|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-MY BROTHER: MENACHEM MENDEL SHLOMO BEN CHAYA ROCHEL
-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
בֹּא ● Bo
● Why begin a new Sidrah here? Why were the Makkos split between two Sidros, and why were they split disproportionately? ●
“The Final Bo to Pharaoh”
Continuing the series of the Ten Makkos which were meted out to Pharaoh and all of Egypt for refusing to set the B’nei Yisrael free, Parshas Bo picks up with plague number eight, Makkas Arbeh, the Plague of Locusts.
Already, one should be bothered by a glaring question: Why should the Torah begin a new Sidrah in the middle of the series? Should not the “Ten Plagues” be encompassed in a single Sidrah? One might instinctively argue that a single Sidrah of all the Makkos would be too long, but there are a couple of issues with that argument; firstly, while a Sidrah of all of Makkos would inevitably be much longer, there are plenty of “long” Sidros in the Torah, many of which contain a variety of different topics, for example, Parshas Ki Sisa (which spans Shemos 30:11-34:35) and Parshas Vayishlach (which spans from Bereishis 32:4-36:43).
Secondly, even if that would be a viable argument that the Sidrah would be too long, are there not better ways to separate the Sidros? Perhaps the Sidrah could have been divided between plagues number five and six. Why would our tradition break the plagues up awkwardly between plagues number seven and eight?
The division between the plagues, as we have it is also puzzling for another reason. R’ Yehudah is famously quoted in the Pesach Haggadah as suggesting that the Ten Plagues were actually made up of three subgroups—the first three, the middle three, and the final four. Indeed, this breakup is supported by the narrative as G-d explicitly communicated a unique new message in between each set of plagues. If that is all true, that would mean that our Sidrah picks up from plague number two of the final set. Now why should that be? Even if the Torah was not going to include all of the plagues in a single Sidrah, it could have at least kept a full set of plagues together. In this arrangement, we are not only interrupting in between the Makkos, and we are not only allotting the Makkos between the two Sidros disproportionately, but we are interrupting within a single subset of the Makkos, making this division inconsistent with any possible models we would have intuitively followed. The breakup of the plagues thus appears unorganized and almost haphazard. Why does our tradition then begin a new Sidrah here?
A Better Alternative? – Parshas HaChodesh
Indeed, when one has a complaint against the status quo or the current arrangement, it is not enough to merely protest the situation as it is, but one has to suggest a better alternative, which indeed, we have done above. At the end of the Makkos would have been the obvious breakup. The midway point would have been fair. Perhaps before plague number seven would have been appropriate.
However, perhaps there is an even better alternative which would theoretically resolve another odd feature in Parshas Bo. Towards the end of this Sidrah, the Torah proceeds to present passages containing various laws which Moshe Rabbeinu ultimately commanded the B’nei Yisrael, the laws relating to the Jewish calendar flowing into the commandments concerning the Korban Pesach (Paschal or Passover offering) as well as many other commands related to remembering the impending Exodus.1
The Torah presents these many laws just before and after Hashem would strike Egypt with the final plague, Makkas Bechoros, the Plague of the Firstborns. The connection these laws bear to this final plague is a discussion in and of itself, and undoubtedly Makkas Bechoros was designed to be the climactic knock-out blow and “main” plague against Egypt, set apart from the others. Granted, why this plague would be separated is a fair question which deserves a discussion, but we can already understand why it would be different.
Bearing that in mind, the question then is why the “new Sidrah” did not start here, with the new set of laws and Makkas Bechoros. Clearly, with the transition from the narrative of plagues to these passages of laws and the final plague, the Torah presents a definitive marker and separation between one topic and the next. This “new Sidrah” would practically announce itself. Is there not a more perfect juncture to begin a new Sidrah? According to this theoretical division, the Parshiyos should then go from Parshas Va’Eira (from Shemos 6:2-11:10), the one containing all of the preliminary plagues, to Parshas HaChodesh (from 12:1-13:16) containing all of the laws and the final plague.
But, again, our tradition has chosen to open the Sidrah from plague number eight and continue all the way through the laws and Makkas Bechoros. Why is the Sidrah structured this way?
