Parashat Bo

Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Mazal Bat Rachael by the Liniado family

Parashat Bo

In this week’s parasha we encounter the last of the Ten Plagues that Hashem brought upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. If we look back at the sequence of the plagues, we can see a very interesting pattern that conveys the ways in which Hashem works. The pattern they follow is “low to high:” That is, the plagues begin at the lowest point on earth and continuously rise from there.

The first plague is dam, or Blood, in which water turned to blood. Water is at the lowest point on earth. This was followed by tzefardea, Frogs. Frogs are amphibians, who live partly in water, and partly on land. The third plague was kinim, Lice. Lice are wingless insects that emerge from the ground. Next came arov, wild animals, who live above ground. The fifth plague was dever, or Pestilence, disease that affects animals. Shechin, or Boils, affected people. Barad was hail that fell from the sky onto the ground. The wind brought arbe, or Locusts. Next came hoshech, a thick Darkness that held the Egyptians motionless. Last was makat bechorot, the Killing of the First Born, when Hashem decided exactly who would die and at what time. These Ten Plagues that Hashem brought in order to break Pharaoh’s will and induce him to free the slaves ultimately brought about the Exodus of B’nei Yisrael from Egypt, so they could become a free people and prepare to accept the Torah at Har Sinai.

Sweet Dreams…

It may seem odd that we are told how Pharaoh prepared himself for the final plague of makat bechorot (Killing of the First Born), the plague that will finally break Pharaoh’s will and force him to let Beneh Yisrael leave Egypt. The passuk (12:30) says, “vayakam Pharaoh layla — Pharaoh got up at night.” Rashi comments just one word: “mimitato — from his bed.”

What Rashi is saying here is simply that Pharaoh, who was a first-born and who had a first-born son, was so brazen that he was actually able to fall asleep even though he’d been told that he or his son might not live through the night! So after Moshe had approached him nine times, and each of the nine warnings had come to pass, Pharaoh’syetzer hara was so strong that he still didn’t believe Moshe. Did he think that Hashem was bluffing after everything that Egypt had gone through? This just goes to show us how strong the yetzer hara can be, and how it can fool a person. Even when something should be totally obvious to us, our yetzer hara can blind us beyond reason!

G-d’s Diploma

The Ramban has a very famous and most remarkable commentary at the end of this parasha. He says that there are three ways that the yetzer hara tries to turn us away from belief in Hashem. It presents us with three levels of rejection:

There’s absolutely no G-d.

There is a G-d, but He doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on in the world. He leaves the world on auto pilot.

There is a G-d who knows what’s going on, but He has no control over what happens on a day-to-day basis. The world is in a free-fall, and there is no system of reward and punishment.

The Ramban writes that Hashem saved B’nei Yisrael through the Ten Plagues, which powerfully altered the forces of nature, in order to prove these things one time, and one time only. Hashem is present; He does run the world; and there is a system of reward and punishment! In addition to the plagues, He split the Red Sea as Pharaoh and his army pursued Am Yisrael.

Ramban goes on to explain that the reason that we have so many commandments, and that so many of our commandments focus on yetziat mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt) is to remind us of Hashem’s power and His involvement in our lives. The Ten Plagues and the parting of the sea appear in our daily prayers, and we are reminded each time how Hashem saved us beyad hazaka — with a strong hand! Ramban explains that the holidays we celebrate — Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot — were all given to us as reminders of the Exodus from Egypt.

Pesach teaches us about Hashem through all the rituals of the holiday, such as eating the matza and the gathering around the Seder table with different foods that prompt the children to ask questions. We want to engage our children in conversation about yetziat mitzrayim and all the wonders that Hashem performed for Beneh Yisrael to save them from Pharaoh and the Egyptians.

Similarly, in the holiday of Shavuot, we celebrate receiving our holy Torah at Har Sinai. There Hashem gave us the greatest gift of all; so that we can live by the Torah and pass its precepts and teachings down through the generations from father to son and Rabbi to student.

Finally, there is the celebration of Succot, which commemorates the forty years that we traveled through the desert, during which time Hashem fed us with the maan and protected us with the Clouds of Glory. On Succot we sit outside of our homes in booths, and try to feel what B’nei Yisrael felt when they were traveling through the desert.

Ramban’s main point is that there’s no difference between Hashem’s miracles and nature because it’s all the same! Ramban goes on to say that all the miracles that Hashem performed in order to redeem us were intended to show the world, that, lehavdil, this is Hashem’s “certificate” for the rest of time! To use an analogy, it’s like a doctor who hangs his diplomas on the wall of his office in order to prove or demonstrate that he is qualified in his chosen field of medicine. If anyone ever comes along and questions their credibility, they can just point to the diploma. Similarly, if anyone should ever come along and question G-d (has veshalom), He can “just point” at the miracles that He performed for us in Egypt. We get constant reminders of these miracles through our holidays and daily prayers.

