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Parshat Bo

NIFTAR ON 20 ADAR 5758 - MARCH 18, 1998.



Menachim Z. Shimanowitz

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HAFTORA: (Additional portion, from Prophets, which is read after the Parsha)
Yirmiyohu /
Jeremiah 46:13-28

פרשת בא

In our last episode Moshe and Aharon demanded that Pharoh let the Bnei Yisroel go free. When he refused Hashem blasted Mitzrayim (Egypt) with seven momentous plagues. Some plagues just ended by themselves, but during some plagues Pharoh pleaded with Moshe to end the terror and he would let Bnei Yisroel go. But flip-flopping Pharoh had a change of mind when the plague would go 'kaput', and would not let Bnei Yisroel go.

Now buckle your seat belts and hold on tight because the plague-a-thon is back on.

As our Parsha opens, Moshe and Aharon are once again standing before Pharoh. The warning of another plague falls on deaf ears, but that doesn't stop the servants in the palace from panicking. They recommend a plan of their own "You want to offer a few sacrifices in the Midbar (desert)? Fine! Take the men. But leave the women and the children behind so that Pharoh can be sure that the men will return.

This answer isn't good enough. Moshe insists that Pharoh let every man, woman and child leave. Not only that, but Moshe insists they must be allowed to take their animals too.

"Oh no! I know what you want," responds Pharoh. "You want to split from Egypt altogether! Well, it ain't gonna work! Men go or nothing!"

Locusts - Plague 8Well, if that's Pharoh's final offer then... on with the locust plague! A strong wind bellows through the land of Mitzrayim carrying a few trillion passengers: locusts. The sky is so packed with these creatures that it becomes as dark as night. These little critters have a very hearty appetite! They eat all that was left over from the last plague (Hail), the leaves off the trees, the grass from the ground, and they devour all the remaining crops in the fields of Mitzrayim. When the job is done, there isn't a green leaf or drop of food left in all of Mitzrayim.

The cries are desperate throughout Mitzrayim. The people will starve if Pharoh doesn't give in to Hashem's demands. Pharoh himself realizes that the gig is up. He calls Moshe and Aharon to the palace and begs him to pray to Hashem to stop these munching menaces!

Once again, Moshe prays. Hashem sends a strong wind that carries all the locusts away. Even the pickled locusts in Egyptian jars and barrels vanish. Once again, after the plague stops, Pharoh changes his mind!

As soon as Pharoh pulls his stubborn cord, Hashem commands Moshe to stretch his hand toward the sky. Immediately, a thick blanket of darkness spreads throughout Mitzrayim. This darkness is blacker than night. Not even light bulbs and blow torches can cut through this darkness!

Meanwhile, back in Goshen, where days are light and night isn't as dark as people might think, Hashem has a date with a bunch of non-believers - four fifths of the population of Bnei Yisroel to be exact. You see, when Moshe and Aharon announced that they were sent as messengers of Hashem to take Bnei Yisroel out of Mitzrayim, not everybody believed them. Even with the secret code name of Hashem, even with all three signs that Moshe used to prove they were the genuine article, you still had this basically pessimistic bunch that declared Moshe and Aharon to be frauds. They figured that they'd live and die as slaves in Mitzrayim and, even if Moshe could somehow get them through the exits without tripping an alarm, they'd starve in the desert.

Well, here's some news for the dissenters. You'll die in Mitzrayim - but don't make any plans for going back to work when the plague of darkness lifts, because Hashem is cleaning house before this plague is up! Meaning: Hashem punishes these wicked Jews with death.

Why during the plague of darkness?

Because even though these people deserve to die, how would it look to the Egyptians if they saw so many Jews dying at the hands of their own G-d? Hashem, did not want the Egyptians to say that the Bnei Yisroel were no better than they. Therefore, Hashem brought the darkness so that the Bnei Yisroel could quietly bury their dead without being seen.

Darkness Plague 9If you think the first three dark days are bad, on the fourth day, the darkness becomes so thick that the Egyptians can't even move! Imagine being frozen in the middle of a sneeze, or in the middle of swallowing a bite of food. The Egyptians stand like statues for three days. Just imagine how scary it must be, to be stuck in one place for so long in the dark!

For the Bnei Yisroel there was light, even when they went into an Egyptian's home. And that's exactly what they did during those three days. The Bnei Yisroel inspected the Egyptian homes to see where they kept their valuables. Of course, they didn't touch anything that didn't belong to them.

Why did Bnei Yisroel do this?

More about this later.

When frozen Pharoh defrosts, he sends for Moshe and Aharon. This time Pharoh is willing to let all the men, women and children leave Mitzrayim. The only catch is that Pharoh wants to keep the cattle to replace the herds that died during the plague. But on the eve of the final plague, the stakes are higher. Moshe wants it all: animals included. After all, they will need cattle to offer sacrifices to Hashem. Pharoh is furious with Moshe's arrogance (actually, it's Pharoh with the attitude problem, if you ask me!). He yells for Moshe and Aharon to leave the palace. The next time they return, the guards will kill them!

