Friday, January 26, 2007

Parshas Bo

ויאמר משה בנערינו ובזקנינו נלך בבנינו ובבנותנו בצאננו ובבקרנו נלך כי חג ד' לנו

ויאמר אלהם יהי כן ד' עמכם כאשר אשלח אתכם ואת טפכם (10:9-10)

Due to the intense suffering imposed by the plagues, Pharaoh was finally forced to relent and allow Moshe to take the Jews to worship Hashem for 3 days. The problem was in the details. Moshe insisted that not only the male adults but also the elderly, the children, and the females would go. Pharaoh responded that under no circumstances would he allow the children to go as the sacrifices were anyway to be brought by the adults. In his response, however, no mention is made of the women.

The Radvaz suggests that Pharaoh’s original refusal to allow the Jews to leave for three days was predicated on his fear that if they did so, they would become cleansed from the spiritual impurities they had absorbed during their time in the immoral Egypt. Therefore, even now that he was forced by the plagues to allow the Jews to go serve Hashem, he attempted to do so in a diabolical way which would prevent any permanent “damage” to his wicked plans.

Pharaoh knew that Judaism is heavily dependent on the concept of mesorah, of transmitting our beliefs from one generation to the next. He therefore refused to allow the elders to lead them to the desert, and he also insisted that the children not be present in order to cut off a vital link in the educational process. Yet he was still concerned that the adult males would come back inspired and share their newfound enthusiasm with the others.

He therefore refused to allow the women to travel, as he recognized that the spiritual level of a Jewish house is ultimately determined by the woman, and it was for this reason that Hashem instructed Moshe to first give the Torah to the women, as it was their acceptance which would ultimately be the determining factor in the religious level of the Jewish nation. Therefore, even if the men would return home with a newfound inspiration, it would be short-lived as their wives wouldn’t have been able to share in it. Even Pharaoh recognized that as long as the women remained in the morally impure environment of Egypt, there was no chance for the Jews to accomplish permanent spiritual growth!


והיה לכם למשמרת (12:6)

הי' ר' מתיא בן חרש אומר הרי הוא אומר (יחזקאל טז) ואעבור עליך ואראך והנה עתך עת דודים

הגיעה שבועה שנשבעתי לאברהם שאגאל את בניו ולא היו בידם מצות להתעסק בהם כדי שיגאלו

שנא' (שם) ואת ערום ועריה ונתן להם שתי מצות דם פסח ודם מילה (רש"י)

Hashem wished to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt, but when he checked their spiritual level, he found them lacking mitzvos and merits for their salvation, so he gave them the two mitzvos of circumcising themselves and sacrificing and eating the Korban Pesach. The Lev Aryeh (Chullin 142) questions why specifically these two mitzvos were given more than any others.

There is a concept (Kiddushin 39b) that שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא – Hashem doesn’t give us reward in this world for the mitzvos that we do. The Tevuos Shor explains that the logic behind this maxim is that because a person doesn’t receive any punishment in this world if he neglects the performance of a positive commandment, therefore he doesn’t receive any reward for its performance. According to this, one who is careful not to transgress a negative prohibition would indeed receive reward in this world, because one who violates the prohibition is punished with kares (spiritual excision) or death or lashes at the hands of the Beis Din.

With this introduction, we can now understand that Hashem had a dilemma, in that He wished to give the Jews mitzvos to perform in order to reward them, yet He knew that there is no reward in this world for the performance of a positive commandment. Therefore, he specifically gave them the mitzvos of circumcision and Korban Pesach, which are unique in that they are the only two positive commandments which are punishable in this world – by kares – and therefore by performing them, the Jews could indeed be rewarded in this world!


וראיתי את הדם ופסחתי עלכם ולא יהיה בכם נגף למשחית בהכתי בארץ מצרים (12:13)

With the relatively recent proliferation of unprecedented weapons of mass destruction and talk of chemical and even, G-d forbid, nuclear warfare, it seems quite natural to fear for one’s own fate and that of the entire Jewish people. With neighbors who would desire nothing more than its total annihilation, Israel would certainly seem to be perched in a precarious position should such a war even break out.

However, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel notes that for a believing Jew, this trepidation and anxiety is misplaced. The Torah tells us clearly that throughout all of the plagues in Egypt, Hashem placed an artificial “wall” at the border of the Jewish region of Goshen and protected them from the various plagues. Even though the laws of nature would seem to indicate that frogs, lice, and hail shouldn’t discriminate within the Egyptian borders, even “nature” is subservient to Hashem’s commands.

He who declared that under normal circumstances animals shouldn’t distinguish between potential victims also decreed that during the plagues an “alternate” set of laws of nature should govern, a set which indeed afforded apparently miraculous protection to the Jews. Even the mass destruction caused by the plague of the first-born completely passed over the Jews, even killing an Egyptian attempting to hide in the house of a Jew and protecting a Jew in the house of an Egyptian (Rashi 12:13).

Similarly, it would seem that with the tremendous destructive abilities of today’s bombs and missiles, there should be nowhere to hide from the invisible radiation and chemicals which could be deployed by our enemies at any moment. Fortunately, the Torah teaches us otherwise, that as long as we continue in the ways of our ancestors in Egypt in remaining separate from our non-Jewish neighbors and maintaining our beautiful Jewish customs, then we remain above CNN’s “inviolable” laws of nature, and we have nothing to fear at all!


וכל בכור אדם בבניך תפדה (13:13)

The slaying of the first-born equally killed both a first-born from the father and a first-born from the mother. The Avnei Shoham questions that if the concept of pidyon ha’ben – of redeeming our first-born from a Kohen – is to commemorate the fact that the Jewish first-borns were saved in Egypt (13:2), why is the mitzvah only done with a first-born from his mother and not also with a first-born to a father?

