Parshat Bo Vol.10 No.18
Date of issue: 10 Shevat 576 -- February 3, 2001
|This week's issue has been sponsored
by the Rapps family
in honor of AZ's "big birthday."
Rabbi Steven Finkelstein
It's All in the Timing
by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein
In the middle of this week's Parsha, Hashem presents Bnai Yisrael with their first Mitzva, Hachodesh Hazeh Lachem Rosh Chadashim Rishon Hu Lachem Lechodshei Hashana, "This month shall be for you the beginning of months, the first shall it be to you of the months of the year" (12:2). Essentially, Hashem is commanding the Jewish people to establish a proper calendar starting with the month of Nissan.
Imagine for a moment that you are God. You are about to redeem a nation of slaves and provide them with a system of laws that will transform them into a holy nation. The time has come to give them their first commandment. Certainly it should be something fundamental, a commandment that can serve as the foundation or basis for the entire Torah way of life. Which commandment would you choose? Perhaps to believe that there is only one God. Maybe to observe Shabbat or to keep the dietary laws. Maybe the importance of loving your neighbor as you love yourself.
Hashem chose a commandment that did not make our list. The first commandment He gives is to establish a calendar. What makes this Mitzva so important? How does a calendar serve as a foundation for the rest of Torah way of life?
I believe the answer to this question can be found in the commentary of Rav Ovadia Seforno. On the words "it shall be for you the beginning of months," Seforno explains:
Henceforth, months of the year shall be yours, to do with them as you will. During the period of the bondage, your time did not belong to you it was used to work for others and to fulfill their will. Therefore, "this shall be the first month of the year to you," for in this month your existence as a people of free choice began.
In other words, a slave's time is not his own. He is always on call awaiting the master's next command. In this setting it is impossible for a slave to decide for himself how he will spend his time. The decision is not his own.
As the Jewish People prepare for redemption, freedom, and ultimately receiving the Torah, they must first internalize the message of Rosh Chodesh, the idea that along with their freedom comes responsibility. As free people they will be held accountable for how they spend their time. Indeed, as free people they will have the wonderful opportunity to fill their time with positive and productive activities. Alternatively they can choose to sit back and squander away their time or to spend it inappropriately. The decision will be theirs.
This Shabbat, as we study this Mitzva, we can each take advantage of the opportunity to reflect on our own use of time, to make sure that with the arrival of each new month on the calendar we can look back with pride and say we have used our time well, that we are one step ahead of where we had been the month before. We are one step purer. We are one step holier. We are one step closer to achieving our utmost potential.
by Uriel Schechter
The first Mitzva commanded to Bnai Yisrael was to sanctify the new moon, as it says in this week's Parsha, Hachodesh Hazeh Lachem Rosh Chadashim, "This month shall be for you the first month" (12:2). Why were Bnai Yisrael instructed to count months based on the moon, not based on the sun as many cultures do?
The Sefat Emet explains that other nations count by the sun because they only function in daylight, when things are going well for them. However, when it is dark and things begin to go bad for them, they are destroyed and suddenly become nothing. This is not the case with Bnai Yisrael. Even when things turn bad, Bnai Yisrael are still strong and full of light, just as the moon is strong and gives off light at night.
Yalkut Meragliot offers two different explanations why we count by the moon. First, it gives the people a chance to look up to Hashem every thirty days. Second, the relationship between the moon and the sun is likened to the relationship between us and Hashem. Just like the moon reflects the light of the sun, so too Bnai Yisrael reflect the Glory of Hashem. As it says in Tehillim, Ki Shemesh Umagen Hashem Elokim Chein Vekavod Yitein Hashem, "For Hashem is a sun and a shield, Hashem gives favor and glory" (84:12).
The Midrash gives the well-known answer that the Jewish Nation is compared to the moon. Just as the moon gets smaller each day until one cannot see it and then gets bigger again, so too Bnai Yisrael get smaller and larger. It might seem that Bnai Yisrael are getting smaller or weaker, but just when they seem to disappear they suddenly get bigger and stronger. Similarly, just like the moon will be as strong and as bright as the sun, as we say in Kiddush Levana, Vehaya Or Halevena Ke'or Hachama, so too Bnai Yisrael will one day be a powerful and strong nation. May we be Zocheh to see the fulfillment of this Bimhera Beyameinu.