Moshe's not impressed by Pharoh's threats. Moshe warns Pharoh that the next plague will have him begging the Bnei Yisroel to get out of Mitzrayim. Indeed, Hashem, Himself, will personally handle this horror. At the stroke of midnight, Hashem will cause all the first-borns of Mitzrayim to die!

With this, Moshe leaves, never to confront Pharoh again.


There is a lot of prep to do before the final plague. Moshe and Aharon's first task is to teach Bnei Yisroel the first Mitzvah, the Mitzvah of Kiddush Ha-Chodesh. (Sanctification of the New Moon or beginning of the new month).

Moshe declares in Hashem's name, "This month shall be to you the first month: -

What? Nissan the first month? You probably thought it was Tishrei! Well, you're partially correct. Just like school starts in September and businesses start their schedule (fiscal) year in June, the Jewish year has different starting points too. The Birth of the World and Hashem's judgment, is in Tishrei. For "Maasering" fruits of the tree, it is the 15th of Shvat (Tu B'Shvat). And now, in recognition of Yetziat Mitzraim, (the Exodus from Egypt), Hashem wants the Bnei Yisroel to mark Nissan on their calendars as the first month of the year for the newly freed Bnei Yisroel. This is very important to know because in the Torah, the months are never referred to by their proper names. They are always referred to as "the first month (Nissan)," "the seventh month (Tishrei)," and so on.

How is the Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the month) of each month determined? Look at the calendar, you say? Wrong!! When the Bnei Yisroel reach Eretz Yisroel, they are to appoint a Sanhedrin - a court of learned men. This body of leaders will decide each month which day Rosh Chodesh will be.


The Jewish calendar is based on the cycle of the moon. If you've ever observed the moon in the evening sky, this heavenly body starts out looking like a very thin half circle and ultimately grows to the full circle in the middle of the month. Then it shrinks again to a sliver. These changes are called "the phases of the moon." At the very end of the month the moon isn't even visible in the night sky! (For pictures, click here).

When the sliver of a moon appears again, it is a sign that the new month has arrived. Even though these phases can easily be calculated by the members of the Sanhedrin, many of whom are astronomers in their spare time, Hashem wants all of the Bnei Yisroel to participate in the Mitzvah of Kiddush Ha-Chodesh. So at the beginning of the month it is a Mitzvah for Jews to look for that sliver in the sky and head over to Sanhedrin to bear witness to the sight of it. Of course, thousands of Jews could be witnesses and the Sanhedrin will hear each and every one's testimony.

Today, because we do not have a Sanhedrin, we have a fixed calendar which has been figured out for us by Hillel through astronomical calculations. These calculations are to be used until the coming of Moshiach (may he come speedily in our time).


True Rosh Chodesh is the first mitzvah given to Bnei Yisroel. But they can't do much with it since there's no Sanhedrin and they haven't entered Eretz Yisroel yet. These next two mitzvot, however, are a different story. They must be fulfilled tonight. As a matter of fact, whoever does not fulfill this mitzvah must surrender his Yetziat Mitzrayim passport after midnight.

Tonight every Jewish family will slaughter a lamb as a sacrifice to Hashem. So what's so great about that? You may remember from Bereishit that when Yosef took his brothers to meet Pharoh, he told them to say they are shepherds. Why? Because the Egyptians worship the lamb as a god. Imagine how appalled they will be when they see their god being slaughtered and eaten by Bnei Yisroel! Needless to say, the Bnei Yisroel are shaking in their boots at the thought of provoking their masters! That's why it's a test, silly! After all, Bnei Yisroel has to chuck the slave mentality and prove to Hashem that they deserve the miracles it'll take to move the nation out of bondage!

But before a male can eat the korban Pesach, he must have a Brit Milah (circumcision). That's the only condition - no Brit - no meat from the spit.

Moshe explains that on the tenth of Nissan, the head of each family will prepare an unblemished male lamb in its first year. This lamb is to be tied to the bedpost for four days, and on the afternoon of the 14th of Nissan a family member will slaughter the lamb and smear some of its blood on all three sides of the doorframe, top, right and left. When Hashem passes through Mitzrayim killing the first born of each family, He will "pass over" the homes of those who have kept this mitzvah.

The Korban Pesach must be roasted and eaten with matzoh and maror (bitter herbs). The maror is a reminder of the bitter slavery in Mitzrayim. Anything left over from the meat is to be burnt in the morning. Each person at the table must be fully dressed and carrying a walking stick - ready to flee Mitzrayim on a moment's notice. Indeed, this night will be the night of Bnei Yisroel's Exodus from Mitzrayim!

From now on, on the 14th of Nissan, Bnei Yisroel will celebrate a seven day Yom Tov (holiday) called Pesach / Passover, a reminder of the moment when Hashem made us free from Egyptian slavery.

"FLEE-DOM" There are many of Bnei Yisroel who haven't been circumcized, since Pharoh made it against the law. In a great showing of faith, all these men and children receive a Brit Milah on this 14th day of Nissan performed by Moshe, Aharon and Yehoshua. Now, as night falls, the families of Bnei Yisroel prepare to leave Mitzrayim on a moment's notice. While they gobble down the korban Pesach along with maror and bread that hasn't even had time to rise yet (matzoh), they are clinging to their possessions and waiting eagerly for the marching orders to join Moshe in a hasty march out of Mitzrayim.

