Torah Weekly

For the week ending 15 January 2005 / 5 Shevat 5765

Parshat Bo

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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G-d tells Moshe that He is hardening Pharaoh's heart so that through miraculous plagues the world will know for all time that He is the one true G-d. Pharaoh is warned about the plague of locusts and is told how severe it will be. Pharaoh agrees to release only the men, but Moshe insists that everyone must go. During the plague, Pharaoh calls for Moshe and Aharon to remove the locusts, and he admits he has sinned. G-d ends the plague but hardens Pharaoh's heart, and again Pharaoh fails to free the Jews. The country, except for the Jewish People, is then engulfed in a palpable darkness. Pharaoh calls for Moshe and tells him to take all the Jews out of Egypt, but to leave their flocks behind. Moshe tells him that not only will they take their own flocks, but Pharaoh must add his own too. Moshe tells Pharaoh that G-d is going to bring one more plague, the death of the firstborn, and then the Jews will leave Egypt. G-d again hardens Pharaoh's heart, and Pharaoh warns Moshe that if he sees him again, Moshe will be put to death. G-d tells Moshe that the month of Nissan will be the chief month. The Jewish people are commanded to take a sheep on the 10th of the month and guard it until the 14th. The sheep is then to be slaughtered as a Pesach offering, its blood put on their door-posts, and its roasted meat eaten. The blood on the door-post will be a sign that their homes will be passed-over when G-d strikes the firstborn of Egypt. The Jewish People are told to memorialize this day as the Exodus from Egypt by never eating chametz on Pesach. Moshe relays G-d's commands, and the Jewish People fulfill them flawlessly. G-d sends the final plague, killing the first born, and Pharaoh sends the Jews out of Egypt. G-d tells Moshe and Aharon the laws concerning the Pesach sacrifice, pidyon haben (redemption of the first born son) and tefillin.


Seize The Moment

"And you shall eat it in haste. It is a Pesach to Hashem." (12:12)

Theres one big difference between the original Pesach in Egypt and every Pesach that followed it. The original Pesach was one of haste, of immediacy. All the other Pesachim throughout the generations have been conducted slowly and with deliberation. What can we learn from this difference?

When we come to free ourselves from the clutches of our own selfishness, when spiritualizing our lives, eschewing the unrelenting demands of our bodies for more and more pleasure, we must seize that initial moment and guard its inspiration. That first moment of spiritual ignition is so precious, so holy, that we must not let it sink back into the morass of habit and apathy from which it has freed itself. The Pesach in Egypt was the first moment when the Jewish people wrenched themselves away from the fleshpots of Egypt and became the standard bearers of spirituality in a dark world.

After that initial burst of light, however, we must move with deliberation and care, for a person cannot live on moments of explosive inspiration alone. After that first Pesach, there followed the generations of Pesachim which were all conducted slowly and deliberately, solidifying and internalizing inspiration until it becomes second nature.

  • Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen

The Last House

"And the blood will be for you a sign on the houses." (12:12)

The Torah speaks to all times and all places.

A non-Jew once asked a Torah Sage how it was that the Jews still believed in the rebuilding of the Third Temple. As is their way, the non-Jew sought to prove his point from Scripture itself: "Doesnt it say in Hagai, chapter two, Greater will be the honor of the last House meaning the Temple than that of the first? And in that verse the Prophet Hagai is referring to the Second of your Temples - In fact," continued the non-Jew, "I could quote you any number of similar examples of where the Bible calls the Second Temple the last House. Obviously the prophet is saying that the Second Temple will be the last, that there will be no Third Temple. "

The Sage replied: "The word in Hebrew acharon can mean last or it can mean second. Whenever acharon is preceded by the word first, as it is in the context you cite, its meaning is second and not last. In Exodus4:8-9 when the Holy One, Blessed be He, says to Moses, And it will be that if they (the Children of Israel) do not believe you andthey will not heed the voice of the first sign, they will believe the voice of the second acharon - sign. And it shall be that if they do not believe even these two signs and do not heed your voice, then you shall take from the water of the River and pour it out on the dry land, and the waterwill become blood Clearly the word acharon does not mean the last but the latter. "

Our Holy Torah speaks to all times and all places. For your challenge and its answer were already embedded in the Torah itself. It says in Exodus 12:12: "And the blood will be for you a sign on the houses." In other words, the fact that the plague of blood is referred to as acharon, and nevertheless is followed by yet a third sign as a "sign on the houses", means it is a witness to the fact that when the Prophet writes bayit acharon, it means the Second House and not the last one.

  • In the name of the Gaon of Vilna

Whats Your Name?

"but with My Name Hashem I did not make Myself known to them" (6:3)

Moshe had ten names: Moshe, Yered, Chaver, Yekutiel, Avigdor, Avi Socho, Avi Zanuach, Tuvia, Shemaya and Halevi. Of all these names, the only one that Hashem used was Moshe, the name he was given by Pharaohs daughter, Batya.

Why, of all Moshes names, did Hashem use the one name given to Moshe by an Egyptian princess? What was so special about this name?

The name Moshe comes from the word meaning to be drawn, for Moshe was drawn from the water by Batya. When Batya took Moshe out of the river she was flouting her fathers will. Pharaohs order was to kill all the Jewish male babies to stifle their savior. By rescuing Moshe, Batya was putting her life in grave danger. Because Batya risked her life to save Moshe, that quality was embedded in Moshes personality and in his soul. It was this quality of self-sacrifice that typified Moshe more than all his other qualities, and for this reason Moshe was the only name that Hashem would call him.

This is what made Moshe the quintessential leader of the Jewish People, for more than any other trait, a leader of the Jewish People needs self-sacrifice to care and worry over each one of his flock.

Another question but with the same answer:

Of all the places that Moshes mother, Yocheved, could have chosen to hide Moshe, why did she choose the river? Why not in a tunnel? Why not hide him in a barn or any of the other numerous possible hiding places? Why did Yocheved choose to hide Moshe in the river?

Yocheved hoped that by putting Moshe into the river the astrological signs would show that the savior of the Jews had been cast into the Nile and Pharaoh would abandon the massacre of the baby boys. Yocheved was right. The Egyptian astrologers told Pharaoh the Jewish savior had been dispatched into the Nile and Pharaoh ordered the killing to cease.

It was not an easy thing for Yocheved to put her son into a wicker basket and abandon him to the eddies of the Nile. Before she placed Moshe into the water, Yocheved made a little canopy over the basket and said in sadness "Who knows if I will ever see my sons chupa (marriage canopy)?" Certainly there were safer places for a baby than a makeshift basket adrift in a river. However, Yocheved chose a hiding place that may have not been the safest because it meant that she could save the lives of other Jewish children.

From two sides of the same event the quality of self-sacrifice was instilled into Moshe by his real mother when she put him into the river and by his adopted mother when she drew him out from the river, for if any quality epitomizes the essence of leadership, it is the ability to forget oneself and give up everything for the good of the people.


  • Based on the Midrash Shemot Rabba 1:24, 1:29
  • Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz
  • Rabbi C. Z. Senter

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