Torah Weekly

For the week ending 20 January 2018 / 4 Shevat 5778

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.


Invasion of the Mind-Snatchers

“Come to Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart…” (10:1)

Ask any teacher of Torah who his greatest enemy is, and chances are he’ll tell you that it’s a little machine called iPhone or Android.

These little “WMDs” are the negative drive’s chief cronies in the battle to educate and elevate. They are the invasion of the mind-snatchers.

The Torah tells us to love G-db’chol levav’cha” — “with all your heart”.

Grammatically it would have been more appropriate to write “b’chol lib’cha”.The added Hebrew letter “bet” is to signify that we must love G-d using both “sides” of our hearts, even with our negative drives.

A case in point: In my morning Gemara shiur I wanted to share with my students a passage at the back of a large and unwieldy tome. I was about to go copy it when one of my talmidim said, “Rebbe, you’ll never get that book on the copy machine. The copies will be all black near the center. Why don’t I photograph the page and WhatsApp it to the whole class?”

Now, my shiur is a bit like a page out of the Wild West. Just like in those old cowboy movies where when they come into the saloon they must put their guns on the table, so too I have the same rule for smart phones. If you bring it to class, you have to put it face down on the table.

And now my students were delighted to jump on their phones and have a 100% “glatt-kosher” use for them. They loved it. It was so cool to be able to read the text on their smart phones. So “techie”! Their level of involvement shot up. I ended the shiur by asking them to prepare a lengthy paragraph, which ended the lesson. I doubted that anyone would do so since it was a long and forbidding paragraph. However, the following morning my star student came in having prepared the whole piece.

“It was so cool,” he said. “To just sit on the bus with my iPhone and learn Torah!”

We can, and must, love G-d with both sides of our hearts — with the “negative” and with the “positive”.

“Pharaoh hardened his heart.” (7:22)

Up till this week’s Torah portion, the Torah repeatedly says of Pharaoh that “he hardened his heart” — meaning that he had a heart to harden. Up to a certain point Pharaoh had the ability to humble himself and accept G-d. He chose, however, not to let his negative drive serve G-d. He hardened his heart.

In spite of this small pedagogical success story, my fairly large cynical side is saying, “Yeah, how long do you think that’s going to last until the novelty wears off?” The answer is probably “Not long”. But that’s not the point. If we want to reach our distracted and disenchanted youth we’re going to have to distract the distractions. We’re going to have to learn to tap-dance and pull rabbits out of our hats — yes, even literally — to grab the stage from the mind-grabbers.

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