This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת בֹּא
“Lesson of the Locusts”
When we were analyzing the prophecies of the past couple of Haftaros for Sefer Shemos, we were initially looking for any possible references to Egypt and the story of the Exodus. But as much as the early Parshiyos of Sefer Shemos clearly make up one large Exodus story taking place in Egypt, each individual Sidrah is significant in its own right and apparently highlights its own individual theme. So, beyond references to the general setting or concept of the story—like “Egypt” or the “Exodus,” more importantly, we needed to be able to identify each respective Sidrah’s unique theme through the lenses of the Haftarah.
Parshas Shemos, for example, marked the beginning of the exile, and as such, its Haftarah from Yishaiyah was about the B’nei Yaakov taking root in the land of their exile where they would eventually blossom forth as the B’nei Yisrael (according to the Ashkenazic custom). Similarly, Parshas Va’Eira marked the beginning of Hashem’s response to the complacent, arrogant Pharaoh who denied G-d’s existence, so Va’Eira’s Haftarah from Yechezkeil discussed Hashem’s plans to smite Pharaoh, the “sea giant” of the Nile who claimed to be its maker.
So, Parshas Bo should be no different. In the Haftarah for Parshas Bo, we should be able to identify, not merely a reference to Egypt for example, but a more fundamental theme of the Sidrah.
With that, what is the Haftarah of Parshas Bo about? Taken from Yirmiyah [46:13-28], the Haftarah for Parshas Bo is another prophecy directed at Egypt, however, unlike the similar concept which we’ve discussed in the Haftarah for Parshas Va’Eira, this one does not discuss as much what Hashem would do to the later-day Egypt, but what Hashem says that Nevuchadretzar, king of Babylon, would ultimately do to Egypt. Either way, the Egypt reference we were hoping for is certainly there, so, so far, we’re not doing too badly.
What’s even more is that as the Haftarah proceeds, the Navi foretells that the Babylonians, when cutting down the forests of Egypt, would be more numerous than Arbeh, locusts [Yirmiyah 46:23]! The connection is perfect because Parshas Bo begins actually with the Plague of Locusts!
Yes, it’s very cool. We have Egypt and a possible allusion to the Plague of Locusts, but those are only connections. How does this prophecy convey the essential message of Parshas Bo? The Plague of Locusts is but one factor, a single plague, in the larger Sidrah. We don’t see any other plagues referenced in the Haftarah, so why is Arbeh so special and a particularly convincing “connection”?
Moreover, what does the prophecy of Babylon’s victory over Pharaoh have to do with Parshas Bo? We know that Parshas Bo continues Hashem’s onslaught of Pharaoh, so, who cares about what nations of mortals will do to Egypt? The two beat-downs of Egypt seem hardly comparable.
These questions all relate to a separate question we might ask about Parshas Bo in general regarding its division as a separate from Parshas Va’Eira altogether. Should Parshas Bo have really been its own Sidrah? As was mentioned, Bo continues the “narrative” of the plagues against Egypt which had begun in Va’Eira. Yet, for some reason, at plague number eight, Locusts, we start a new Sidrah. Why is that? If one wants to argue that the Sidrah would have been too long if Va’Eira and Bo were connected, assuming that that argument is legitimate (which it is honestly, probably not), the new Sidrah could have begun before Makkas Bechoros (Plague of the Firstborn) when the Torah itself changes gears and teaches the laws of the Rosh Chodesh (New Moon/Month) and Korban Pesach (Paschal offering).
This particular question is important for our discussion of the Haftarah because, as was mentioned, the Haftarah, according to our theory, should highlight the unique theme of the Sidrah, so until we can identify why it is that Parshas Bo begins where it does, we will likely be unable to identify the apparent theme of Bo which, as well, begins where the Sidrah does. If Bo should have really been a mere continuation of Va’Eira, then perhaps the themes are all the same—but that can’t be because as Bo begins a new Sidrah with its own Haftarah, something new must be conveyed here at the beginning of Bo. What is the unique theme of Parshas Bo that begins to show itself when Moshe returns to Pharaoh to warn them about the plague of Locusts?