Open Your Eyes
by David Tessler
The end of Parshat Bo discusses our obligation to wear Tefillin and says, Ki Bechozek Yad Hotzianu Hashem Mimitzrayim, "For with a strong hand Hashem removed us from Egypt" (13:16). On this Pasuk, Ramban talks beautifully about a fundamental idea of Mitzvot and why they are often connected to Hashem's taking us out of Mitzrayim.
Ramban explains that ever since the generation of Enosh, the first generation of idol worshippers, there have always been people who have questioned Hashem. Some deny that Hashem created the world or say that He does not know what goes on in this world. Others admit to His existence but deny that He watches over the world and say that there is no Divine reward or punishment. Through Hashem's wondrous miracles, though, it is clear that these ideas are false. His miracles show that He created the world, watches over it, judges it, and has full control over everything.
Ramban goes on to explain that through the obvious and great miracles that Hashem performs we come to see the hidden miracles that make up the Torah, for no one can have a part in the Torah unless he believes that all the words and events in the Torah are true. It is only if we see the hand of Hashem in our personal and communal lives that we can properly accept the Torah and form a close connection with Hashem. If we fail to see the small miracles that happen every second of our lives, we are just like Paroh. When the plague of blood began, instead of Paroh realizing the role of Hashem in the plague, he hardened his heart and closed his eyes to Hashem. He simply dismissed the plague in his mind as magic, and he had his own sorcerers repeat this plague. Only the Jews had clear water; Hashem demonstrated His superior power by forcing Paroh's magicians to first go to the Jews to purchase clear water before they could replicate the plague.
The "magic tricks" of Paroh's sorcerers still exist today. When an investment we make in the stock market does very well, we say that we were lucky. When we wake up in the morning we often take for granted that we have woken up and are alive. Only when we see the hand of Hashem in everything that happens to us can we accept the Torah properly in our hearts and form a close connection with Hashem.
by Uri Weiss
In this week's Parsha, Hashem brings the last three plagues onto Egypt. Before the eighth plague, locusts, Paroh offers a compromise to Moshe. The compromise is that only the adult males would be permitted to leave, while women and children would be required to stay. The Or Hachaim explains that Paroh was keeping the women and children to guarantee the return of the men.
After the ninth plague, darkness, Paroh attempts another compromise with Moshe. He allows the people to go as long as the cattle stay. Here, Rambam says that Paroh figured the Jews would either return for their livestock or leave and Paroh could claim it as his own.
The compromises Paroh tries to make with Moshe were only to enable him to keep Bnai Yisrael as his slaves. He knew that Bnai Yisrael were planning to free themselves from Egypt, not just go for one three-day holiday.
We learn an important lesson from this episode. Although the Gemara extols the virtue of compromise (Sanhedrin 6b), there are certain compromises that are unacceptable.
Food for Thought
by David Gertler
1) Shemot 10:8-11 tells us who Paroh was willing to permit to go serve Hashem. How does this compare to Bereishit 50:8, where the Torah talks about who went to bury Yaakov? What does this imply?
2) According to the Halacha, anyone who does not eat a Kezayit of the Korban Pesach is liable for Kareit. What, then, is the Torah's view on vegetarianism? How could one defend vegetarians?
3) 12:40 states that Bnai Yisrael were settled in Mitzrayim for 430 years; however we know that 430 years before this point was the Brit Bein Habitarim. How can this contradiction possibly be resolved?
4) 13:4 refers to Nissan as Chodesh Ha'aviv. Up until that point, though, Nissan was referred to as Chodesh Harishon. Which is the name of the month? Are they both simply referring to the characteristics of the month without actually giving us a name? What is the reason for the change? [Consider that they both refer to when during the year the month occurs, and that Chodesh Ha'aviv is never used outside the Chumash.]
5) 12:24 and 13:5 both say that we should perform the Korban Pesach once we get into Eretz Canaan. Does this mean that Bnai Yisrael should not have brought a Korban Pesach in the Midbar? Is there clear proof here that we should do the Korban Pesach in the Midbar?
6) Why does the Torah elaborate on how the blood was put on the doorpost? What is the symbolism inherent in this procedure?
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