A Forgettable Title
Furthermore, not only did the Sidrah not begin from “Parshas HaChodesh,” which is rather memorable marker and title for the Parsha, but it after begins with and is named after the unoriginal and forgettable word, “Bo”-“Come,” from Hashem’s opening words to Moshe here, “Bo El Pharaoh”-“Come to Pharaoh.”2
Granted, the Torah is not a novel in need of a captivating title, however, there is a “logistical” issue with this title. Aside from the problem we raised earlier about the Sidrah starting from plague number eight, the title of the Sidrah is a further indicator that it is really beginning right in the middle of a longer series. Indeed, this section is not even the first occurrence in which G-d commands Moshe to “come” before Pharaoh to address him, as Hashem had used the same word eat least three other times earlier in Parshas Va’Eira.3 That being the case, the identical command here, “Bo El Pharaoh” naturally does not appear easily identifiable as a separate topic. The title and marker is a forgettable one. If that is the case, is Parshas Bo really just “Part Two” of Va’Eira and we are merely breaking up the story in the middle? Otherwise, what is so significant about this particular occurrence of “Bo El Pharaoh” that it uniquely opens a new Sidrah where the other occurrences do not?
With all that has been said thus far, what is the meaning behind the greater structure and contents of Parshas Bo?
Between Hail and Locusts
In order to answer our larger question, we may have to investigate Parshas Bo through its smaller details, unique nuances, and subtle context clues. With a closer look, one can determine where the true dividers exist between one Parsha and the next.
As was mentioned, the Sidrah begins with Makkah number eight, Arbeh. Looking at this plague in a vacuum as one of a larger series, we end up frustrated by our question. But, let’s take a more acute look at this plague for a moment. What was the function of the locusts, altogether?
The Torah actually spells out that the locusts were to cover the face of the land and eat away all of the crops that were left over from the previous plague, Makkas Barad, the Plague of Hail.4 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 all of them in one fell swoop during the plague of Barad? Why did He keep some crops around until Arbeh?
Now, granted, the last Sidrah provided a scientific explanation for the survival of the wheat and spelt over the barley and flax; the wheat and spelt were not yet ripe and therefore not stiff, their softness and flexibility allowed them to survive the falling hailstones; accordingly, they didn’t snap like the ripened crops. That is all fine, but surely, if G-d wanted to, just as His hailstones were miraculously mixed with fire5, His hailstones could’ve just as easily defied science further by destroying every single crop left. Moreover, perhaps G-d could have simply brought the locust plague without the hail, and covered all of the crops. So, why was Makkas Arbeh even necessary? Or why were both Barad and Arbeh necessary? What was G-d trying to demonstrate here?
The Final “Bo”
The answer to this question may also be what divides the Sidrah from the previous one. In the opening of our Sidrah, as was mentioned, G-d tells Moshe, “Bo El Pharaoh”-“Come to Pharaoh,” as He had done a few other times. But, there is way more than that in our Sidrah. There is something different about this particular instruction of “Bo El Pharaoh.” Whereas earlier, Hashem commanded Moshe to “come” to Pharaoh with a particular message, namely a request to let the B’nei Yisrael leave, followed by the ramifications the impending plague, here, Hashem strangely adds a deeper explanation and reason for His command that Moshe “come” to Pharaoh:
“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.”5
This message sets our Sidrah apart from had preceded it. What is the meaning of this message? What, in effect, was G-d saying? What did this message have to do with the upcoming Makkas Arbeh?
Pharaoh: King or Pawn?
Indeed, Hashem had a new insight for Moshe in this message. He described the greater goal of the plagues thus far and moving forward. He mentions that He had made Pharaoh’s heart heavy—which Sforno interprets to mean, not that He inhibited Pharaoh’s free choice, but that He enabled Pharaoh to withstand the force of the plagues so that Pharaoh could freely decide the fate of the B’nei Yisrael without being coerced by the pain of the plagues. But, why would G-d grant Pharaoh this capability?
In this passage, G-d actually explains that He had an agenda to perform His signs—that everyone should see them. Now, had Pharaoh not seen enough of G-d’s “signs”? Who needs the rest? Who needs locusts to eat away the rest of the crops?
But here, Hashem adds the crucial caveat—the other motivation, the main motivation: “…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.”
Indeed, as we’ve suggested in previous discussions, the main addressees of Hashem’s “signs” and messages were not necessarily Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Hashem didn’t need any of these plagues to defeat Pharaoh. He could’ve easily taken the B’nei Yisrael out without the prescribed Makkos. And as was mentioned, Hashem could’ve easily educated Pharaoh without every last plague on the list. Hashem had previously told Moshe to make this exact point to Pharaoh toward the end of Va’eira.6 That also means that, yes, Hashem could’ve knocked off the crops with one plague, perhaps with Barad alone.