Before we get to any answers, we might point out that another difference between the Haftarah of Va’Eira and that of Bo is that while the Haftarah of Va’Eira describes Pharaoh as a Tanim, some kind of sea beast, in the Haftarah of Bo, we hear about some other forms of imagery; first, Egypt is compared to a “very beautiful calf” (“Eglah Yifeih Fiyah”) [Yirmiyah 46:20-21] (which kind of reminds us of the dreams of the much earlier Pharaoh [Bereishis 41]), and then a Nachash, a serpent [Yirmiyah 46:22] (*Both cows and snakes were significant in ancient Egyptian culture as the Egyptians worshiped cows [among many other things], and the snake as well, was a symbol of royalty and divine authority in Egypt as well.)
But, if we think about it, cows and snakes are very different creatures, so what are we to make of these two very different images, a cow and a snake as they pertain to Egypt? And what is conveyed differently through these images as opposed to the sea beast that was featured in the previous Haftarah?
So, the Navi here describes how the beautiful calf is actually being prepared for slaughter, which can’t be a good omen for Pharaoh. As far as the snake reference is concerned, the Navi compares Egypt’s voice to that of a quiet Nachash in the forest as the Babylonian armies come with their axes, also, a desperate picture of Egypt. The relationship between the two animal images, at least in this Haftarah, is that or mortality and desperation. For a more colloquial image, Egypt is a sitting duck.
When we consider these comparisons between Egypt and both the cow and the snake, in light of the last Haftarah which compared Pharaoh to a beast of the Nile, we might notice an apparent shift. The “King of the Nile” imagery is a sign of grandeur and dominance. The cow and snake imagery portray just the opposite. G-d promised to strike down the arrogant “King of the Nile,” while here, He merely foretells a time when Egypt would be so desperate, it would be a calf for slaughter, a hushed serpent in the forest, hoping not to be axed by the mortal army of Babylonians. While the Haftarah of Va’Eira portrays Pharaoh as some force to be reckoned with, that of Bo depicts a lost cause for Egypt. Is there a contradiction between these images?
Not necessarily. One might explain these two images as being the difference between Pharaoh’s fantasy and painful reality. Which image is the real one? Which one is the illusion? Obviously, there was never any competition between G-d and Pharaoh, and it would be a joke for one to think that there ever was. From the beginning of the plague, Egypt was a cow being readied for slaughter. There was no “King of the Nile.”
However, when one looks at Va’Eira versus Bo, one might notice the same shift. In Parshas Va’Eira, after each plague, Pharaoh would stand his ground. It almost appeared as though Pharaoh had some shot. And if he could withstand the plagues, why wouldn’t one think that? The fact that Hashem had to mete out plague after plague, for this reason is strange, if we know, that G-d could have wiped out Egypt with a single plague if He so pleased. But, when we get to Parshas Bo, before the Plague of Locusts, Hashem reveals to Moshe, the method to His proverbial “madness.”
“Bo El Pharaoh Ki Ani Hichbadti Es Libo V’Es Leiv Avadav L’ma’an Shisi Ososai Eileh B’Kirbo; U’L’ma’an Tisapeir B’Oznei Vincha U’Vein Bincha Es Asheir His’alalti B’Mitzrayim V’Es Ososai Asheir Samti Vam Vida’tem Ki Ani Hashem”-“Come to Pharaoh, for I have made heavy his heart, as well as [lit., and] the heart of his servants, in order that I may set these signs of mine in his midst; and in order that you shall relate in the ears of your son and the son of your son that I have made a mockery in [or ‘that which I have wrought upon’] Egypt, and my signs which I am placing in them, and you should know that I am Hashem” [Shemos 10:1-2].
