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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Bo

And so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son's son that I made a mockery of Egypt. (10:2)

The Torah places emphasis upon relating the miraculous nature of the ten plagues to one's children/descendants - specifically concerning the plague of locusts. What is the significance of the plague of locusts that it has become the focus of transmission to future generations? Horav Simcha Zissel Broide, shlita, observes that the dialogue which ensued between Moshe and Pharaoh was not limited to Bnei Yisrael's release from Egypt. Moshe was also using this forum to demonstrate to Pharaoh the identity of the Master of the world. It was Pharaoh who audaciously challenged Moshe with the words, "Who is Hashem that I must listen to His voice?" Pharaoh denied the existence of a Supreme Being who directed the world. The miracles and wonders that occurred in Egypt were "lessons", with which Moshe sought to imbue Pharaoh with an awareness that Hashem is the Creator and Ruler of the earth.

The first plagues did not seem to have a great effect upon Pharaoh. He remained resolute in his denial of Hashem, renewing the zeal with which he enslaved the Jews. As the plagues progressed, the pain and affliction which he and his people suffered became increasingly difficult to endure. Thus, Pharaoh summoned Moshe and Aharon to put a stop to the plagues. His pleas were always accompanied by the same false, vacuous promises of freedom for the Jews. As soon as each plague ended, Pharaoh would renege on his word and persecute the Jews once again.

Pharaoh appeared to his nation to be an all-powerful king whom no one could vanquish. Even if he "seemed" to give in to the effects of the plague, it was only a transitory change. Indeed, immediately after the plague had ceased, Pharaoh returned to his previous stance.

This ruse continued for the seven plagues which preceded the plague of locusts. Now, in the aftermath of the plague nothing was left! All of the grain had been totally obliterated. No longer did Pharaoh have to beg Moshe to rescind the plague; the locusts retreated of their own accord because nothing was available for them to eat. Pharaoh no longer had reason to display a show of strength, for he had nothing to gain. The plague had run its course, and he and his people were devastated. Now Pharaoh retreated, meekly crying out, "I have sinned to Hashem." Pharaoh had seen the effects of total destruction. He could only hope that his repentance would avert a new calamity. He was like a child who has been hit by a stick many times. The fear of an upraised stick was sufficient to frighten him into submission.

The idol had fallen! Pharaoh's subterfuge had come to an abrupt halt. The mighty ruler who feared no one was now scared of his own shadow. The plague of locusts had finally put Pharaoh in his place. It forced him to shed his arrogance, exposing the fraud that he had perpetrated against his people.

"So shall you eat it: Your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; you shall eat in haste." (12:11)

The manner in which they ate the Korban Pesach reflected Bnei Yisrael's readiness for immediate journey. In his commentary, the Sforno emphasizes their bitachon, trust in Hashem. He writes, "They demonstrated their implicit trust in Hashem by preparing themselves for the road while they were still in prison." Horav Moshe Schwab, z"l, takes note of this remarkable trust in the Almighty. Bnei Yisrael had been subject to such inhuman servitude for hundreds of years, that they no longer knew the meaning of the word "freedom." Even after Moshe had notified them of their imminent redemption, they still continued to function under the same conditions of harsh slavery as they had before.

The miracles that appeared and disappeared did not seem to leave a permanent impression upon Pharaoh. Obviously, Bnei Yisrael's trust in Hashem was not a result of anything they perceived; it was the product of pure bitachon in the Almighty. Moshe relayed Hashem's message to Bnei Yisrael. They responded immediately, preparing for the geulah, liberation, while they were still incarcerated in Egypt.

This implicit trust, this unequivocal reliance upon Hashem, is the touchstone of bitachon. This attitude imbues us while we are in the final galus, as we await the advent of Moshiach. Everything we do, wherever we go, we should reflect the same "chipazon," haste, as we exhibited when we prepared for the auspicious moment of our redemption from Egyptian slavery.

All too often, we forget our real purpose on this earth. Horav Schwab cites an anecdote from the Chafetz Chaim which clearly communicates our mission in this world. A Jew once came to visit the Chafetz Chaim and was surprised by the overwhelming poverty in the house. He asked the Chafetz Chaim, "Pardon me if I am presumptuous, but where is your furniture?" The Chafetz Chaim reponded by questioning the visitor, "And where is your furniture?" "I," responded the guest, "am only a visitor here." The Chafetz Chaim retorted, "So too am I only a visitor on this world. Therefore I do not concern myself with setting up more than temporary accommodations." We must all remember that we are on this world only with "visitor" status, as we await that clarion call of the shofar which will sound our final redemption.