Moreover, the Torah reveals openly at the very end of the previous Sidrah that Pharaoh had already seen the light of truth! After the hail, Pharaoh admits to being wrong and attests G-d’s righteousness!7 The one who once doubted G-d’s existence admitted defeat to G-d in a major way. Pharaoh’s education was seemingly complete. But our Sidrah picks up after Pharaoh’s admission of defeat, because it was at this point that Hashem revealed that He was not finished teaching. Why not?
Because Hashem was not just teaching him—from plague number one until ten. He was teaching the B’nei Yisrael. That is what Hashem says explicitly in this opening message to Moshe! And what is He trying to teach them? Not just that He “beat” Pharaoh, but that He made a mockery—a clown—of Pharaoh. Of course, there was never a competition. This was never a battle between competing kings. Though Pharaoh thought he was the king, in reality, he was always the pawn in G-d’s masterplan. Hashem toyed with Pharaoh and made an example of him. Yes, as we’ve been saying, Hashem could’ve killed him multiple times. Even the crops, Hashem smote little by little, waving them in Pharaoh’s face like a carrot on a string, providing opportunity after opportunity for Pharaoh to come to his senses—to look the truth in the face and submit. Yet, Pharaoh, despite knowing the truth clearly, did not let that truth govern his actions. He stubbornly and foolishly brushed off the truth, and subsequently refused to let the B’nei Yisrael free. He had seen, though, all he needed to see. The greater goal was and still is for the B’nei Yisrael to be educated through the experience and themselves realize the truth. This greater motivation was highlighted in the brightest fashion with G-d’s message to Moshe here, “Bo El Pharaoh…”-“Come to Pharaoh…”
Come In! Door’s Open!
This perspective of the Sidrah may also hint at perhaps at another difference between Hashem’s command to Moshe here, “Bo El Pharaoh”-“Come to Pharaoh,” and all of the others. The expression, “Bo”-“Come,” many commentators point out, is already somewhat peculiar, as most would think that G-d should’ve told Moshe, “Leich El Pharaoh”-“Go to Pharaoh.”
The Ba’al HaTurim8 points out that earlier9, G-d actually did use such an expression, and that whether G-d chose to say, “Bo”-“Come” or “Leich”-“Go” actually depended on where Pharaoh was when G-d wanted Moshe to speak with him; only when Pharaoh was outside by the Nile did Hashem command Moshe to “go” out to him. But if Pharaoh was sitting in his palace, Hashem commanded Moshe to “come” in.
Now, if one thinks about it, it’s much easier and less frightening to go outside to the king at the river than it is to enter into his inner chambers without being summoned. Thus, there are those who have explained that whenever G-d said “Bo,” He was, in a sense, inviting him, “Come with Me,” as if to say, “Don’t worry—I am with you,” a comforting expression. This encouragement would make sense, as Moshe was basically about to waltz into the king’s castle.
However, in light of what was revealed about this Sidrah specifically, it could be that with this final “Bo,” G-d intended a similar but slightly different message. Whereas before, G-d may have been assuring Moshe that although entering the palace was intrinsically a fierce task, he’d still be fine, it could be that at this later point, G-d was saying, “Moshe, you’ve seen enough by now. Just come in and do what you want. It should be clear to you by now that Pharaoh only appears tough because I’ve prevented his heart from giving out to the plagues. In truth, I’ve made a clown of him, and you can just waltz in there, infiltrate his personal space, and jump on his furniture if you so please. In the meantime, the main goal of the plagues is still being met. We’re not quite finished.”
Yes, although Pharaoh didn’t know Hashem or pretended not to recognize Him before, he knew well then that Hashem was “in his house.” Hashem was making this message clear to Moshe as well.
Who is the Bully?
Now, as was mentioned, G-d expressly wanted the B’nei Yisrael to know, from generation to generation, that He made a complete wreck and a fool of Pharaoh. So, why would He want to do that? It sounds kind of mean, almost like G-d was acting like a bully. What was the point? So that we should think that G-d is a bully, Chas V’Shalom?
