalu mi'mitzrayim klei kesef u'klei zahav u'smalos v'gam tzeidah lo asu lahem (12:35-38)

Rav Yitzchok Isaac Sher points out how unbelievable it is that at the time when almost 3 million Jews were preparing to leave Egypt into the unknown desert, they were busy borrowing expensive vessels and clothing and didn't spend even a moment to prepare any food with which to sustain themselves! Rather, this was due to the fact that they were commanded to borrow these items from the Egyptians, and regarding food there were no such instructions. In fact, they weren't even commanded to borrow anything, but merely requested (Rashi 11:2). Even so, their sole focus was on fulfilling the will of Hashem, as it was He who had brought a miraculous end to their dreaded enslavement, and it would therefore be He who would sustain them through the next stage of His Divine plan for them, if only they would demonstrate their complete trust in Him and willingness to do His bidding. Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky similarly notes that after waiting generations for the redemption, the long-awaited moment arrived shortly after midnight on the night of the slaying of the first-born, when Paroh had had enough and finally announced their total and unconditional freedom. Nevertheless, not a soul attempted to act on this good news and leave for freedom, for the simple reason that Hashem had commanded them not to even exit their houses until the morning (12:22). Even an issue as weighty as national redemption is pushed aside if it would come at the expense of transgressing even one of Hashem's commandments, for it was He who demonstrated in Egypt for all times that He runs the world as He sees fit, and one never loses out by following His commandments!

Zachor es ha'yom ha'zeh asher y'tzasem mi'mitzrayim mi'beis avadim ki b'chozek yad hotzi Hashem es'chem mi'zeh (13:3)

During his travels, Rav Yisroel Salanter once entered an inn by which he had stayed several times previously. To his chagrin, he noticed that the innkeeper had significantly deteriorated in his level of religious observance since his most recent visit. Upon inquiring, the man explained that it was due to a heretic who had recently lodged there. The guest spent several days sharing his blasphemous philosophies about the lack of a Divine system of reward and punishment. Finally, to prove his case, he took out a sandwich filled with non-kosher meat and announced that if he's wrong, then he should choke on the sandwich and die an agonizing death. To the innkeeper's dismay, the man proceeded to consume the entire sandwich with no apparent consequences, and ever since, his religious belief and observance had slowly weakened. Rav Yisroel didn't comment, but chose to wait for the right opportunity, which wasn't long in coming. Later that day, the innkeeper's daughter returned home from school, glowing and excited about receiving her diploma, with especially good marks in the areas of singing and mathematics. Rav Yisroel asked her to sing for him so that he could judge her talents for himself, yet she grew bashful and refused. He then went to inform the innkeeper that his brazen daughter refused to sing for their respected guest. Upon being summoned and an explanation demanded, she told her father that the entire purpose of the diploma is to prove and demonstrate her talent once and for all, and it was in fact their guest who was being unreasonable in demanding that she perform according to his whims just because he refused to believe in her established record. At this, Rav Yisroel explained to the innkeeper that the Chinuch (21) and Ramban (13:16) write that the reason why there are so many mitzvos zecher l'yetzias mitzrayim (as a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt) is because it was there that Hashem proved His power and providence through the various miracles once and for all. He concluded by pointing out that just as the man's daughter rightfully refused to lower herself and perform on demand for whoever doubts her diploma, so too Hashem already established Himself for all time through the events of the Exodus and has no need to prove Himself to every doubter throughout the generations. Now that we understand the deep significance of the events described in these Parshios, we can appreciate why the Kotzker Rebbe and Chiddushei HaRim suggest that they be analyzed as fully and comprehensively as yeshiva students study a Tosefos. It is reported that the Chofetz Chaim, wishing to make the events of these Parshios come alive, actually pictured them occurring in front of his very eyes to the point that as he reviewed our Parsha, which contains the first seven of the ten plagues, he literally laughed out loud as he envisioned the suffering being meted out to Paroh and the Egyptians in his study!

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Even though Rashi (7:25) writes that each plague lasted 7 days, the Baal HaTurim (10:14) learns that the plague of locusts rested on Shabbos, and the Rokeach understands that the darkness also ceased on Shabbos. What was unique about these two plagues which prevented them from continuing to function on Shabbos like the other 8 plagues? (Imrei Daas by Rav Meir Shapiro)

2) During the final 3 days of the plague of darkness when the darkness was so thick as to prevent the Egyptians from moving (Rashi 10:22), how did they survive without eating or drinking for 3 consecutive days? (Matamei Yaakov)

3) During the plague of darkness, a humbled Paroh called to Moshe (10:24), offering to allow the Jews to go to the desert to bring sacrifices to Hashem. Yet Rashi (10:22) tells us that during the final three days, the darkness was so thick that the Egyptians were unable to move. If so, how was Paroh able to call to Moshe Rabbeinu during the darkness? (Mahar"i Bruna)

4) Even though Moshe Rabbeinu told Paroh that the slaying of the first-born would be at "approximately" midnight, Rashi (11:4) quotes the Gemora in Berachos (3b) that Hashem actually said it would be exactly at midnight, but Moshe changed the expression lest Paroh and his astrologers err in the time and conclude that Moshe's prophecy was false. When the night is split evenly in half, there is no point in time remaining in the middle, but rather one second is the last moment of the first half of the night, and it is immediately followed by the first second of the second half of the night. If so, how was it possible for Hashem to kill the first-borns precisely at midnight? (Ibn Ezra, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Mas'as Hamelech)

5) Even though Rashi (12:15) writes that eating matzah is only obligatory on the first night of Pesach and optional for the remainder of the holiday, the Vilna Gaon and others are of the opinion that one who nevertheless consumes matzah for the duration of Pesach is considered to be performing a Biblical commandment. This would seem to be analogous to the laws of Sukkos, in which eating bread in the sukkah is obligatory only on the first night of the holiday and optional for the duration of Sukkos. However, we find that one who chooses to consume bread in the sukkah is performing a mitzvah and therefore makes a blessing over it, so why doesn't one also make a blessing when he voluntarily eats matzah during the remaining days of Pesach? (Baal Ha'Maor Pesachim 26b-27a in the Rif, Merafsin Igri)

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