And you shall say, "It is a Pesach-offering to Hashem, Who passed over the houses of the Bnei Yisrael in Egypt." (12:27)

The festival commemorating our exodus from Egypt, our liberation from the most cruel bondage, is called Chag Ha'Pesach, the Festival of Passover. This name recalls how Hashem "passed over" the Jewish homes during makas bechoros, when the Egyptian first-born were killed. Considering the nature of the festival and the focus of its commemorating, the name seems like a misnomer. Would it not have been more appropriate to call the festival, Chag Ha'cheirus, the Festival of Freedom? This was no ordinary redemption. It was a liberation from a cruel and intense slavery. The Jews were ensnared by the guile of the Egyptians. First, Pharaoh promised a reward for each brick that they made. The Jews set about, resourcefully, to make as many bricks as they could, only to find out that this had become their daily quota! Then Pharaoh stopped giving them straw with which to make the bricks. Every move that Pharaoh made was intended to destroy Jewish pride and dignity, to transform a holy people into dispirited and crass beggars, who had no purpose and no future. Why then, do we not call the festival dedicated to commemorating the Jews' release from the abyss of Egypt the Festival of Freedom?

Nesivos Ha'mussar derives a profound lesson from the alternate choice of name--Chag Ha'Pesach. There is no greater chesed, kindness, than sparing an individual from death! Once the destroyer had been granted permission to strike, no distinction existed between Egyptian and Jew. When the middas ha'din, attribute of judgment, reigns, no human can stand before it and live. This is consistent with the words of David Ha'melech in Sefer Tehillim 130, "If you preserve iniquities, oh G-d, Hashem, who could survive?"

The kindness of sparing an individual from death is so great, that it overshadows all of the miracles, wonders and salvation that occurred in Egypt. Even the actual liberation pales in comparison. Being given access to life, being spared from a premature demise, incorporates within it all of the preceding benefactions. What value is freedom when one has no future?

Those who do not appreciate the true meaning of life may grasp its peripheral aspects but remain totally oblivious to its essence. We view life as a medium--as a vehicle for attaining joy and pleasure. We talk about various goals for which life is worth living, while we fail to recognize that the greatest joy is inherent in life itself. This idea is best reflected in the words of David Ha'melech in Tehillim 118, "Hashem has caused me to suffer terribly, but He has not given me over to death." In this psalm, David Ha'melech looks back on a life filled with pain and suffering. Yet, he is able to thank Hashem for the greatest gift--the gift of life.

Horav Chaim Shmulevitz, z"l, points out two aspects of life that constitute its essence. First, only by living and performing mitzvos does one have the opportunity to receive reward in Olam Ha'bah. The greatest pleasure that one can attain is closeness to Hashem. Only through our humble existence on this world can this potential be realized. A second aspect of life which is invaluable is the opportunity to interface with one's fellowman, to share in his joy, to help shoulder his sorrow. The opportunity to give of oneself to others is man's greatest gift. Indeed, it gives the greatest meaning to life.

For a seven day period you shall eat matzos. (13:15)

The Rambam writes that matzoh is a reminder of our bondage, representing the lechem oni, bread of affliction, which our ancestors ate while they were slaves in Egypt. It also commemorates the speed with which the redemption was brought upon them. They had no time to bake bread to take with them for this journey. They were, consequently, forced to make matzos, to avoid the delay inherent in preparing leavened bread.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, z"l, views these two reasons as complimentary to one another. It is significant to note that Bnei Yisrael played no role in their own liberation. They did not fight; they could not even leave their homes. They simply waited for their freedom. What did they do to earn their freedom? What was it that made them worthy of liberation? Their freedom was attained through their devotion to Hashem. By sacrificing the god of the Egyptians as the Korban Pesach, they demonstrated their total subservience to the Almighty. Yet, they still took no part in their own deliverance. They did not eat the matzoh, which represented their slavery, until the very last moments. During that final moment of redemption, when they were "summoned" to leave, they grabbed whatever food they had and left. They had no bread because they had no time to prepare it. Hence, the matzoh, the unleavened, uncompleted bread, serves as external testimony of the Divine nature of Yetzias Mitzrayim. The matzoh is a tribute to the fact that it was Hashem--only Hashem--Who effected our release. To paraphrase Horav Hirsch, "How could a people, incapable of preparing itself with proper provisions for such a great journey, think that they were instrumental in obtaining their own freedom?"

