Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Parshas Bo

This week’s issue is dedicated l’iluy nishmas Maran HaRav HaGaon R’ Rafael Shmuel ben R’ Aryeh Leib (Berenbaum) ztzvk”l.


החדש הזה לכם (12:2)

Although a literal reading of our verse presents the mitzvos of sanctifying the new moon and making Nissan the first month of the year, the Chiddushei HaRim suggests that it can also be interpreted to read that Hashem was giving the Jews the ability to create newness and freshness (התחדשות).

While it is true that the natural world appears to be governed by the forces of inertia and habit, and effecting lasting change seems impossible, this is only the case for those who are governed by the arbitrary laws of nature. The verse tells us (Koheles 1:9), “What has been is what will be, what has been done will continue to be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

Although there is nothing new under the sun, there is constant renewal beyond the sun, in front of Hashem, Who is constantly re-creating the universe every moment. We therefore find that the Lechem HaPanim in the Temple miraculously stayed fresh for seven days. Because it was placed before Hashem in the Temple, it was exempt from the laws of nature which “require” it to become old and stale.

Our verse contains the first mitzvah which was given to the Jewish people as a collective nation, and it therefore contains this fundamental principle of Judaism. We can take inspiration from the uplifting recognition that while many people repeat the same “New Year’s resolutions” every year, we aren’t bound by the past. As long as we recognize that we live in front of Hashem and conduct our lives accordingly, we may move in any direction we desire, as the precious power of renewal is uniquely ours.

This concept is illustrated by the following story. A friend of mine got married later in life and had a difficult time having children. After some time passed, he and his wife sought medical advice. Many tests and consultations with fertility specialists later, their hopes were dashed when they were told that they were medically incapable of conceiving children. However, many years of heartfelt prayer later, to the astonishment of many “experts,” the couple’s two adorable sons are happy to prove otherwise!

This anecdote shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the very existence of our nation is predicated on similar miracles. Most of our Patriarchs – Avrohom and Sorah, Yitzchok and Rivkah, and Yaakov and Rochel – struggled to have children. Our Sages teach that many of them were physically barren and incapable of producing the next generation of the Jewish people without miraculous Divine intervention.

Whether we are in need of a medical miracle or merely hoping to finally break a persistent bad habit once and for all, we should take heart from the message of Parshas Bo. With the first mitzvah that Hashem gave to the Jewish people, He taught us that no situation is ever beyond hope. Rather than give in to despair rooted in the verdict of the laws of nature, we can remain optimistic by reminding ourselves of the uniquely Jewish power of renewal and change.


והיה לכם למשמרת (12:6)

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

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

Rashi writes that Hashem wanted to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt, but when he examined their spiritual level, he found them lacking mitzvos and merits which would justify their salvation. He therefore gave them the two mitzvos of circumcising themselves and sacrificing and eating the Korban Pesach. Why specifically were these two mitzvos given more than any others?

There is a Talmudic 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 because a person doesn’t receive any punishment in this world if he neglects the performance of a positive commandment, he doesn’t receive any reward for its performance. According to this explanation, a person who refrains from transgressing a negative prohibition would receive reward in this world since violating the prohibition is punishable by kares (spiritual excision) or death or lashes at the hands of the Beis Din.

The Lev Aryeh (Chullin 142) explains that Hashem had a dilemma. He wanted to give the Jewish people mitzvos to perform to reward them, but He knew there is no reward in this world for positive commandments. 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 by performing them, the Jews could indeed be rewarded in this world!


וככה תאכלו אתו ... ואכלתם אתו בחפזון פסח הוא לד' (12:11)

Most of the laws pertaining to the Passover sacrifice which the Jews brought in Egypt also apply to the Korban Pesach that was brought in the Temple by future generations. One exception is that in Egypt it had to be eaten hastily, a requirement which was unique only to the first Passover. Why were the Jews in Egypt subject to this requirement, and why wasn’t its rationale applicable to future generations?

Rav Tzaddok HaKohen explains (Tzidkos HaTzaddik 1) that whenever a person wants to begin a new spiritual undertaking, it must be done speedily. Because a person is naturally drawn after his habits, he will be unable to uproot himself from his instinctual attachment to worldly pleasures unless he swiftly seizes his moment of inspiration and decisively acts upon it. Once he has successfully done so and finds himself firmly on the new path he has selected for himself, he may then continue in slow, small increments until he reaches his ultimate target.

When the Jewish people were at the 49th level of impurity in Egypt, on the night that they were to be transformed from Pharaoh’s slaves into Hashem’s servants, they were required to consume the Passover sacrifice with great alacrity in order to quickly and effectively uproot the powerful impure forces from within themselves. Once they were redeemed and accepted the Torah, which bound them to their new mission as Hashem’s chosen people, they were able to continue their growth in a more gradual manner, as symbolized by the lack of a requirement to consume the Korban Pesach in the future in haste.


ויאמר משה אל העם זכור את היום הזה אשר יצאתם ממצרים מבית עבדים

כי בחזק יד הוציא ד' אתכם מזה (13:3)

During his travels, Rav Yisroel Salanter once entered an inn where he had stayed previously. He noticed that the innkeeper had significantly deteriorated in his level of religious observance since his most recent visit. The innkeeper explained that the change was due to an atheist who had recently lodged there.

