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Parshat Bo: The Weekly Torah Portion Explained

Posted: 01/26/2012 3:13 pm

Editor's note: The Weekly HuffTorah Portion is an overview of the Torah reading of the week and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Bo with interlinear Hebrew/English.

"Come with me, Moses," God says. "Let's go to Pharaoh together and warn him. I've hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants. I had to do this to detach Pharaoh from his demonic powers. I have to do this so that I can perform these miracles so that you can tell your children and they will know I am God."

Moses and Aaron come to Pharaoh: "How long will you refuse to humble yourself before God? Let my people go. If you refuse, locusts will swarm to Egypt tomorrow. The sky and the land will be completely filled with them. Your houses, too, will not escape. It will be unlike anything the world has ever seen."

God and Moses and Aaron turn away and leave Pharaoh.

Pharaoh's servants rebuke him: "Egypt is lost! Don't you see? How long will you keep these people against their God's will?"

Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron to return and says, "Go worship your God. But who's going with you?"

"Our old and your young. Our sons and daughters. Our flocks and cattle. We will all make a festival for God."

"Just the men can go, like you've asked in the past. Now, get out of here!" And Moses and Aaron flee the presence of Pharaoh.

Locusts

God tells Moses to stretch his hand over Egypt to bring the locusts. Moses does this, and God causes an east wind to carry the largest swarm in history to descend upon the land. They fill the sky and the land is dark. Everything is eaten.

Pharaoh quickly summons Moses and Aaron: "I have sinned! I have sinned against God, against your God, against you. Please forgive me and please ask God to remove the locusts."

Moses talks to God, who sends the strongest west wind and plunges all of the locusts into the Sea of Reeds. But God also strengthens Pharaoh's heart, and the Egyptian king will not let the people of Israel go.

Darkness

God says to Moses: "Stretch out your hand and there will be darkness in the land. Intense darkness."

Moses does this and the thickest darkness descends upon Egypt. For three days, no Egyptian can see his brother right next to him. For three days, no Egyptian can even move. In the homes of the Children of Israel, however, there is bright, penetrating light.

Pharaoh summons Moses, saying, "Go worship God with your children. Your animals must remain."

"No deal," Moses says. "We will take our cattle. All of it. And you will provide us with animals for sacrifices to God since we do not know how long we will worship there."

God hardens Pharaoh's heart. He does not send the Children of Israel out. "Look away!" he says to Moses. "Go away and don't look at my face again for the day you see my face will be the day you die."

"Indeed, Pharaoh! I will never see your face again," says the Moses the Prophet.

Planning For Passover

God whispers into Moses' ear: "There is one more plague. Afterward, Pharaoh will send you out. He will send you out completely. Completely. Tell the people to ask for silver and gold from the Egyptians." And God made the Children of Israel favorable in the eyes of the Egyptians. Moses was respected by every Egyptian -- from royalty to servant.

Moses says to Pharaoh: "Around midnight, God will be among all the people, and every firstborn Egyptian -- from royalty to servant to animal -- will die. There will be a great cry in the land, but nothing will resist the Children of Israel so that you will known God has distinguished us. And your servants will bow before me. They will tell me to leave with my people. And we will leave."

Moses leaves a fuming Pharaoh and God says, "Pharaoh will not listen. My miracles will increase." And, of course, this is what happens.

"Now," God says to Moses and Aaron, "I have some instructions for you. Listen up..." And God lists the first positive commandments, telling them to relay the message to Israel:

"The month of these miracles will be the first month of the year. On the 10th of this month, take one lamb or baby goat for each household or family. Those families who cannot afford a lamb shall share with neighbors. The lamb must be blemish free. Sheep or goats are fine. Inspect the animal until the 14th of the month. Then, slaughter it in the afternoon. Take some of the blood and place it on the doorposts of the house where you eat. Eat the meat on that night. It should be roasted over a fire and should be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. It must be roasted fully over a fire. Eat all of it. Nothing should be left. If something is left, burn it in the fire. Eat it while you are dressed and ready to travel. Eat it quickly. This is called pesach -- Passover -- to commemorate God passing over your houses and sparing your firstborn. I will pass over Egypt and judge the people. The blood on your doors is important so that I will not destroy you. In every generation, you will celebrate this day as a festival. This is eternal: Eat unleavened bread for seven days. Eliminate all the leavened bread from your house the day before. If you eat leavened bread during those days, your soul will be cut off from the rest of the people. The first and final days of the week are sacred holidays. The only work that may be done on those two days is for the sake of serving this food. You should remember and keep this unleavened bread in every generation as a reminder of your redemption from slavery. This applies to the convert and the native-born."