Plague 10At midnight, EXACTLY, Hashem descends upon Mitzrayim with many thousand angels of destruction, killing every single firstborn Egyptian male - even firstborn animals of the Egyptians die. As an encore, Hashem destroys all of the idols and images. The ones made of stone are smashed, those made of wood are rotted and those made of metal are melted.

Any Jewish home that has the sign of blood on the doorposts is spared the bloodshed. As a matter of fact, Hashem heals the pain of those who have just been circumcized.

Pharoh, of course, is totally out of touch with reality. That night, he goes to bed without a worry in the world. In the middle of the night, however, he is awoken by screams of terror coming from all directions. It is bright as day outside. Everywhere he looks death has struck! Outside and in the palace firstborn males have fallen dead in their tracks. This time when Pharoh sends for Moshe, he means business. Pharoh has seen the greatness of Hashem and he isn't taking any more chances. Especially since he, himself, is a firstborn son.

Pharoh goes looking for Moshe, (remember, he told Moshe, not to come back to the Palace, under threat of death). When he finds Moshe, he begs Moshe to take all of Bnei Yisroel - men, women and children - and all of their animals and possessions and get out of Egypt. Now that Moshe has Pharoh's full attention, he plays it cool and says, "we will leave but not in the middle of the night like animals. We will leave in the morning.


The next morning, the entire Bnei Yisroel, all 600,000 of them, prepares to leave. They are joined by a group of rowdies called "the eirev rav" (mixed multitude). These people are not Jews, but Egyptians who have seen the miracles of Hashem and are impressed, so they decide to convert and tag along. (Unfortunately for Moshe, they cause all kinds of trouble during the next 40 years. More about that in the next Parsha!) Batya, Pharoh's daughter, also comes along for the trip.

The Jews have managed to prepare dough to bake bread for the trip. But the Egyptians are practically pushing them out of their houses so instead of baking the bread fully, they pull it out of the oven before it can rise - thus we have matzoh!

Awhile back, Hashem told Moshe to instruct the Bnei Yisroel that as they are leaving Mitzrayim, to go to the homes of their Egyptian neighbors and ask them for gold, silver and clothing. If they would claim, "But I have no gold or silver, and all my clothing is old!" The Bnei Yisroel would say, "Oh yes you do, remember those dark days? Well, I saw the silver in your dining room closet, the gold in the bedroom draw, and that nice blue toga hanging in your bedroom closet ." The Egyptians are so embarrased and desperate to get rid of the Jews that they gave the Bnei Yisroel even more than they asked for. Every single Jew leaving Mitzrayim takes along 90 donkeys loaded with gold, silver and pearls. This was Hashem's fullfilment of His promise to Avraham over 400 years ago that when the Bnei Yisroel leave Mitzrayim, they will be carrying great riches.

While all this is happening, Moshe is busy preparing Yosef's coffin to bring it to Eretz Yisroel for burial. Moshe stands at the edge of the Nile River, where the coffin had been buried, and calls for the coffin to rise to the surface. And sure enough, the coffin comes to the surface. Then Moshe collects all the wood beams Yaakov had brought to Egypt and the wood that the Bnei Yisroel planted there for the construction of the Mishkon.


In order to help Bnei Yisroel remember how Hashem took them out of Mitzraim, Hashem commands Moshe to teach the Bnei Yisroel two Mitzvot. Pidyan Haben and Tefillin.

(There are other mitzvot relating to remembering Yetziat Mitzraim, but these are the most significant.)

Pidyan Haben

Because Hashem spared the firstborn of the Bnei Yisroel, whenever Jewish parents have a first-born son, they must reedem him from a Kohain, by paying the Kohain the value of five selayim (today 5 real silver dollars, more or less) thirty days after the baby boy is born. This Pidyon Haben (buying back of the firstborn son), is a very festive occasion.

Firstborn of kosher cattle must also be redeemed from the Kohain, otherwise it belongs to the Kohain. A firstborn donkey must also be redeemed from the Kohain with a sheep, if it is not redeemed, it must be killed by breaking its neck with a large meat cleaver.


Hashem commands that when a Jewish boy hits the age of thirteen he must wear Tefillin on his arm and head.

Ever see these guys with boxes on their arm and head during weekday morning davening (praying)? Well, that's Tefillin. Those black boxes are divided into compartments that contain scrolls of parchment with words from the Torah on them. Some of the words in these scrolls talk about Yetziat Mitzraim. These words must be written by a Sofer (Scribe) specially trained for the job. Tefillin is strapped on to the arm and head with leather strips. In the old days Jews wore Tefillin all day. These days we wear them during morning prayer.

Tune in next week when things get hairy at the edge of the Red Sea! It's gonna be a "split" decision in the next exciting episode of:
Parsha on Parade

Midrash Maven
See the Midrash Mavin on Bo

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