The entire concept of bringing bikkurim (first-fruits) to the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash is to fight a person’s natural instincts to take credit for the products of his hard labor and forget about the Divine assistance which made it all possible. After a farmer puts so much effort into plowing, and planting, it seems only natural that his crop should grow well and give him a good harvest. Therefore, the Torah “reminds” him Who is in charge by requiring him to bring the first fruits to the Holy Temple.

Similarly, when a couple gets married, it seems quite natural that within a year or two the woman should conceive and give birth to their first child. In order to remember that it’s not “only natural,” the Torah requires the first-born to be redeemed from the Kohen, who again symbolizes Hashem’s agent. This reminds the happy new parents that what appeared natural is indeed miraculous, as anybody who ever contemplated the wonder of pregnancy and childbirth certainly realizes.

With this introduction, we may now understand that such a “reminder” is necessary only when the birth would have otherwise appeared to have been completely “natural,” such as a first-born to the mother. In the event of a child who is a first-born to his father but not to his mother, meaning that she has previously been married, or similarly a child born by C-section or following a miscarriage, it is already clear that the typical order of events isn’t being followed, and therefore no specific reminder is necessary.

Alternatively, Rav Akiva Eiger and Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld answer by questioning why it was necessary to place as a sign the blood of the Korban Pesach on their doorposts in order to protect them. Since Hashem Himself was slaying the first-born, surely He could recognize and differentiate between the houses of the Jews and of the Egyptians.

It is also difficult to understand whether the first-born were slain by Hashem, as would seem to be indicated in the Haggadah Shel Pesach where we emphasize that the plagues were performed exclusively by Hashem and not by any angel or agent, or by a destructive angel, as the Jews are told to place the blood on their doorposts to protect them from this angel of death (12:23).

In order to resolve all of these difficulties, they suggest that a first-born to a mother can be easily distinguished, but it was the first-born to the father who was difficult to identify. Therefore, the angel slew the first-borns from the mother where there was no room for error, while Hashem Himself killed the first-borns from the father who required additional recognition. It wasn’t miraculous that the first-borns to the father were saved, as Hashem Himself knew their identities and they were never in danger of an error.

The first-borns from the mother, however, required a miracle in order to be saved from the angel of death, as we are told (Bava Kamma 60a) that once permission is given to this angel to destroy, it doesn’t differentiate between the righteous and the wicked. Because Hashem had to miraculously protect them, it was they who became holy for all generations and required redemption from a Kohen!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (10:22) that one of the purposes of the plague of darkness was to conceal the death of the wicked Jews who didn’t wish to leave Egypt so that the Egyptians shouldn’t witness their deaths and claim that the Jews were being stricken just as were the Egyptians. Why didn’t Dasan and Aviram, who were certainly among the most prominent evildoers of the generation, also die during the darkness? (Matamei Yaakov)

2) Rashi writes (10:22) that one of the reasons for the plague of darkness was so that the Jews could secretly enter the Egyptians’ houses in order to see where their valuables were hidden. When the time came to “borrow” them prior to the Exodus and the Egyptians claimed that they had no valuables, the Jews would be able to respond by specifying what they had seen and where it was located. If Hashem caused the Jews to find favor in the eyes of the Egpytians, who willingly gave them their finest possessions and gave even more than was requested of them (Rashi 12:36), why was there any need to locate their hiding places? (Mahar”i Bruna, Paneiach Raza)

3) Does a person violate the Torah’s commandment to count the months beginning with the month of Nissan (12:2) when he refers to dates based on the Gregorian calendar? (Ramban, Sefer HaIkkarim 3:16, Chasam Sofer, Peirush HaKoseiv Megillah Chapter 1, Minchas Chinuch 311:3, Shu”t Yabia Omer, Torah L’Daas Vol. 1)

4) After being told that they would be redeemed and would merit to enter the land of Israel and have children there, the Jewish people bowed and prostrated themselves to Hashem in praise and thanksgiving (Rashi 12:27). However, the question related by the son about whom they were informed is attributed in the Haggadah to the wicked son. What kind of good news was the knowledge that they would have evil sons? (Mahar”i Bruna, Meged Yosef, Me’Rosh Amanah)

5) Rashi writes (12:32) that Pharaoh requested that Moshe and Aharon pray that he not die since he was a first-born. As Pharaoh was warned that the first-borns would die at midnight, and midnight had passed and he was still alive, what cause did he have for worry? (Yad Av)

6) Does a blind person who possesses chometz on Pesach violate the prohibition (13:7) לא יראה לך חמץ – you shall not see chometz (in your possession)? (Minchas Chinuch 11, Mas’as HaMelech)

7) Can a person fulfill his obligation to recount the story of the Exodus from Egypt on the night of Pesach (13:8) by hearing another person do so through the principle of שומע כעונה – one who listens to another person saying something is considered as if he said it himself – or must he specifically retell the story himself? (Minchas Chinuch 21:4, Maaseh Rav, Shulchan Aruch HaRav Orach Chaim 472:22, Rambam Hilchos Chometz U’Matzo 8:2, M’rafsin Igri)

8) The Mishnah Berurah rules (25:55) that a person shouldn’t remove his tefillin before a circumcision, as both are considered to be an אות – sign (13:9). How can this be reconciled with the ruling of the Gemora in Eiruvin (96a) that one is exempt from wearing tefillin on Shabbos because it is called an אות, and there is no need for two simultaneous signs? (M’rafsin Igri)


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