Moses calls the elders of Israel before him, saying, "Take a sheep to slaughter for the Passover sacrifice. Put blood on your doorposts and do not leave your home until morning. God will pass over your house and not destroy you. You should always remember this, in every generation. These rituals will only be performed once you've entered the land that God has promised you. When your children ask about this ritual, you should tell them about how God spared you and slew the Egyptians."

The people bow to the ground and do exactly what Moses and Aaron tell them. Moses and Aaron do this too.

Death of the Firstborn

At midnight, God strikes. All the firstborn Egyptians die. All the houses of Egypt cry out for no firstborn is spared.

Pharaoh calls personally for Moses and Aaron: "Go! Leave my people. All of you, flocks too. Go worship God. And bless me that I should not die for I am a firstborn."

In the streets, the living Egyptians beg the Children of Israel to leave, to save them from more death.

So they do, picking up the leftover unleavened dough and bitter herbs and strapping it to their backs. They ask for gold and silver from the Egyptians, who gladly grant the requests. They empty Egypt.

They journey a miraculous distance. There are 600,000 men on foot, plus children and a mixed multitude of converts to the cause. Also, livestock.

They bake the dough into unleavened bread. They do this quickly since they are without other provisions. Four hundred and thirty years have passed since the Children of Israel entered Egypt. God had this night in mind all along, and throughout the generations this night is guarded and remembered.

Paschal Sacrifice

God clarifies some things about the sacrifice: "No stranger may eat from it. Only circumcised slaves shall eat from it. Hired help, even if they are circumcised, shall not eat from it. It must be eaten in one house or group. It must not leave the group. You may not break any of its bones. All of Israel shall make this sacrifice. Converts, too, as long as their families are circumcised. If you didn't pick up on this yet, the men gotta be circumcised. No exceptions. Converts and native-born Jews share the same law."

But wait! There's more: "Every firstborn -- human and animal -- is mine. Sanctify them for me," God tells Moses.

And Moses talks to the people: "Remember this day when you went out from Egypt and enslavement. Remember God's mighty hand took you out of here. In the month of Aviv, in the spring, when you are in the land God has promised you, perform this ritual: Do not eat leavened bread for seven days. The seventh day is a holiday. Eat unleavened bread only. You should not even own or see something leavened. Tell your children that because of these commandments God took us out of Egypt. And it shall be a sign upon your hand and between your eyes so that God's Torah will be in your mouth. Remember: A mighty hand took you out of Egypt. You shall do this every year. When you are in the land God has promised, every firstborn will be for God. Redeem every firstborn donkey with a lamb. If you don't redeem it, break its back with an ax. Redeem every firstborn person among you, too. And it will happen that your children will ask, 'What is this?' Tell them God took us out of Egypt, out of slavery, with a mighty hand. Tell them that Pharaoh was stubborn and God slew every Egyptian firstborn. Therefore, tell them, we slaughter every firstborn animal for God and redeem every firstborn male, too."

"Oh," Moses adds, "It shall be a sign upon your arm and between your eyes, for God took us out with a mighty hand."

Questions for Reflection

Why does Moses warn Pharaoh about locusts, something God does not explicitly mention?

Why does God continue to harden Pharaoh's heart?

Surely, God knows who lives where. So why is the blood on the doors of the Children of Israel so important?

Why doesn't Pharaoh die if he is a firstborn?

Why did the Children of Israel leave their houses before morning and with leftovers when this was specifically mentioned by God as something to not do?

Why do the Egyptians give up their treasures so easily?

Why does God command the people to redeem every firstborn donkey? What does this mean?

What does it mean that every firstborn person belongs to God?

