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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Bo

And he left Pharaoh's presence in a burning anger. (11:8)

Moshe Rabbeinu left Pharaoh angrily. Previously, the Torah had related how Pharaoh told Moshe to leave and never return. He broke the bridge of contact between himself and Moshe. Moshe responded with anger. Why? Was Moshe in need of Pharaoh's kavod, respect? Did Moshe think Pharaoh would offer him any gratitude?

Horav Zaidel Epstein, Shlita, offers an interesting explanation for Moshe's anger. Ha'koras ha'tov, recognizing and appreciating the benefit one has derived from others, is a basic character trait of the Jewish People. Moshe Rabbeinu, their quintessential leader, was paradigmatic in his demonstration of this trait. Indeed, he showed appreciation to inanimate creations such as the water and earth of Egypt. He did not personally strike the earth or water, to catalyze the plagues of blood and lice, as a result of his gratitude for their part in helping him when he was in need. He had been hidden in the water for three months, and the earth covered up the Egyptian that he had killed. Although striking the ground and water, in the course of performing Hashem's, will was a mitzvah of the highest order which would obviously not be held against him, Moshe would still not do anything that might be deemed inappropriate.

Moshe was appreciative of Pharaoh's "care" as he was growing up. After all, he did grow up in Pharaoh's palace at a time when Pharaoh's decree to kill the Jewish boys was an attempt to prevent Moshe from becoming the savior of the Jewish People. Because Pharoah had treated him as royalty as he grew up in Pharoah's home, Moshe felt a debt of gratitude to Pharoah. Every time Moshe left Pharaoh after notifying him of the next plague, he must have left with a slightly heavy heart at Pharaoh's recalcitrance. He surely would have liked to see Pharaoh capitulate in order to spare himself and his people from the impending hurt.

Moshe still had one hope left - the last plague, the plague that addressed the firstborn, a category in which Pharaoh himself was included. That plague would bring Pharaoh to his senses, as that he would finally be able to dialogue with Pharaoh. Moshe knew he could convince Pharaoh that it was all folly. Pharaoh had closed the door to Moshe by evicting him from the palace with orders never to return. Moshe was angry because of the lost chance for Pharaoh. He was angry because it was now over. He could no longer help the man who, unbeknownst to him, was Hashem's agent for sustaining Moshe.

There is a profound lesson to be derived from here. Until now we might have thought that while we are obliged to demonstrate our gratitude towards those from whom we have benefitted, we are not required to force this favor upon them. "We tried", has been the popular refrain in many circumstances when the assistance we have been prepared to offer has been refused. We see now that, regardless of the situation, we must feel bad for the person who is erroneously rejecting our favor. Just because they are foolish does not mean that we should not feel bad for them. This is especially true in Pharaoh's case, when his stubborness was responsible for the destruction of his own people.

This month shall be for you the beginning of the months. (12:1)

The Torah introduces the concept of Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon, with Chodesh Nissan as the first month. Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, cites a Midrash Peliyah, a Midrash that is seemingly ambiguous, defying explanation. The Midrash states: The angels asked Hashem, "Why did You forbid Adam Ha'rishon from eating of the Eitz Hadaas, saying that if he would eat of it he would die?" Hashem responded that one day Adam would have a descendant, David Ha'Melech, who would say, "Rigzu v'al techetau...v'domu, Selah." "Tremble and sin not...and be utterly silent, Selah." (Tehillim, 4:5)

Obviously, this Midrash has a deeper meaning. Horav Alpert renders the following interpretation of the Midrash. The midas ha'din, the attribute of strict justice, complained about Klal Yisrael's imminent release from Egypt and subsequent victory over the Egyptian army. How were they better than the Egyptians? Hashem responded that the new moon would introduce a new concept: the concept of renewal and rejuvenation. As the moon renews itself, as it changes phases, so, too, do Klal Yisrael have the ability to be reborn, to transform themselves from idol worshippers into G-d - fearing Jews. The sheep they had worshipped as an Egyptian deity would now become the Korban Pesach, the symbol of commitment, devotion and liberation. The angels asked: If man can renew himself, why was Adam not given this opportunity? Why was he told that his sin would write the final chapter in his life? Hashem responded that David Hamelech, a descendant of Adam Ha'rishon, the individual who was bequeathed seventy years of Adam's life, would give the answer to their question.

