Torah Weekly

For the week ending 12 January 2019 / 6 Shevat 5779

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.


I can attest that the following is a true story.

Before returning to New York City after his post-high school tour, “Reuven,” or “Robert” as he was then called, decided he would like to honor his Judaism and visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He picked as his caravanserai the Intercontinental Hotel on the Mount of Olives. He didn’t realize that the Intercontinental was built on a graveyard, and not just any graveyard. The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives is the most ancient and most important Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem. Burial on the Mount of Olives started some 3,000 years ago in the First Temple Period, and continues to this day.

On the eve of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 there were about 60,000 graves on the Mount of Olives. During the 19 years of Jordanian rule in eastern Jerusalem, roads were paved through the cemeteries, causing bones to be scattered, and tombstones were used as paving stones for roads in the Jordanian Army camp in Azariya, where an entire telephone booth was built out of tombstones. Jewish tombstones were also used as flooring in the latrines. Some of these graves were a thousand years old. A gas station and other buildings, including Robert’s choice of lodging, the Intercontinental Hotel, were erected on top of the Mount. After the site was retaken by the Israeli army in 1967, about 38,000 smashed or damaged tombstones were counted.

On his first night at the Intercontinental, Robert thought he might sample some of the much-celebrated cuisine at the hotel’s gourmet restaurant. He browsed the menu and selected the “well-aged” steak with champignons and chips a la star anise, flavored with cloves, nutmeg and mulled wine. “Mmm! Delicious!” he thought to himself.

The main course was served with all the false obsequiousness that only a waiter in an over-priced eatery can muster. “Enjoy your steak, dear sir!” Robert cut into his steak and out crawled a very alive worm.

Many years later, Robert, or Reuven as he was now called, reflected on the fact that dining on the graves of his grandfathers deserved a message that one day he would be steak for a worm.

“…My signs that I placed among them – that you may know I am G-d.”

G-d is sending us signs all the time. Some are quite obvious, and to ignore them requires a heart as stubborn as Pharaoh’s, but some signs become clear to us only when we have attained the spiritual level required to understand them.

§ Sources: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

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