That "sign upon your arm and between your eyes" -- what is it?

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection:

Editor's note: The Weekly HuffTorah Portion is an overview of the Torah reading of the week and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Bo with interlinear Hebrew/English.

"Come with me, Moses," God says. "Let's go to Pharaoh together and warn him. I've hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants. I had to do this to detach Pharaoh from his demonic powers. I have to do this so that I can perform these miracles so that you can tell your children and they will know I am God."

Moses and Aaron come to Pharaoh: "How long will you refuse to humble yourself before God? Let my people go. If you refuse, locusts will swarm to Egypt tomorrow. The sky and the land will be completely filled with them. Your houses, too, will not escape. It will be unlike anything the world has ever seen."

God and Moses and Aaron turn away and leave Pharaoh.

Pharaoh's servants rebuke him: "Egypt is lost! Don't you see? How long will you keep these people against their God's will?"

Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron to return and says, "Go worship your God. But who's going with you?"

"Our old and your young. Our sons and daughters. Our flocks and cattle. We will all make a festival for God."

"Just the men can go, like you've asked in the past. Now, get out of here!" And Moses and Aaron flee the presence of Pharaoh.

Locusts

God tells Moses to stretch his hand over Egypt to bring the locusts. Moses does this, and God causes an east wind to carry the largest swarm in history to descend upon the land. The fill the sky and the land is dark. Everything is eaten.

Pharaoh quickly summons Moses and Aaron: "I have sinned! I have sinned against God, against your God, against you. Please forgive me and please ask God to remove the locusts."

Moses talks to God, who sends the strongest west wind and plunges all of the locusts into the Sea of Reeds. But God also strengthens Pharaoh's heart, and the Egyptian king will not let the people of Israel go.

Darkness

God says to Moses: "Stretch out your hand and there will be darkness in the land. Intense darkness."

Moses does this and the thickest darkness descends upon Egypt. For three days, no Egyptian can see his brother right next to him. For three days, no Egyptian can even move. In the homes of the Children of Israel, however, there is bright, penetrating light.

Pharaoh summons Moses, saying, "Go worship God with your children. Your animals must remain."

"No deal," Moses says. "We will take our cattle. All of it. And you will provide us with animals for sacrifices to God since we do not know how long we will worship there."

God hardens Pharaoh's heart. He does not send the Children of Israel out. "Look away!" he says to Moses. "Go away and don't look at my face again for the day you see my face will be the day you die."

"Indeed, Pharaoh! I will never see your face again," says the Moses the Prophet.

Planning For Passover

God whispers into Moses' ear: "There is one more plague. Afterward, Pharaoh will send you out. He will send you out completely. Completely. Tell the people to ask for silver and gold from the Egyptians." And God made the Children of Israel favorable in the eyes of the Egyptians. Moses was respected by every Egyptian -- from royalty to servant.

Moses says to Pharaoh: "Around midnight, God will be among all the people, and every firstborn Egyptian -- from royalty to servant to animal -- will die. There will be a great cry in the land, but nothing will resist the Children of Israel so that you will known God has distinguished us. And your servants will bow before me. They will tell me to leave with my people. And we will leave."

Moses leaves a fuming Pharaoh and God says, "Pharaoh will not listen. My miracles will increase." And, of course, this is what happens.

"Now," God says to Moses and Aaron, "I have some instructions for you. Listen up..." And God lists the first positive commandments, telling them to relay the message to Israel:

"The month of these miracles will be the first month of the year. On the 10th of this month, take one lamb or baby goat for each household or family. Those families who cannot afford a lamb shall share with neighbors. The lamb must be blemish free. Sheep or goats are fine. Inspect the animal until the 14th of the month. Then, slaughter it in the afternoon. Take some of the blood and place it on the doorposts of the house where you eat. Eat the meat on that night. It should be roasted over a fire and should be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. It must be roasted fully over a fire. Eat all of it. Nothing should be left. If something is left, burn it in the fire. Eat it while you are dressed and ready to travel. Eat it quickly. This is called pesach -- Passover -- to commemorate God passing over your houses and sparing your firstborn. I will pass over Egypt and judge the people. The blood on your doors is important so that I will not destroy you. In every generation, you will celebrate this day as a festival. This is eternal: Eat unleavened bread for seven days. Eliminate all the leavened bread from your house the day before. If you eat leavened bread during those days, your soul will be cut off from the rest of the people. The first and final days of the week are sacred holidays. The only work that may be done on those two days is for the sake of serving this food. You should remember and keep this unleavened bread in every generation as a reminder of your redemption from slavery. This applies to the convert and the native-born."

