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Parashat Bo

G-d told Moses, “Go to Pharaoh.  Warn him that I will punish him if he does not release the Jews.”

egypt-camelThis week’s sedra contains the last three of the ten plagues visited upon the Egyptians by G-d.  Regarding the eighth plague, locusts, Rabbenu Bechaye writes that G-d warned Pharaoh twice - once on the banks of the river, because he had boasted that he had created the Nile, and once in his house, because he had prided himself on the beauty of his palace.


Pharaoh’s answer was that the men alone should go without the women and children, as the latter ‘do not offer sacrifices’.  He predicted that he saw an evil star hovering over the Jews in the desert, signifying a bloody end.  In fact, Pharaoh had read the stars incorrectly - it was the blood of circumcision.  Pharaoh only saw according to the laws of nature.  In truth, G-d elevated the destiny of Israel above the stars and led them through the desert with miracles.  The Jew is never subject to the laws of nature.

Moses stretches out his hand, and the resulting wind brings the locusts.  The word for locust, ‘arbeh’, is mentioned seven times in this passage because there were seven types of locusts - large ones, small ones, red, black, white, green and brown ones.  These were no ordinary bugs - their saliva was deadly poison, and they gouged out the eyes of the Egyptians.  After Pharaoh begging for mercy, Moses prayed, and the wind took the locusts away and cast them in the Red Sea.  Not one locust remained - even the ones that the Egyptians managed to pickle in jars.  The commentary Imrei Noam says that G-d did this so that if the Egyptians would pursue the Jews into the sea (it must be true, I saw it in the Cecil B. de Mille version) the locusts could attack the pursuers.  All of the plagues with which they were smitten in Egypt were repeated at the sea as well.

But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and we move on to plague no. 9 - darkness.  By the fourth day of the plague, this darkness had solidified into a solid mass.  Nobody could move.  The entire plague lasted for six days, and not seven like the previous plagues, as the seventh day of darkness was reserved for the time that the Egyptians pursued the Jews at the sea, and were engulfed in darkness.  Pharaoh’s answer to this plague was that the Jews could go, but they must leave their animals behind as security that they will come back.  Moses says no deal: they go, the animals go too - even the Egyptian animals.

G-d tells Moses that he will bring one last plague, which will actually make Pharaoh drive the Jews out.  This was the death of the first born.  Moses warns Pharaoh, and then leaves.  On the first of Nissan, G-d instructs Moses and Aaron to count this month as the first month of the Jewish calendar, as in Nissan they would be redeemed.  On the tenth of Nissan, G-d commanded that every household should have a Pesach sacrifice, a lamb.  Rabbenu Bechaye says that this was because the constellation for the month of Nissan is a lamb.  That way the Jews could not think that their astrological sign helped them; only G-d had released them.  Also, G-d commanded that they slaughter a lamb because that was one of the Egyptian gods.  The lamb stood bound to the bedposts for four days, so that the Egyptians would hear their idols bleating, and would be unable to do anything about it.  Then the Jews roasted it, rather than cooked it, because that gives off a strong smell, and it was done whole on a spit, to ensure that the Egyptians recognised that it was a lamb, yet they were powerless.

The ten plagues were measure-for-measure punishments for ten evil deeds which the Egyptians perpetrated, writes Rabbenu Bechaye:

1. They forced the Jews to draw water for their animals; G-d turned their water into blood so that their animals could not drink.

2. They forced the Jews to awaken early, leave their beds and go to work; G-d sent frogs into their beds that would not let them sleep.

3. They kept the Jews from washing themselves, making them full of lice; G-d sent them lice.

4. They forced the Jews to hunt animals for them; G-d plagued them with hordes of wild animals.

5. The Jews had to watch their animals; G-d smote their animals with a plague.

6. They wouldn’t allow the Jews to heat water to wash themselves, making them dirty; G-d sent them boils.

7. When they saw a Jew, they threw stones at him; G-d threw hailstones at them from Heaven.

8. The Jews had to fertilise their fields and cover them with manure; G-d sent locusts to cover their fields.

9. They put the Jews in deep, dark prison cells; G-d brought a deep darkness upon them.

10. They wanted to destroy Israel, G-d’s first born; G-d destroyed their first born.

The slaying of the first born was actually a three-fold death rout.  Firstly, when the Egyptian first-born heard Moses’ warning about the plague, they implored their fathers to release the Jews.  When the fathers refused, these first-born went to Pharaoh, a first-born himself.  When he threw them out, they wreaked havoc in the land by killing their fathers and whoever crossed their paths.  Secondly, G-d Himself descended upon Egypt and slew the first-born.  Thirdly, Pharaoh, mad with rage (by this time almost all his sons were dead) seized a sword and executed all the counsellors and noblemen who had advised him to disobey Moses.  Would've made a great movie, eh?

Pharaoh runs to find Moses, and asks him to end the plague - he was scared for his own life, being a first-born himself.  Moses tells him to call out as loud as he can that the Jews are free.  A miracle happened, and Pharaoh’s voice was magnified so that the message of freedom resounded throughout Egypt.

The Jews carried their dough upon their shoulders, bound in sheets.  Although they had many animals, they carried the dough themselves because of love of the commandments.  They also took the gold and silver from the Egyptians, as G-d had commanded them.  But where was Moses?  He was engaged in a different mitzvah - preparing the coffin of Joseph to bring it to Israel for burial.  Moses searched constantly for three days, and only found it when Serach bat Asher (granddaughter of Jacob) showed him where it was.  Moses hurled a metal sheet onto which the Divine Name had been engraved.  Immediately, the coffin floated up.  On that night, Moses also collected the beams which Jacob had brought to Egypt and the wood which his sons had planted there for the purpose of constructing the Tabernacle.

The number of Jewish men between twenty and sixty years old who left Egypt in broad daylight on the fifteenth of Nissan was 600,000 minus one.  G-d said, “I will include Myself in the number so that they will be exactly 600,000!”  Basya, daughter of Pharaoh was among those who joined the exodus.  She entered Israel, and was one of the nine righteous people who were taken to Gan Eden alive.

All the above events were witnessed by our entire people.  They were not only recorded in the Torah and transmitted by word of mouth from one generation to the next, but, in addition, G-d commanded us to fulfil a great number of mitzvot to ensure that the exodus from Egypt and its miracles shall forever stay fresh in our minds:

· He commanded us to mention the Exodus when reading the Shema. 
· He commanded that we write the portions dealing with the Exodus on scrolls of parchment and place them in the tefillin. 
· He commanded us to observe Pesach and Shavuot in every generation in memory of the Exodus, in addition to many more mitzvot.

There is a special mitzvah in this sedra to relate the story of the Exodus on the night of the fifteenth of Nissan at the time when the matza (which must be eaten on that night) is placed before the person.  Even if there are no other people present to whom he could relate the story of the Exodus, he should recite it to himself.