Parashat Bo

The Plague of Darkness /Being honest

with ourselves by Rabbi Yoav Druyan

“And there was a thick darkness throughout the land of Egypt for a three day period… No man saw his fellow and no man rose from his place for three days…” 

During the plague of darkness, Egypt was plunged into blackness for three days and nights. While this plague was a fitting punishment for enslaving the Jewish nation, Rashi teaches us that it served another purpose as well. There were those among the Jewish people who were wicked and did not deserve to be redeemed. Under the cover of darkness, G-d killed them, giving them their just due while denying the Egyptians the satisfaction of seeing that not all the Jews would be leaving.

We may think, then, that all the Jews who left Egypt were righteous. Yet our sages teach us that this was hardly the case.

When Pharaoh gave the Jews permission to leave Egypt, they dropped everything and fled; they wanted to be far away before Pharaoh could change his mind. He did, in fact, change his mind and sent his army after them in hot pursuit, trapping the Jews between the Egyptian army and the shores of the Red Sea.  At that moment, a prosecuting angel declared, “[The fleeing Israelites] are idol worshippers and [the Egyptians] are also idol worshippers!” (Medrash Mechilta Beshalach p. 4). While they were not entirely without merit, the Jews who left Egypt were actually considered wicked!

If the Jews who left Egypt were also wicked, why were some Jews killed during the plague of darkness in Egypt? What was the difference between them?

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky suggests that the difference between them wasn’t the level of wickedness. After all, idol worship is pretty much the bottom spiritual rung. A closer reading of Rashi reveals that the Jews who perished in Egypt weren’t simply wicked; they desired to prevent their brothers’ departure from Egypt. They were unsatisfied with their own abandonment of G-d’s laws and sought to persuade their fellow Jews into similar destructive behaviors. This was a sin that G-d would not forgive.

A smoker all his life, Jonathan can barely walk up a flight of stairs. He knows cigarettes are bad for him — in fact, he’s tried several times to quit — but he hasn’t yet been able to kick the habit. The most Jonathan has been able to do is to try to prevent his children from taking up smoking.

Lucas, on the other hand, laughs at anyone who tries to tell him that smoking is unhealthy. He’s never had a health problem, and he’s sure that all the anti-smoking advertise is simply bad politics. To prove his point, he hands out free cigarettes to others, hoping that if enough people object, the ridiculous anti-smoking laws will be repealed.

Jonathan and Lucas are engaged in the same behavior, but there is a world of difference between them! While Jonathan tries to keep others from following his example, Lucas attempts to draw others into his destructive ways, in an attempt to assuage his own conscience. He builds for himself a false sense of righteousness at the expense of others.

As responsible people, we try to avoid behaviors that aren’t good for us, whether physically, mentally, or spiritually. Sometimes however, we veer off course. The lesson from those who perished in Egypt is that if we do find ourselves involved in questionable activities, we must avoid the temptation to rationalize our behavior, or worse, to bring others along for the ride. If we’re honest with ourselves and acknowledge that we’re heading in the wrong direction, we’ll have a much easier time getting back on track – with a little help from G-d.

facts of life: take this serious

The Four Hundred Years Ended On The Night Of Pesach 

Hashem told Avraham that his children would be enslaved in Mitzrayim for 400 years. Yet they left after 210. Many commentaries offer explanations justifying how Bnei Yisrael were able to leave before their time. However, the Ben Ish Chai has a problem with this whole approach. When they left Mitzrayim the Pasuk says (Bo 12:42), “Leil Shimurim Hu Lashem L’Hotzium MeiEretz Mitzrayim; This was the night that Hashem waited for as they were destined to leave Mitzrayim.” This implies that they were always scheduled to leave Mitzrayim on this night even though it was not yet 400 years.