Moses calls the elders of Israel before him, saying, "Take a sheep to slaughter for the Passover sacrifice. Put blood on your doorposts and do not leave your home until morning. God will pass over your house and not destroy you. You should always remember this, in every generation. These rituals will only be performed once you've entered the land that God has promised you. When your children ask about this ritual, you should tell them about how God spared you and slew the Egyptians."

The people bow to the ground and do exactly what Moses and Aaron tell them. Moses and Aaron do this too.

Death of the Firstborn

At midnight, God strikes. All the firstborn Egyptians die. All the houses of Egypt cry out for no firstborn is spared.

Pharaoh calls personally for Moses and Aaron: "Go! Leave my people. All of you, flocks too. Go worship God. And bless me that I should not die for I am a firstborn."

In the streets, the living Egyptians beg the Children of Israel to leave, to save them from more death.

So they do, picking up the leftover unleavened dough and bitter herbs and strapping it to their backs. They ask for gold and silver from the Egyptians, who gladly grant the requests. They empty Egypt.

They journey a miraculous distance. There are 600,000 men on foot, plus children and a mixed multitude of converts to the cause. Also, livestock.

They bake the dough into unleavened bread. They do this quickly since they are without other provisions. Four hundred and thirty years have passed since the Children of Israel entered Egypt. God had this night in mind all along, and throughout the generations this night is guarded and remembered.

Paschal Sacrifice

God clarifies some things about the sacrifice: "No stranger may eat from it. Only circumcised slaves shall eat from it. Hired help, even if they are circumcised, shall not eat from it. It must be eaten in one house or group. It must not leave the group. You may not break any of its bones. All of Israel shall make this sacrifice. Converts, too, as long as their families are circumcised. If you didn't pick up on this yet, the men gotta be circumcised. No exceptions. Converts and native-born Jews share the same law."

But wait! There's more: "Every firstborn -- human and animal -- is mine. Sanctify them for me," God tells Moses.

And Moses talks to the people: "Remember this day when you went out from Egypt and enslavement. Remember God's mighty hand took you out of here. In the month of Aviv, in the spring, when you are in the land God has promised you, perform this ritual: Do not eat leavened bread for seven days. The seventh day is a holiday. Eat unleavened bread only. You should not even own or see something leavened. Tell your children that because of these commandments God took us out of Egypt. And it shall be a sign upon your hand and between your eyes so that God's Torah will be in your mouth. Remember: A mighty hand took you out of Egypt. You shall do this every year. When you are in the land God has promised, every firstborn will be for God. Redeem every firstborn donkey with a lamb. If you don't redeem it, break its back with an ax. Redeem every firstborn person among you, too. And it will happen that your children will ask, 'What is this?' Tell them God took us out of Egypt, out of slavery, with a mighty hand. Tell them that Pharaoh was stubborn and God slew every Egyptian firstborn. Therefore, tell them, we slaughter every firstborn animal for God and redeem every firstborn male, too."

"Oh," Moses adds, "It shall be a sign upon your arm and between your eyes, for God took us out with a mighty hand."

Questions for Reflection

Why does Moses warn Pharaoh about locusts, something God does not explicitly mention?

Surely, God knows who lives where. So why is the blood on the doors of the Children of Israel so important?

Why doesn't Pharaoh die if he is a firstborn?

Why did the Children of Israel leave their houses before morning and with leftovers when this was specifically mentioned by God as something to not do?

Why do the Egyptians give up their treasures so easily?

Why does God command the people to redeem every firstborn donkey? What does this mean?

What does it mean that every firstborn person belongs to God?

That "sign upon your arm and between your eyes" -- what is it?

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection:

 

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