The guest spent several days sharing his philosophy about the lack of Divine reward and punishment. To prove his case, he took out a sandwich filled with non-kosher meat. He announced that if he’s wrong, he should choke on the sandwich and die. The atheist consumed the entire sandwich with no apparent consequences. Ever since, the innkeeper’s religious belief and observance had slowly weakened.

Rav Yisroel didn’t respond to the story. He waited for the right opportunity, which wasn’t long in coming. Later that day, the innkeeper’s young daughter returned home from school. She was glowing and excited about receiving her diploma, with especially good marks in the areas of singing and mathematics. Rav Yisroel asked her to sing for him so that he could judge her talents for himself, but she grew bashful and refused. He informed the innkeeper that his brazen daughter refused to sing for their respected guest.

The innkeeper summoned his daughter and demanded an explanation. She told him that the entire purpose of her diploma was to prove her talent once and for all. She argued that it was in fact their guest who was being unreasonable in demanding that she perform according to his whims just because he refused to believe her established record. Hearing this, Rav Yisroel told the innkeeper that two of the great early commentators – the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 21) and Ramban (Shemos 13:16) – explain that the reason the Torah contains so many mitzvos זכר ליציאת מצרים – as a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt – is because it was in Egypt that Hashem proved His power and providence through the numerous miracles he performed for the Jewish people once and for all.

Rav Yisroel concluded by pointing out that just as the innkeeper’s daughter rightfully refused to lower herself and perform on demand for whomever may doubt her diploma, so too Hashem already established Himself for all time through the events of the Exodus and has no further need to prove Himself to every doubter who comes along throughout the generations.

Now that we understand the significance of the events which are detailed in these Torah portions, we can appreciate why the Chiddushei HaRim suggests that they be analyzed as comprehensively as yeshiva students study a page of the Gemora with its commentaries. The Chofetz Chaim, wanting to make the events recorded in these portions come alive, actually pictured them occurring in front of his very eyes. These images were so realistic that as he reviewed our portion, which contains the first seven of the ten plagues, he literally laughed out loud as he envisioned the suffering being meted out to Pharaoh and the Egyptians in the middle of his study!


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

1) Hashem told Moshe to approach Pharaoh and warn him about the upcoming plague, but didn’t tell Moshe what the plague would be. The Daas Z’keinim and Rosh explain that Moshe understood that Hashem’s intent was for a plague of locusts because He used the phrase (10:2) ולמען תספר באזני בנך, which is similar to an expression used in Yoel (1:3) – לבניכם ספרו – in conjunction with the plague of locusts in his time. How was Moshe familiar with the book of Yoel prior to the giving of the Torah? Further, if he prophetically knew what was written in the book of Yoel, he certainly was familiar with the Torah which explicitly states that the eighth plague was locusts, so why did he need to derive the nature of the plague from the book of Yoel?

2) 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 also stricken. As Rashi writes (13:18) that four-fifths of the Jews died at this time, how was it possible to hide so many deaths from the Egyptians, who would surely notice their absence at the plague’s conclusion? (Ayeles HaShachar, Meged Yosef)

3) During the plague of darkness, a humbled Pharaoh called to Moshe (10:24) and offered to allow the Jews to travel to the desert to bring sacrifices to Hashem. As Rashi writes (10:22) that during the final three days of the plague, the darkness was so thick that the Egyptians were unable to move, how was Pharaoh able to call to Moshe during the darkness? (Mahari Bruna)

4) Why did Hashem tell Moshe (11:2) to instruct the Jews to ask the Egyptians for permission to “borrow” their vessels and garments when He knew they wouldn’t be returning them, and why didn’t He tell them to ask for the items as gifts? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Daas Z’keinim and Kli Yakar 3:22; Rashbam; Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh 32:35; Chavatzeles HaSharon 12:36)

5) When the night is split in half, there is no point in time remaining in the middle. One second is the last moment of the first half of the night and is immediately followed by the first second of the second half of the night. How was it possible for Hashem to slay the first-borns precisely at midnight (11:4)? (Ibn Ezra, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Mas’as HaMelech, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

6) The Gemora in Berachos (9b) teaches that when leaving Egypt, the Jews completely emptied it out of all of its possessions. Rashi writes (15:22) that the spoils received by the Jews at the Yam Suf were even greater than those which they received when leaving Egypt one week prior. If they had already completely emptied out the country, from where was there any treasure to be had at the Yam Suf? (Targum Yonason Ben Uziel 14:9, Tzelach Berachos 9b, M’rafsin Igri)

7) Were the Jews in Egypt forbidden to possess chometz on Pesach of that year? (Ramban and Daas Z’keinim 12:39, Ran and Tzelach Pesachim 116b, Even Yisroel, Matamei Yaakov)

8) Why is a convert to Judaism required (12:48) to circumcise his sons before he is able to offer and eat the Pesach-sacrifice when a convert to Judaism is considered to be like a newly-born child with no relation to his original relatives? (Tosefos Yevamos 48a d.h. ela, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, HaEmek Davar, Chasam Sofer, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

9)The Gemora in Menachos (37a) derives from 13:16 that the tefillin which are worn on the arm should specifically be worn on the weaker arm. As most mitzvos are performed with a person’s strong arm, what is the reason for this law? (Darash Moshe)


© 2007 To subscribe or send comments, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home