Torah Weekly

For the week ending 4 January 2014 / 3 Shevat 5774

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.


Excuse Me - What Happens If I Press This Large Red Button...?

“And it shall be when your son will ask you at some future time, ‘What is this? — You will say to him, ‘With a strong hand G-d removed us from Egypt from the house of bondage’.” (13:14)

Every schoolboy’s dream is to be invited into the cabin of a large airplane flying at 35,000 feet above an azure sea, sailing by fluffy cumulus clouds as high as the Empire State building. Sitting in the captain’s seat, he watches the joystick being moved by some unseen hand as the autopilot eerily corrects the smallest deviation in the aircraft's correct “attitude”.

But it’s not only aircraft that need the correct attitude.

Imagine our young schoolboy turning to the pilot and nonchalantly asking, “Excuse me captain, but what is the purpose of the third green button in the fourth array of the second bank in the left hand rear panel above the co-pilot’s seat?” The captain replies, “And the function of all the other 532 buttons in this cockpit are self-explanatory?! (He’s probably a Jewish pilot.) You understand what every button, lever and dial does in this cockpit except for that one?!”

And it shall be when your son will ask you at some future time, What is this?— You will say to him, With a strong hand G-d removed us from Egypt from the house of bondage’.

Rashi says that the question “What is this?” characterizes the son as a fool. This appears to be problematic. For this exact same question: “What is this?” is asked by another son. The wise son. How can the same three words connote both foolishness and wisdom?

Imagine a different schoolboy in the cabin of that 747. He says to the pilot, “What an incredible array of buttons, levers and switches! It would be wonderful if you would tell me a little of what they all do...

The wise son says “What is this?” to mean “What are these amazing buttons levers and switches by which we can affect ourselves and the world along with us?” He is asking that it be explained to him, as much as is possible, the laws, the statutes and the commandments of the Torah. When the foolish son says “What is this?” he is not impressing anyone with his knowledge when he singles out one mitzvah. He is merely revealing his ignorance. His question reveals his belief that there’s no one behind the control column. It’s just the autopilot speaking.

  • Sources: Devarim 6:20; Rabbi Shimon Schwab in Ma’ayan Beit HaShoeva, heard from Rabbi C. Z. Senter

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