The Ben Ish Chai explains with a Mashal. A father tells his son he must empty out an entire warehouse from the junk that has been accruing there. He tells him he has the whole night and it must be done by daybreak. The father knows that this is an impossible task to accomplish so in the dark of the night as the son is working with all his effort, the father goes in and helps him. The son comes to the father proudly in the morning, telling him the job is done. He has no idea that his father did most of the heavy lifting for him.

The four hundred years in Mitzrayim was the workload Hashem gave Bnei Yisrael to be Fix what needed to be fixed and to gather the holy sparks that were trapped in the galut of Mitzrayim. Although there was 400 years of work there, Hashem set a deadline to take them out on the night of Pesach. How did they manage? They did their best, and Hashem in His compassion did the rest for us by shining His Shechina.

This is a lesson for all generations as the end of the pasuk says, “Shimurim L’Chol Bnei Yisrael L’Dorotam; In every generation Hashem gives us a job.” We struggle to survive each Galut and be Mikadesh Shem Shamayim (sanctify the name of Hashem). If we give 100% effort and try to accomplish the impossible, Hashem will do the rest, just like He did in Mitzrayim.

simcha corner

A drunk man was brought to court. Just before the trial there was a commotion in the gallery. The judge pounded the gravel on his table and shouted, “Order, order.”

The drunk immediately responded, “Thank you, your Honor, I’ll have a Scotch and soda.

something to think about

A Sign For Our Times

“And it‭ [‬tefillin‭] ‬shall be a sign upon your arm‭, ‬and an ornament between your eyes‭, ‬for with a strong hand G-d took us out from‭ ‬Egypt‭.‬”‭ (‬13:16‭)‬

There was once a child prodigy who, at the age of three, could play Rachmaninoff better than the best.

A concert was arranged for her to play in public. Months before, posters and TV advertisements proclaimed that she would perform for one concert, and one concert only.

In order that this once in a lifetime event would not be forgotten, special mementos of the concert would be sold. For example, a tiny white concert piano on a bracelet, or a tiara with a piano on it.

The morning after the concert, the newspapers fell over themselves trying to find superlatives to describe the performance.

About a month later, a couple of louts who had missed the show turned up at the child’s home and demanded a “command” performance.

“Yeah, we know everyone says she was great. We read the newspapers and all, but we don’t believe it. If you bring her down from her bedroom now and get her to perform here in your sitting room on this grand piano, then we’ll believe she’s as good as everyone says she is; if not we don’t believe…”

When G-d created the world, there was no doubt that it was He who had brought everything into existence, that He knew all that was going on in the world, and that He was involved in the smallest event that happens in this world.

From the time of Enosh, Adam’s grandson, people started to make mistakes about G-d. Some people denied that there was a G-d at all.

Others conceded the existence of a Divine Power, but said that He was so removed and exalted that He only had knowledge of the spiritual realm, but didn’t know what was going on down in this world.

Yet a third group admitted that G-d knows what is happening in the lower realms, but He isn’t interested in what we do. In other words, He created the Universe, and then, as it were, went off to play golf.

G-d decided once and for all to quash these mistakes. He would bring a series of miraculous events that would show, by altering the course of nature, that He creates nature.

Not only this, but He would take a nation out of the midst of another nation and make them His people. This would show that not only is He aware of what transpires in this world, but He cares and interacts with Mankind.

G-d would do this only once, because by performing these miracles, He would remove the ability of man to have freedom of choice to believe in Him or not, and the purpose of Creation was the existence of a being, Man, who has free will to believe or not.

This is the story of the Exodus. G-d took the Jewish People out of Egypt to prove that He is alive and well and the world is living in Him!

In order that we should not forget this once-and-once-only re-orchestration of nature, He gave us souvenirs of the “concert” such as a mezuza to put on our doors and tefillin to bind on our arms. Someone who has these reminders will go through his life as though he had a string tied around his pinkie and will never forget.

Not only that, G-d made it incumbent on every generation to pass-over – to recreate the events of this great concert of nature in every generation at a Seder so that each generation would know that it had actually happened. Parents don’t lie to their children about things of importance.