On the contrary, G-d’s intent was for the Makkos to teach the B’nei Yisrael a key lesson, and with this lesson, I’ll let you decide who the real bully was. G-d made an example out of the pompous tyrant who masqueraded as a deity, who subjugated a helpless people, and was still trying relentlessly to ignore G-d’s Presence in this world. This is the individual G-d whom was punishing. Clearly, when we’re talking about G-d, we’re not talking about someone who enjoys seeing others suffer. We’re talking about a Father Who was responding to the suffering of His children. Why G-d would mete out such punishment to Pharaoh is understandable. And yet, how to G-d respond to Pharaoh? He plagued him yes, but little by little, giving him chance after chance. He was patient to someone who, not only not deserve patience, but who deserved full-out, relentless wrath from G-d. Beyond that, as we’ve said in Sforno’s name, G-d would not try to coerce Pharaoh and get him to capitulate under duress. He allowed him to make his own foolish decisions. As soon as G-d would relent and Pharaoh was down, Pharaoh would swat at Him again!
In truth, this is not the story of a big, mean bully who was picking on a helpless and powerless individual. On the contrary, Pharaoh’s conduct can be compared to that of a weak but irritating instigator in the schoolyard who, even after being pinned down and beaten, and perhaps even being made to admit defeat, would attempt another blow when the superior was gracious enough to let go and relieve him. It is not rational for an inferior to provoke his superior further, and indeed, at that point, for Pharaoh, there was no rational reason to continue holding the B’nei Yisrael hostage. The fact that the nation hadn’t walked out on him during the plagues should have been a wonder to him. He could not win, but he still tried. He challenged G-d and dared to beg for more.
When G-d wreaks havoc on such a person who lacks simple Yiras Hashem (awe of Hashem), it is to show the B’nei Yisrael, firstly, that there is a Judge of the world, and secondly, that it is just foolish to mess around with the will of G-d. G-d made a fool of Pharaoh, but because Pharaoh made a fool of himself.
Ratzon Hashem – The Mitzvos
We were wondering why the passages from “HaChodesh” and on which contain the first set of laws transmitted to the B’nei Yisrael are included in this Sidrah. Well, according to what we’ve been saying until now, we can suggest a compelling answer which demonstrates the unifying theme of Parshas Bo.
We’ve explained that Parshas Bo is where G-d reveals explicitly—without a doubt—who His main target was the whole time, for whom He was performing the plagues. While Pharaoh made a wonderful visual aid, Hashem’s main audience was undoubtedly Am Yisrael. Here, G-d specifies that He wanted Am Yisrael to refer to the example set by Pharaoh and see where his brazenness got him. They should look the truth in the face, and unlike Pharaoh, allow that truth to govern their lives.
But of course, G-d would always grant the B’nei Yisrael the same free choice He granted Pharaoh and it is therefore for the B’nei Yisrael to determine if they want to follow Pharaoh’s lead or, rather, lead lives governed by Yiras Shamayim. If they would choose the former, they could only anticipate a similar fate to Pharaoh’s. Indeed, when Hashem described to Moshe the ramifications of Makkas Bechoros, He presented the B’nei Yisrael that option—to ignore His will and see what happens. Of course, if the B’nei Yisrael would choose the latter, Hashem would show them the way there—how to observe and perform His will. He unlocks this path to them with His Mitzvos, the first of which are presented here, beginning from Parshas HaChodesh. Parshas Bo, the revelation of Hashem’s focus on educating Klal Yisrael would be incomplete with Parshas HaChodesh. Indeed, the Mitzvos conveyed to the people is the entire Tachlis, the entire purpose, of this long education process! They are the explicit Ratzon Hashem which Hashem was teaching them to follow through the Makkos!
In the end, Hashem revealed that is it only the will of G-d that marks the difference between the fate of Pharaoh and that of the B’nei Yisrael. It is the choice to observe the will of G-d that justifies the B’nei Yisrael’s protection and destiny for redemption. The B’nei Yisrael learned these lessons and let them govern their lives then, but as Hashem had spoken to Moshe, the lessons are no less for “your son and the son of your son.” Indeed, they will no less be the source of our redemption to come.
May we all be Zocheh internalize the lessons of Hashem’s wonders before the B’nei Yisrael, recognize the truth so that it may govern our ways, submit ourselves to the will of G-d, pass it generations forward, and we should merit to see His wonders again with the coming of the final Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Shemos 12
- 6:10, 7:26, 9:1
- See Rashi to 9:24
- Shemos 10:1-2
- To 10:1