The Bnei Yissaschar cites the Zohar Ha'kadosh who expresses a similar view. Matzoh is referred to as t,ubnhvns tkfhn, the food of trust (in Hashem). Dough which has a leavening agent in it continues to rise on its own, even after it has been kneaded. Unleavened dough has no power of its own. It rises only when man kneads it. The inertness of unleavened dough symbolizes our liberation. We did nothing to effect our freedom. It was the exclusive work of Hashem. During the Festival of Freedom, we eat the food that best describes Hashem's Hand in our deliverance.

Horav Eli Munk, z"l, suggests another reason that matzoh is ideal to symbolize our Festival of Freedom. We are enjoined to rid ourselves of chametz, leaven, which is matzoh's counterpart. Leaven initiates fermentation by decomposing the dough. In this process, a pure, static, natural material is subjected to the work of man who kneads, molds and shapes it to fit his own taste. This represents man's mastery over nature. Likewise, in the spiritual dimension, the yetzer hora, evil inclination, causes the human soul to ferment through its "ability" to decompose the soul's natural purity by provoking it to oppose the forces of good. The yetzer hora creates discord within the human personality in the same manner that leaven distorts the wholesomeness of the flour and water. Indeed, as Horav Munk notes, the numerical equivalent of leaven, is 138, the same number as blemish/defect.

As Pesach approaches, we are adjured to search for and destroy all chametz. This requirement gives the Festival of Freedom, the holiday commemorating our people's birth as a nation, a feeling of complete moral, physical and national renewal. As we rid our homes of chametz, we must similarly rid ourselves of any vestige of envy and hatred. This festival is consistent with the season of Aviv, Spring--the time of nature's renewal.

With this in mind, it is truly appropriate that the "national" food for this holiday is matzoh. It represents our return to national purity. Our inauguration as the nation of Hashem is imbued with purity and integrity. After the seven-day festival is over, we return to our usual eating patterns epitomized by leavened bread. Our abstinence from chametz at the beginning of the year inspires us to be resolute in ridding ourselves of the vestiges of evil which plague us. Hence, the taste of matzoh remains with us all year long.


1. Was there ever a plague of locust like the one that befell the Egyptians?

2. What was the middah k'neged middah of the plague of locust?

3. What three purposes did the plague of choshech serve?

4. What are the differences between the manner in which Bnei Yisrael offered the Korban Pesach in Egypt and the way they offered it during the time of the Bais Ha'mikdash?

5. Which non-kosher animal was singled out to be used in the performance of a mitzvah? Why?


1. No-Another plague of locust occurred during the time of Yoel Ha'navi. The plague of locust that came then was composed of several species, while the Egyptian plague was composed of a single species. The plague of locust that occurred during Yoel's time was larger in number.

2. It destroyed the barley, wheat and legumes which the Egyptians had forced the Jews to plant for them.

3. 1) It afflicted the Egyptians.

2) It gave the Jews the opportunity to search through the Egyptian possessions so that when they asked to borrow them, the Egyptians could not deny their whereabouts.

3) The Jews who were evil and did not desire to leave Egypt died. They were buried during those three days of darkness.

4. In Egypt, the lamb was to be purchased and set aside on the 10th day of Nissan. In succeeding generations, it would only have to be inspected four days prior to Pesach to insure that it had no blemishes. In Egypt, the blood of the Korban Pesach was sprinkled upon the lintel and doorposts, by means of an agudas eizov, a bunch of hyssop. It was also to be eaten in haste. These requisites did not apply in later generations.

5. We are told to redeem every first-born donkey with a sheep that is eaten or brought as a korban. It reminds us that while the Egyptian first-born, who are likened to donkeys, were smitten, the Jewish first-born were spared. Also, the donkeys helped the Jews carry the Egyptian silver and gold out of Egypt.

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