For this reason, G-d will not perform at the notion of every fool who comes along and claims that he doesn’t believe there was a concert at all. There are millions of fans who still have their tiny white concert pianos carefully handed down from generation to generation to prove the others wrong.

By Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair

Parsha Summary 

First Aliyah: Plague Eight: At G‑d’s behest, Moshe and Aaron went to Pharaoh and delivered a warning: “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, so that they can worship Me!” They informed Pharaoh that if he does not allow the Israelites to go, Egypt will be attacked by a plague of locusts. After Moshe and Aaron left, Pharaoh’s servants begged him to allow the Israelites to leave. “Don’t you yet know that Egypt is lost?” they argued. Pharaoh called back Moshe and Aaron, and offered to allow the Israelites to leave—provided that they leave behind their children as security. Moshe and Aaron refused the offer, and Pharaoh stubbornly refused to allow the Israelites to go.

Second Aliyah: Moshe stretched out his hands, and swarms of locusts swept down on Egypt. They consumed absolutely every blade of grass, and all the crops. Pharaoh beseeched Moshe to pray to G‑d for the removal of the locusts, promising to then release the Israelites. Moshe prayed, and no sooner had a wind carried the locusts back to the Red Sea than Pharaoh changed his mind yet again. Plague Nine: A frightful darkness descended upon Egypt. For days, the entire nation was incapacitated by the debilitating pitch darkness. “But for all the children of Israel, there was light in their dwellings.”

Third Aliyah: Pharaoh summoned Moshe again, offering to release the Israelites if they leave behind their cattle. Moshe refused the condition. Pharaoh sent Moshe away, warning him to never appear in his presence again, “for on the day that you see my face, you shall die!” Moshe agreed, but not before he delivered a final message that G‑d relayed to him at that moment. G‑d told Moshe that he would visit one more plague upon Egypt, after which Pharaoh will actually drive the Israelites from his land. Parenthetically, at that time G‑d also instructed Moshe to ask the Israelites to borrow from their Egyptian neighbors jewels, silver and gold. The Israelites complied, and the Egyptians readily lent out their valuables.

Fourth Aliyah: Moshe delivered G‑d’s warning to Pharaoh: “At midnight, I will go out in the midst of Egypt. Every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the slave woman . . .” G‑d then gave the Israelites their first mitzvah, that of determining the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) each month and establishing a lunar calendar. G‑d also told Moshe to instruct the Israelites to designate a lamb for the Paschal offering. The Israelites were to sacrifice this lamb and consume it, together with matzah and bitter herbs, on the eve of the fifteenth of Nissan. The blood of the lamb was to be smeared on the lintels and doorposts of the Israelite residences, and all inside those homes would be spared when G‑d descended to smite the Egyptian firstborn. G‑d also instructed that for all future generations this day would signal the beginning of the seven-day holiday of Passover, during which no leaven may be eaten or possessed.

Fifth Aliyah: Moshe gathered the Israelite elders and conveyed to them G‑d’s instructions.

Sixth Aliyah: Plague Ten: At the stroke of midnight, G‑d slew all the Egyptian firstborn. No Egyptian home was spared, and Egypt erupted in a great outcry. Pharaoh awoke and raced to Moshe, and begged him to take the Israelites and leave. The Egyptians pressured the Israelites to leave as soon as possible, and the Israelites complied. Equipped with all the valuables they had borrowed from the Egyptians, and provisions for the way—dough that was baked before having time to rise—the Israelites left Egypt at midday of the fifteenth of Nissan. This section concludes with some more rules that pertain to the Paschal offering.

Seventh Aliyah: G‑d gave the Israelites several mitzvot: 1) All male Israelite firstborn were henceforth sanctified to G‑d. 2) Eat matzah on Passover. 3) Recount the story of the Exodus at the Passover Seder. 4) Bring all male firstborn of kosher animals as sacrifices. 5) Redeem all male firstborn donkeys for a sheep—which is given to a kohen (priest). 6) Don tefillin on the head and arm.