Underpaid wages...

In the book “Classics and Beyond” by Rabbi Avraham Bukspan, he brings from Gemara Sanhedrin (91a) the legal claim that the Egyptians brought before Alexander the Great. They were trying to recoup the vast fortune that the Jews had taken from Mtitzrayim at Moshe’s request. Their argument was that the Jews had only borrowed this great wealth, and now it needed to be returned.

Geviha ben Pesisa advocated on behalf of the Jews, his counterclaim was that 600,000 people left Egypt (Shemot 12:37), who had been in Egypt for 430 years. Geviha demanded, “Pay us wages for that many people working for those many years.” After thinking it over for three days, the Egyptians realized that whatever was taken from their country was not adequate compensation for all those years of servitude. So the case was Dismissed!

Yet, the Maharsha asks an obvious question: We did not work in Mitzrayim for 430 years. We weren’t even there that long; we were only in the country for 210 years, and most of those years were not spent as slaves. When we first descended to Egypt, we were treated royally. We were the family of Yosef, the savior of Egypt. Only after all the shevatim died did the mistreatment begin.

In fact, the Midrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:11) writes that there were only eighty-six years of hard labor. (The gematria of Elokiim, which alludes to Middat HaDin, is also eighty-six.) These years began from the birth of Miriam, Moshe’s older sister: that is why she was called Miriam, which comes from the root of mar or bitter, since that was when the Egyptians began to embitter the lives of the Jews, as it is written, “Vayemareru et chayeihem ba’avodah kashah – They embittered their lives with hard work” (Shemot 1:14).

So how could Geviha ben Pesisa state that we were there for 430 years and claim wages for all those years? The Maharasha says that the eighty-six years were so harsh that it was like 430 years.

Rav Marcus Lehmann, in his Haggadah shel Pesach, explains it differently. It’s true that we did not work for 430 years, but only eighty-six. On the other hand, although 600,000 people left Egypt, five times that amount did the actual work. The Torah tells us, “Va’chamushim alu Vnei Yisrael mei’eretz Mitzrayim – Egypt” (Shemot 13:18). Rashi gives an alternative definition for the word chamushim, armed. The word Chameshim can come from the word chamsheh, which means five; one-fifth of Bnei Yisrael ascended from Egypt, while four-fifths died during the Plague of Darkness.

Therefore, three million people worked for eighty-six years, which is the same as 600,000 people working for 430 years: 600,000 x 5 = 3,000,000; and 86 x 5 = 430.

Geviha ben Pesisa did not have to fear that the Egyptians would question the validity of his claim, even though he said that the Jews had been in Egypt for 430 years. For if they would have countered that this was not the case, he could have brought up the abovementioned fact.

Rav Lehmann wirtes that based on this, we can bring a hint to why we have four cups of wine at the Pesach Seder. The gematria of kos or cup, is eighty-six. We raise the kos four times to thank Hashem for the four times kos (4 x 86) which he took off of the calculation. By all rights, we should have worked for 430 years, five periods of eighty-six, or kos. (Our accounting of 430 years actually began from the birth of Yitzchak when Avraham was told that his children would go into exile. Hashem, in His kindness, only had us work for eighty-six years, just one period of kos.

This is as it says in Tehillim (116:13): “Kos Yeshuot eta u’ve’Sheim Hashem ekra – I will raise the cup of salvations and the Name of Hashem I will invoke.”

The Mitzvah of Teffiln

The very last passuk of the parasha (13:16) reads, “And it shall be a sign upon your arm and an ornament between your eyes, for with a strong hand Hashem removed us from Egypt!” This passuk is the origin of the mitzva of tefillin. There are four passages written inside the tefillin. The first two are from the Shema, and express the concepts that Hashem is One. We accept His Kingship, there is reward and punishment, and we are responsible to observe all the commandments. The second two passages are from this parasha, and are basic to Judaism in that they speak of the Exodus, which is central to our awareness of our responsibilities to Hashem, Who liberated us and made us a nation.

The Baba Sali who died about 30 years ago and who's yortzeit is around this time, was known to perform many miracles. There was a story of an injured soldier in a wheel chair who couldn't walk. The Baba Sali asked the soldier..."Do you put on tefelin or keep Shabbat?" The soldier answered "No" so the Baba Sali told him "Make a commitment today that you'll put on Tefilin every day and keep Shabbat and I'll bless you to get up out of that wheel chair and walk on your own”. The soldier agreed and he was able to walk again.

May we all be aware enough to see the signs that Hashem sends us to do teshuva. May we all understand that our tefillot, our mitzvot, and keeping Shabbat and all of our holidays are all meant to be reminders that Hashem delivered us from the bondage of Egypt so that we could receive the Torah as a free people, become His nation, and observe His mitzvot forever! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Discussion Points:

· Are there any mitzvot which we do which give us a feeling of connection to our parents, community, or G-d?

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Leiluiy Nishmat....

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