True, renewal, teshuvah, repentance,is a significant gift. In order to appreciate the power of teshuvah, however, one must be motivated to repent. What is there that inspires a person to repent, to change his lifestyle, to seek forgiveness for his errors? David Hamelech tells us, "Rigzu v'al techatau," - "Tremble and sin not." In response, Chazal in the Talmud Berachos derive that a person should enrage the yetzer tov, good inclination, over the yetzer hara, evil inclination. He should literally overpower it. What is the key to success? "v'domu Selah," the inspiration comes from "v'domu" - death - the yom hamissah - confronting one's mortality. When one comes to grips with the fact that his sojourn on this world is but a temporary trip, that he will one day be called to task for his actions, he will emerge victorious over the yetzer hora and repent.

Adam Ha'rishon was granted the opportunity for renewal through the idea that the last seventy years of his life were given to David Ha'melech. Adam's "death" was his rebirth, as David Ha'melech would inspire us as to how one becomes renewed, how one is motivated to repent, to mend his ways and become a new person. Ironically, Adam Ha'rishon's premature death was the source of life for so many.

Speak to all of the assembly of Yisrael...and they should take for you each man a sheep for the father's house a sheep for each house. (12:3)

Pharaoh did everything to destroy the Jewish home. He attempted to dismantle it piece by piece. In response, Klal Yisrael exhibited extraordinary unity in rallying around the heads of the home, their fathers and heads of the family, so that all became one, as the "hearts of the fathers were returned to the sons, and the hearts of the sons were (returned) to their fathers."

Horav Y. A. Hirshovitz, zl, claims this was the underlying motif behind makas bechoros, the killing of the Egyptian firstborn. The Jewish People now perceived the source of Egyptian evil, the origin of their insidious behavior - in the leaders. At that time, as the bechorei Mitzrayim were dealt their personal blow, Klal Yisrael was enjoined to sit down with their families, to share in the educational experience of children learning from parents. The parents were to serve as paradigms for their children, so that the children would emulate them in the next generation.

Hashem instructed them to open their homes to the poor, to those who had no seder, who had no home of their own. They should not sit down to partake of their Korban Pesach until they have seen to it that their underprivileged neighbor also had food to eat. Their family was not complete until their poor neighbor had been included. The blood of the Korban Pesach was the sign by which the Jewish family was sealed. It coincided with the blood of the Bris Milah, the sign that was the seal of the Jewish body.

It was now plain for all to see exactly what is the primary unit in Judaism in which Hashem rests His Shechinah. It is neither in the House of Prayer nor in the House of Study. Rather, it is in the Jewish home, the family unit. Now that the primary unit had been established, Hashem made known to them the manner of service that He sought from Klal Yisrael. He does not seek a life of abstinence, of fasting, affliction and depression. Hashem wants us to enjoy, to take pleasure in His beneficience, to share our bounty with others, to live as human beings - to be menchen.

On that day, Klal Yisrael consecrated the Jewish home - not the wood and brick, but the essential Jewish home - its values, its unity, its harmony and direction. Parents inculcating their children with the derech Hashem, way of G-d, with emunah and bitachon, faith and trust in the Almighty, devoted to a lifestyle of service to Hashem b'kedushah u'betaharah, with holiness and purity - that is what defines Judaism.

On that fateful night, the night of Pesach Mitzrayim, the Jewish family/home was inducted into its pivotal role in Judaism.

An uncircumcised male may not eat of it.

One who is uncircumcised may not partake of the Korban Pesach. The sacrifice celebrating our liberation from bondage demands that one be aligned with the Jewish People if he is to share in their freedom. The story is told that Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, once came to an inn at St. Petersburg to join in a halachic conference. The question arose regarding the acceptability of children whose parents did not circumcise them. The majority of rabbonim opined that a child who was not circumcised may not be included in a community's Jewish register. It was their way of censuring those assimilated Jews who rejected Bris Milah as their way of showing disdain against what they felt was an archaic religion. The consensus of opinion was that by excluding these children from the public register, their renegade parents might change their minds regarding circumcision.

