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Parshas Bo - Vol. 4,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Hachodesh hazeh lachem Rosh Chodoshim (12:2)
Our verse contains the first mitzvah which was given to the Jewish people as a collective nation. When read literally, it presents the mitzvos of sanctifying the new moon and making Nissan the first month of the Jewish year. However, the Seforno understands that also included in this first mitzvah was the most precious commodity of all: time, and the freedom to do with it whatever one desires. The ability to spend one’s time freely is itself freedom, and control over one’s time is a necessary prerequisite to the rest of the 613 commandments.
Rav Pam symbolically suggests that the first mitzvah is not just for the Sanhedrin to sanctify the new month, but for every individual Jew to sanctify every moment of his day. Just as people devote tremendous amounts of time and energy to seeking out the best investments for their money, so too should we focus on how to achieve the maximum return with the precious time that we are granted and how to wisely “invest” it in our futures. The Gemora in Chagigah (4a) defines a “shoteh” (crazy person who is exempt from mitzvos) as a person who throws away what he is given. If so, Rav Pam suggests that anybody who adopts the American hobby of “killing time” is legally crazy!
Rav Uri Weissblum derives another insight into the importance of valuing our time from a comment of Rashi later in the parsha. Rashi suggests (12:17) that just as the Torah commands us to guard our matzo to prevent it from becoming chometz, so too must we do mitzvos with alacrity so that they don’t turn into “chometz.” Rav Weissblum questions the comparison, as a person who takes too long baking his matzos and eats them after allowing them to turn into chometz is liable to the penalty of kares (spiritual excision). On the other hand, a person who delays the performance of a positive commandment, while not commendable, is certainly not punished with kares, especially since it can be performed at a later opportunity. If so, how can Rashi equate the two cases?
Rav Weissblum suggests that in comparing the two laws, Rashi is teaching us that the only person truly considered alive is one who is connected to Hashem. Even a single moment during which a person neglects the opportunity to cleave to Hashem by performing one of His mitzvos is considered voluntary spiritual excision, as every moment of life which isn’t appreciated and used properly is a form of self-induced spiritual death!
V’haya ha’dam lachem l’os al ha’batim (12:13)
The Tosefos Yom Tov writes (Demai 7:3) that some people ask a powerful question based on the verse in Chaggai (2:9) “Gadol yihyeh kavod habayis hazeh ha’acharon min harishon” – the glory and honor of the last Beis Hamikdash will be even greater than that of the first. This verse is referring to the second Temple, which was destroyed almost 2000 years ago. In referring to it as the “last” one, it seemingly indicates that there won’t, G-d forbid, be another.
The Tosefos Yom Tov answers that often the word “last” doesn’t mean the final one. Rather, it refers to the last one vis-à-vis the first one, even though there may be others that come after it. Although this sounds a bit foreign grammatically, he cites two places where the Torah uses such language. One is in Parshas Shemos (4:8-9, the other is in Bereishis 33:2), in which Hashem tells Moshe that if the Jews won’t believe the first sign, they will trust in the last sign. Hashem adds that if they won’t believe the “last” sign, they will surely believe the 3rd one in which Moshe will turn the water of the river into blood.
The Kehillas Yitzchok brings a hint to this proof from our verse, which teaches that the blood of the Pesach-sacrifice will be a sign on the doors for Hashem to skip over that house. However, it can also be understood as stating that the blood (which was the third proof of Moshe’s legitimacy) will be a sign for you regarding the Temples, as if anybody attempts to prove from Chaggai 2:9 that the second Temple was the final one, we may now answer that the blood mentioned in our verse proves that it isn’t so!
V’kol bechor adam b’vanecha tifdeh (13:13)
The plague of the slaying of the first-born didn’t distinguish between paternal first-born Egyptians and maternal first-borns, as both were killed. If the mitzvah of Pidyon HaBen – redemption of the first-born son – commemorates the fact that the Jewish first-borns were spared from this plague (13:2), why is it performed only with a maternal first-born and not also with a paternal first-born?
The Avnei Shoham answers by comparing Pidyon HaBen to the mitzvah of bikkurim. After a farmer puts in so much effort into plowing and planting, it seems quite natural that he should enjoy a good harvest. Bringing bikkurim to the Temple combats his instincts to take credit for the products of his labor and forget about the Divine assistance which made it possible. The Torah reminds him Who is really responsible for the crops by requiring him to bring the first fruits to the Temple.
Similarly, when a couple gets married, it seems natural that within a few years the wife should give birth to a child. To prevent the parents from taking this process for granted, the first-born son must be redeemed from the Kohen. This reminds them that what appeared natural is actually miraculous.
However, a reminder is necessary only when the birth would have otherwise appeared natural, such as a maternal first-born. In the event of a paternal first-born, meaning that the mother has previously been married, or a child born by Caesarian-section or following a miscarriage, it is already clear that the traditional order of events isn’t being followed, and no reminder is necessary.
Alternatively, Rav Akiva Eiger answers by questioning why it was necessary for the Jews to place the blood of the Korban Pesach on their doorposts to protect them. If Hashem slew the first-born, couldn’t He differentiate between the houses of the Jews and the Egyptians?
It is also difficult to understand whether the first-born were slain by Hashem, as the Haggadah emphasizes that this plague was performed exclusively by Him, or by a destructive angel, as the Jews were told to place blood on their doorposts to protect them from the destroying angel (12:23).
To resolve both difficulties, he suggests that a maternal first-born can be easily distinguished, while a paternal first-born is harder to identify. The destroying angel slew the maternal first-borns where there was no room for error, while Hashem killed the paternal first-borns who required extra recognition.
In light of this explanation, we now understand that it wasn’t miraculous that the paternal first-borns were saved, as Hashem knew their identities and they were never in danger of an error. The maternal first-borns, however, required a miracle to be saved from the destroying angel, as the Gemora (Bava Kamma 60a) teaches that once permission is given to this angel to destroy, it doesn’t differentiate between the righteous and the wicked. Because Hashem had to miraculously protect them, they became holy for all generations and require redemption from a Kohen.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Were the locusts in the plague of “arbeh” miraculously created for the purpose of the plague, or did they already exist naturally, and Moshe simply caused them to gather to afflict the Egyptians? (Paneiach Raza, Seforno)
2) Rashi writes (10:22) that one of the purposes of the plague of darkness was to conceal the death of the wicked Jews who didn’t wish to leave Egypt so that the Egyptians shouldn’t witness their deaths and claim that the Jews were being stricken just as were the Egyptians. As Rashi writes (13:18) that four-fifths of the Jews died at this time, how was it possible to hide so many deaths from the Egyptians, who would surely notice their absence at the conclusion of the plague? (Mayan Beis HaShoeiva Parshas Beshalach, Meged Yosef)
3) Hashem gave Moshe and Aharon the first mitzvah given to the Jews as a nation, the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon (12:2). Were the Jews able to perform this mitzvah in the wilderness, and if so, how were they able to see the moon through the Clouds of Glory that surrounded them? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Yaaros Devash 2:4, Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 140:3, Ayeles HaShachar)
4) The Korban Pesach was eaten on the first night of Pesach, which falls on the 15th of Nissan. Why did Hashem command the Jews in Egypt (12:18) regarding its consumption in a manner which, when read literally, seems to indicate that it was to be eaten on the night of the 14th of Nissan? (Panim Yafos Bereishis 8:22, Ayeles HaShachar)
5) Who was Pharaoh’s firstborn child, and was he/she killed in the plague of the slaying of the first-born? (Yalkut Shimoni 186)
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