In other words, G-d tells Moshe that He does not want anyone to make any mistakes; He did not just battle it out with Pharaoh. He toyed with Him. Not be withholding Pharaoh’s free choice, but, as the Sforno says, by strengthening Pharaoh’s resolve and enabling him to withstand the plagues, He ultimately made a joke, an example, out of Pharaoh. There was never a competition, not between Hashem and Pharaoh, anyway. If anything, it was Pharaoh versus himself! He is spared after each plague, given chance after chance to give in, yet he insists on chasing his own tail and asking for more suffering because he is desperate to hang onto his false reality where he is the only god.
How is this point demonstrated best at this particular juncture, in the beginning of Bo? The answer to this question has everything to do with the Plague of Locusts. The Torah actually tells us that the function of the locusts was that they were to eat away all of the crops that were left over from the previous plague, that of Hail [Shemos 10:5]. The question is: If Hashem wanted to wipe out the crops of the land, which, as per the prescription of this plague, He definitely did, then why did He not destroy them in one fell swoop during the plague of Barad? Why did He keep some crops around until Arbeh? Granted, the Torah already provided a scientific explanation for the survival of the wheat and spelt over the barley and flax, for as the wheat and spelt were not yet ripe and therefore not stiff, their softness and flexibility allowed them to survive the falling hailstones—they didn’t snap like the ripened crops. However, if G-d wanted to, He could’ve wiped out all of the crops together. Why did He maintain some of the crops? Why did G-d require the Plague of Locusts?
To demonstrate the same exact point! Look at Egypt, desperate with almost no food. In truth, after wild animals and fiery hailstones, they’re lucky to be alive. In any event, they are alive. Plus, they still have food! Take it and run! Or rather, take it and let the Israelites run! But, what does Pharaoh do? While Hashem taunts Pharaoh, waving the remainder of Egypt’s food supply on a string in front of him, the stubborn fool in Pharaoh attempts to fight back once again.
Parshas Bo, in this way, sheds light on the possible façade that one might perceive in Parshas Va’Eira, that there is no “King of the Nile,” but a mortal calf—a desperate, slimy snake of a human. That is the lesson of the locusts!
Now, while we could stop there, there is another part to this lesson, another side to the coin. If the beginning of Bo was the reality check for Pharaoh and Egypt, the end of Bo relates its implications for the purposes of the B’nei Yisrael watching from the bleachers.
If each of the plagues demonstrated the fate of those arrogant, stubborn, and foolish enough to defy the Will of G-d, then what would follow is that it is one’s obligation to submit himself to the Will of G-d. Indeed, before the plagues conclude, Hashem makes sure that the B’nei Yisrael have this understanding as He commands them regarding the laws of Korban Pesach as a prelude to the final plague, Makkas Bechoros. Only if the B’nei Yisrael would adhere to the Will of G-d and demonstrate their understanding of the differentiation which Hashem has made between them and the wicked Egyptians would they justify their survival at the end of this exile. Only then would Hashem “skip over” their homes when judging Egypt.
And this lesson of differentiation is stated clearly at the very of our Haftarah as well, as the Navi states [46:27], “V’Atah Al Tira Avdi Yaakov V’Al Teichas Yisrael Ki Hineni Moshiacha…”-“But you, do not fear, My servant Yaakov, and do not be frightened, Yisrael, for behold, here I am, Your Savior…” Here, Hashem promises that unlike the Egyptians and really all of the wicked and oppressive nations of the world would be annihilated, Israel would not be broken by their suffering. So long as we learn the mistakes of the stubborn and humble ourselves through genuine observance of Hashem’s Will, Hashem will shower us with the ultimate kindness once again.
May we all be Zocheh to learn from the plagues of the past, prevent any further plagues against our people in the future, submit ourselves to Hashem’s Will, be showered by Hashem’s Chessed, and experience the Geulah once again with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