Hearing their decision, Rav Chaim arose and emphatically demanded, "Show me where it says that an uncircumcised child is not a Jew! I understand that an 'areil,' uncircumcised Jew, is prohibited from eating Kodoshim and Terumah. He may also not eat of the Korban Pesach. But, where does it say that he is not Jewish? Why blame the child for the fault of the father?"

One of the speakers at the conference recounted that, in the city of Warsaw, a certain Jew refused to circumcise his son. After awhile the child became ill and died. The community leaders did not permit this child to be buried in the Jewish cemetery. Indeed, most of the attendees at this conference agreed with the decision of the Warsaw community who took a stand for the Torah. The only one who issued a declaration of protest was Rav Chaim Brisker. "There is no halachah that forbids an uncircumcised child from being buried in a Jewish cemetery. While there are certain areas that exclude an "areil" - burial in a Jewish cemetery is not one of them. If you are concerned about making a safeguard to serve as a deterrent against assimilation - do not take it out on the children. Take it out on the parents. Do not bury the father who refuses to have his child circumcised!"

This reaction was applauded by many people - even those who had become alienated from Torah and mitzvos. Rav Chaim had the courage to place the blame where it belonged. It would serve us well to attempt to conjure up some of this same courage.

Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first issue of every womb among the Bnei Yisrael, of man of beast, is Mine. (13:2)

Why does the Torah demand that we redeem the firstborn? If they are born holy, then they should remain holy. Otherwise, why were they born holy? Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl, derives a profound lesson from here. Hashem wants us to achieve kedushah on our own. He wants us to work for it, to strive for it, to accomplish kedushah, holiness, on our own. Consequently, we are enjoined to redeem that G-d -given kedushah - and work to regain it. We now have a realistic goal to achieve. Hashem granted us kedushah, which we must strive to realize through our own hard work. What comes easily, regrettably, is lost just as easily. Those attributes that we achieve through effort and hardship will be ingrained in our psyche and remain with us.

We see this idea reflected when Bnei Yisrael left Egypt. They had been granted enormous visions of prophesy. Indeed, the maid-servant at the Red Sea saw greater revelations of the Almighty than the sainted Navi Yechezkel. Yet, as Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, was wont to say, "She still remained a maidservant." It did not change her. Having access to such stunning revelations left no impression upon her. Bnei Yisrael saw and heard what no people had ever witnessed. Yet, they complained about foolish things, like the cucumbers and melons which they had in Egypt. Why? Why were they different from the neviim, prophets, who were saintly and virtuous and inspired Klal Yisrael for generations? Apparently, the prophets of old were more developed in their spiritual achievement, as a result of the fact that they earned it through hard work and toil. The generation of the wilderness, the dor ha'midbar, were granted a unique gift in order to prepare them for Kabbolas HaTorah, receiving the Torah. Their essence, however, remained the same. Without their own contribution, their gift from Hashem would have dissipated. This is how a people who had seen the greatest revelations of the Almighty, could digress to the point that they complained about the "lack" of vegetables - compared to their sustenance as slaves in Egypt.

1. What similarity is to be found between the end of makas arbeh and makas arov?

2. What differences are there between the Korban Pesach offered in Egypt and the Korban Pesach of future generations?

3. Which two mitzvos were Klal Yisrael commanded which required shedding blood? 4. Until when may one eat the Korban Pesach?

5. Why did the firstborn of the non-Jewish captives in Egypt also die during makas bechoros?

6. What did Klal Yisrael carry on their shoulders when they left Egypt?


1. When the plague ended, nothing was left over from which the Egyptians could benefit.

2. Pesach Mitzrayim was purchased on the tenth day of Nissan; its blood was smeared on the doorpost and mezuzos; it was eaten b'chipazon, in haste. Chometz was not forbidden to the Jews in Egypt.

3. The blood of the Korban Pesach and the blood of Bris Milah, which they were enjoined to perform before they partook of the Korban Pesach.

4. Until alos ha'shachar, the rising of the morning star.
5. 1. They were happy to see the Jews being persecuted.

2. In order that they should not think that their pagan god was punishing the Egyptians.

6. The remnants of their Matzoh and Marror.


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