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Parshas Bo - Vol. 11, Issue 15
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Moshe informed Pharaoh that when the Jewish people left Egypt after the plague of the slaying of the first-born, none of the dogs would bark or wag its tongue at them. Rashi writes (22:30) that as a reward to the dogs for obeying these instructions, the Torah commands us to give our non-kosher meat to dogs whenever practical. What is the significance of the fact that the dogs did not interact with the Jews as they left Egypt, and why is non-kosher meat considered an appropriate reward for their actions?
Rav Yitzchok Hutner points out that dogs don't always bark at people; often, they act quite friendly toward humans, and they are even colloquially referred to as "man's best friend." On the other hand, the Gemora (Beitzah 25b) surprisingly teaches that dogs are considered the most brazen and "chutzpadik" of all animals. In what way does a dog's chutzpah manifest itself? Rav Hutner explains that the very fact that dogs think of themselves as man's best friend is the ultimate in audacity, as it demonstrates that they view themselves as equal to humans. This concept is the height of temerity, as it reveals that the dogs have no appreciation of the tremendous gap between them and us.
When the Jewish people left Egypt, they reached such a high spiritual level that even the dogs recognized that the tremendous chasm between them. As a result, they were afraid to bark at the Jews, or even to wag their tongues toward them in friendship. The dogs' reward for this episode is that we are commanded to throw our non-kosher meat to them, as non-kosher meat symbolizes the divide between Jews and dogs. Because the dogs in Egypt were able to grasp and appreciate the difference between us and them, we reward them by giving them the meat that we are forbidden to eat.
Parshas Bo contains the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon. However, this is not just another one of the 613 mitzvos in the Torah; it is the first mitzvah that Hashem chose to give to the Jewish people as a collective nation. Moreover, in Rashi's first comment on Chumash (Bereishis 1:1), he questions why the Torah begins with the events of Creation instead of with this mitzvah. Even though the Torah does not in fact begin here, the fact that Rashi even entertained the possibility clearly demonstrates the tremendous significance of this mitzvah. What makes the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon so important and so fundamental that it was selected as the introduction to all 613 mitzvos?
At first glance, the concept of time appears to be universal. There is nothing inherently Jewish about time; every nation has a clock and a calendar. Therefore, as Hashem prepared to take the Jewish people out of Egypt to transform them into a new nation, He began by informing them that the Jewish calendar and concept of time is in fact unique in two ways.
First, most other nations base their calendars on the sun, while Hashem told Moshe that the Jewish calendar would be a lunar one. What is the difference between a solar calendar and a lunar one? The Mishmeres Ariel explains that although the sun is significantly larger than the moon, it is also constant. Every time we look up in the sky, the sun is always the same size. The sun we see today is the same sun we'll see tomorrow.
The moon is different. The moon is considerably smaller than the sun, but it never remains the same from night to night. The moon is always changing, getting bigger or smaller, and in this sense, it is an appropriate mashal (analogy) for the Jewish people. The nations of the world may have impressive numbers, but like the sun on which they base their calendars, they are spiritually stagnant. The Jewish calendar revolves around a moon that is always changing, and that is the first message that Hashem wanted to teach the nascent Jewish nation: a Jew never stays the same. Hashem selected this mitzvah as the very first mitzvah to let us know that in spiritual matters, we must always be growing and waxing like the moon, and if not, by definition we are waning. In fact, Rashi writes (13:18) that four-fifths of the Jewish people in Egypt were content with their situations and weren't interested in being freed to receive the Torah and grow like the moon, and they all tragically died during the plague of darkness.
At the same time, Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch points out that each month, after growing larger and larger during the first half of the month, the moon proceeds to get smaller and smaller and eventually shrinks to the point that it disappears from view and seems to have completely vanished, only to reappear once again as the next monthly cycle begins. This recurring cycle of renewal and rebirth is an apt metaphor for the Jewish people, both collectively and individually.
The moon symbolizes the concept that throughout Jewish history, our enemies repeatedly oppress us and attempt to exterminate us, yet as hopeless as the situation may seem, inevitably the Jewish people reemerge to shine brightly once again. On an individual level, we often find ourselves in challenging situations and feel that we are spiritually waning and growing more distant from Hashem. At such times, it is imperative to remain cognizant that we always have the opportunity to emulate the moon by making a fresh start, as the word chodesh (month) comes from the same root as the word chiddush, which means renewal. This insight gives us another understanding of Hashem's selection of this mitzvah as the first mitzvah to present to the blossoming Jewish nation, as it reminds us that even when circumstances appear bleak and the future looks dark, we should always remain optimistic that just like the moon, we will once again come back and shine brightly.
A second aspect of the uniquely Jewish concept of time is that we begin each new day after sunset, while most non-Jews start their days in the morning. What lesson is this difference intended to teach us? In the book of Yehoshua (24:4), Hashem says: I gave Mount Seir to Eisav to inherit, while Yaakov and his children went down to Egypt. Why are these two seemingly disparate concepts grouped together in one verse?
Rav Aharon Bakst explains that Hashem is emphasizing that in contrast to Eisav, who received his inheritance and immediate gratification right away, Yaakov initially received nothing. He first went down with his family to Egypt for more than 200 years of back-breaking slave labor. Symbolically, Hashem is hinting to us that while Eisav wanted his portion up front, the Jewish approach is to toil and invest the hard work up front in order to ultimately receive something far superior.
This difference manifests itself in the fact that the non-Jewish day begins in the morning, when the sun is coming up and the outlook appears promising; ultimately, however, their day concludes in darkness. On the other hand, Jews start a new day just after the sun goes down, trusting in Hashem even in periods of challenge and struggle, and inevitably our patience and perseverance pays off, as the gloom of the night gives way to the brightness of the rising sun. Similarly, many of the nations of the world have a day of rest just as we do. However, their week typically begins with their day of rest on Sunday, just as Eisav received his immediate gratification, but from there on out, it's all downhill. On the other hand, the Jewish week follows in the path of Yaakov in Egypt, as we work hard for six days so that we can enjoy a hard-earned rest at the end, as our Shabbos day is the final day of our week. Applying this lesson to our own lives, it behooves us to reject the Epicurean approach of viewing this world as a tool for physical pleasure, and to recognize that time spent in this world studying Torah and doing mitzvos will ultimately be rewarded with far greater pleasure in the World to Come.
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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 eliminating them completely? (Paneiach Raza)
2) 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)
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) 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)
5) In addition to the prohibition against owning chometz on Pesach (13:7), it is also forbidden to derive any benefit from chometz that belongs to somebody else (Orach Chaim 447:1). Is it permissible to be employed as a guard on Pesach who is responsible for watching over and protecting chometz that belongs to a non-Jew, or is this considered a forbidden act of deriving benefit from chometz, as he is being paid for his services? (Shaarei Teshuvah 450:5)
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