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Parshas Bo - Vol. 5,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Vayomer Moshe bin’ureinu uviz’keineinu neileich b’vaneinu u’viv’noseinu b’tzoneinu u’viv’kareinu neileich ki chag l’Hashem lanu vayomer aleihem y’hi chein Hashem imachem ka’asher asha’leiach es’chem v’es tap’chem (10:9-10)
Due to the intense suffering imposed by the plagues, Pharaoh was finally forced to relent and allow Moshe to take the Jews to worship Hashem for three days. The problem was in the details. Moshe insisted that not only must the male adults go, but also the elderly, the children, and the females. Pharaoh responded that under no circumstances would he allow the children to go since the sacrifices were to be brought by the adults. However, in Pharaoh’s response, no mention is made of the women. Did he agree to Moshe’s demand in this regard?
The Radvaz suggests that Pharaoh’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 immoral Egypt. Therefore, even when he was forced by the plagues to permit the Jews to go and serve Hashem, he attempted to do so in a diabolical way which would prevent any permanent “damage” to his wicked plans.
Pharaoh knew that Judaism is heavily dependent on the concept of mesorah – transmitting our beliefs from one generation to the next. He therefore refused to allow the elders to lead them to the desert, and he insisted that the children not be present in order to cut off vital links in the educational process.
Yet Pharaoh 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. Indeed, it was for this reason that Hashem instructed Moshe to first offer 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 returned home with a newfound inspiration, it would be short-lived since their wives wouldn’t have been able to share in it. Even Pharaoh recognized that as long as the women remained in the morally impure environment of Egypt, there was no chance for the Jewish nation to accomplish permanent spiritual growth.
HaChodesh hazeh lachem (12:2)
Although a literal reading of our verse presents the mitzvos of sanctifying the new moon and 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 the Jews the ability to create newness (hischadshus).
While it is 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 those who are governed by the arbitrary laws of nature. The verse tells us (Koheles 1:9), “What has been is what will be, what has been done will continue to be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
Although there is nothing new under the sun, there is constant renewal beyond the sun, in front of Hashem, Who is the Source for the constant re-creation of the universe every moment. We therefore find that the Lechem HaPanim (Showbread) in the Beis HaMikdash miraculously stayed completely fresh for seven days. Because it was placed before Hashem in the Temple, it was 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 collective nation, and it therefore contains this fundamental principle of Judaism. We can take inspiration from the uplifting recognition that while many people repeat the same “New Year’s resolutions” every year, we aren’t bound by 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, we may move our lives in any direction that we desire, as the invaluable power of renewal is uniquely ours.
The concept that as Jews we aren’t bound by the laws of nature is illustrated by the following story. A friend of mine got married later in life and had a difficult time having children. After some time passed, he and his wife decided to seek medical advice. A number of tests and consultations with fertility specialists later, their hopes were dashed when they were told that they were medically incapable of conceiving children. However, many years of heartfelt prayer later, to the astonishment of the “experts,” the couple’s two adorable sons are happy to prove otherwise.
This anecdote shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the very existence of our nation is predicated on similar miracles. Most of our Avos and Imahos – Avrohom and Sorah, Yitzchok and Rivkah, and Yaakov and Rochel – struggled to have children. Our Sages teach that a number of them were physically barren and incapable of producing the next generation of Jews without miraculous Divine intervention.
Whether we are in need of a medical miracle or merely hoping to finally break a persistent bad habit once and for all, we should take heart from the message of Parshas Bo. With the first mitzvah that Hashem gave to the Jewish people, He taught us that no situation is ever beyond hope. Rather than give in to despair rooted in the verdict of the laws of nature, we can remain optimistic by reminding ourselves of the uniquely Jewish power of renewal and change.
V’rai’si es ha’dam u’pasachti aleichem v’lo yihyeh bachem 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 nation. With neighbors who would desire nothing more than its total annihilation, Israel certainly seems to be perched in a precarious position should such a war break out.
However, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel notes that for a believing Jew, this trepidation and anxiety is misplaced. The Torah tells us 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 dictate 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 differentiate between potential victims also decreed that during the plagues, an alternate set of laws of nature should govern which afforded miraculous protection to the Jews. Even the mass destruction caused by the plague of the slaying of the first-born completely passed over the Jews, killing an Egyptian attempting to hide in the house of a Jew but protecting a Jew who was in the house of an Egyptian (Rashi 12:13).
Similarly, it seems that with the tremendous destructive abilities of today’s bombs and missiles, there is 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. As long as we continue in the ways of our ancestors in Egypt, remaining separate from our neighbors and maintaining our beautiful Jewish customs and traditions, we remain above the “inviolable” laws of nature and have nothing to fear at all.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) At the conclusion of most of the plagues, the source of the plague simply disappeared. Why did Hashem cause a strong west wind to carry the locusts into the Red Sea (10:19) instead of simply eliminating them completely? (Paneiach Raza)
2) Rashi writes (10:22) that one of the reasons for the plague of darkness was so that the Jews could secretly enter the Egyptians’ houses in order to see where their valuables were hidden. When the time came to “borrow” them prior to the Exodus and the Egyptians claimed that they had no valuables, the Jews would be able to respond by specifying what they had seen and where it was located. If Hashem caused the Jews to find favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, who willingly gave them their finest possessions and gave even more than was requested of them (Rashi 12:36), why was there any need to locate their hiding places? (Mahari Bruna, Paneiach Raza)
3) Rashi writes (12:6) that when the time came for Hashem to fulfill the vow that He swore to Avrohom to redeem his descendants, He saw that the Jewish people didn’t have any mitzvos to perform to merit their redemption, so He gave them the mitzvos of circumcising the males and of offering and eating the Pesach-sacrifice. If the time came for Hashem to keep His promise, why didn’t He have to fulfill it even if the Jews didn’t have sufficient merits? (Ayeles HaShachar)
4) Hashem instructed Moshe (12:13) to command the Jewish people to place the blood from their Passover sacrifices on their doorposts to serve as a sign so that He would pass over their houses without harming them. As Hashem clearly knew who was in each house, why was the blood necessary? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)
5) How big was the Erev Rav – mixed multitude – of Egyptians who left Egypt together with the Jews (12:38)? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel and Mechilta 12:38)
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