Torah Weekly

For the week ending 1 February 2020 / 6 Shevat 5780

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.


Rattled by Ritalin

“…and you will eat it (the Pesach offering) in haste.” (12:11)

Today, a prescription for Ritalin is about as common as a prescription for reading glasses. When I was young there was no Ritalin. Now, many people will tell you that had there been Ritalin back then, many kids would have done much better at school. They will tell you that ADD has always been there but it was just undiagnosed. But, maybe the reason there has been a large increase in ADD is that kids’ minds are processing information faster, and that as teachers and communicators we are just too slow and too boring for today’s generation. And rather than using medication to get the brains of children to better “focus,” our presentation and delivery will have to be much faster and stimulating. Today, even very young children grasp technology with a speed and comfort that terrifies their elders. How can they understand the language and interface of these machines so intuitively?

Maybe the answer is Moore’s Law? In 1982, an Osborne Executive portable computer weighed 100 times as much, was 500 times as big, cost approximately 10 times as much, and had about 1/100th the clock frequency of a 2007 Apple iPhone. "Moore's Law" is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. In like fashion, microprocessor prices, memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras, all are improving at exponential rates as well. Moore's Law has been applied not just to technology but also to accelerating change in social and cultural progress throughout history. I was thinking to myself that maybe it also applies to the processing speed of our minds. What if our minds can process information at much faster speeds than, say, 30 years ago? Much has been written about attention deficit “disorders.” Maybe the human brain is “evolving”. Futurists tell us that we should expect more and more profound changes in the future, leading to a point of what’s called "singularity," where the pace of change becomes so accelerated that it leads to an apocalyptic event where the world as we know it metamorphoses into something beyond our imagination. Now, this “singularity” event sounds very much like an event that Jews have been waiting for a very long time. It’s called “biat hamashiach” — the coming of the Messiah.

It says in this week’s Torah portion, “And you will eat it (the Pesach offering) in haste.” The mystical sources explain that the Exodus from Egypt was experienced as a moment of "singularity" — a moment faster than time itself, a total rupture with the past, racing to meet a new reality. As it was in the beginning, so it will be in the end. The Rambam - Maimonides - says that one should not speculate too much about what things will be like in the Messianic Era because "No one knows what it will be, until it will be." The world is accelerating faster and faster to its moment of climax. A world impossible to visualize. A world of singularity when all mankind will proclaim, “Hashem Echad” — G-d is One. As it says in Shir HaShirim, The Song of Songs: "The voice of my Beloved! Behold, it came suddenly to redeem me, as if leaping over mountains, skipping over hills."

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