In the name of the parsha


Bo - In it together

In Parshas Bo, the initial words, "ויאמר ה אל־משה בא אל־פרעה" convey a profound message. The translation, "Go to Pharaoh," captures the essence of the directive, yet the deeper meaning of the word "בא" is significant. It actually implies a collective endeavor, signifying that Hashem is coming together with Moshe. This notion counters the idea of Moshe acting alone and highlights the divine presence and support accompanying him.

When Moshe subsequently approaches Pharaoh, as recorded in the subsequent pesukim, the verse states, "ויבא משה ואהרן אל־פרעה" (And Moshe and Aharon came to Pharaoh). These initial three verses offer valuable insights into the word "בא" and its implications for the entire Parsha.

As previously discussed, the term "come" denotes the involvement of others. In this portion of the Torah, we observe that Moshe was accompanied by his brother Aharon, and that God conveyed His intention to accompany Moshe. In essence, this illustrates the interdependence of individuals and the necessity for reliance upon God.

This parasha commences by recounting the continuation of the ten plagues that Hashem inflicted upon Egypt. The first plague mentioned in this parasha is the plague of locusts. The Egyptians, increasingly burdened by the plagues, implored Pharaoh to allow them to depart and worship their God. Consequently, Moshe and Aharon were summoned before Pharaoh, who inquired as to who would be participating in the prayer.

ויאמר משה בנערינו ובזקנינו נלך בבנינו ובבנותנו בצאננו ובבקרנו נלך כי חג־יהוה לנו - “And Moshe said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast to the Lord.”

The fundamental principle appeared to be that the desire was for everyone to attend. Togetherness is of great importance. Inclusivity was critical. When the Jewish people unite as one, they are capable of remarkable achievements. Moshe understood this. However, Pharaoh also recognized this and, therefore, did not permit it. In an attempt to enhance his own image, he attempted to persuade Moshe that it was sufficient for only a portion of the nation to depart:

לא כן לכו־נא הגברים ועבדו את־ה כי אתה אתם מבקשים - “Not so: go now you that are men, and serve the Lord; for that is what you desire.”

For Moshe, this was of course nonnegotiable. He would not permit Pharaoh to dictate his desires to him. Moshe was resolute in his demands. He would accept nothing less than letting the entirety of the people go. When Pharaoh refused to allow the Israelites to depart collectively, Moshe responded by invoking the next plague: locusts. Pharaoh implored Moshe to cease the plague, promising to grant him permission to pray to Hashem. Moshe complied, halting the locusts. However, Pharaoh's heart remained hardened, and he reneged on his promise, still refusing to allow the Jewish people to go out of Egypt to pray.

Subsequently, Hashem instructed Moshe to extend his hand toward the heavens, thereby invoking a profound darkness that enveloped the entirety of Egypt. This thick darkness persisted for a duration of three days, as depicted in the pasuk:

לא־ראו איש את־אחיו ולא־קמו איש מתחתיו שלשת ימים ולכל־בני ישראל היה אור במושבתם - “they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Yisra᾽el had light in their dwellings.” 

The portion of the plague described in the Torah, apparently the most severe or at least the most pivotal aspect, was the inability to see one another.  The inability to see each other, communicate, or truly be together is a dreadful experience. However, the Jewish people possessed light within their dwellings, which allowed them to be together and truly see one another.

Yet again, Pharaoh summoned Moshe and informed him that he may depart, but this time without any animals. As previously discussed, the central theme of this parsha is the necessity of unity amongst ourselves and with Hashem. Without animals to serve Hashem, there was no purpose in leaving Egypt, as Moshe conveyed to Pharaoh: גם־אתה תתן בידנו זבחים ועלת ועשינו לה אלהינו - “And Moshe said, Thou must give us also sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.” Pharaoh, however, was unwilling to make such concessions and thus declined to let them go.

That encounter would ultimately be the last meeting between Moshe and Pharaoh. The final plague, prior to the Jewish people's departure from Egypt, would definitively separate people from one another: the death of the firstborn. That terrible plague would constitute the final blow for the Egyptians. Appropriately for this parsha, the pasuk states that:

ומשה ואהרן עשו את־כל־המפתים האלה - “And Moshe and Aharon did all these wonders before Par῾o”

In collaboration, Moshe and Aharon were instrumental in bringing forth all the plagues from Hashem upon the Egyptians. While it is understood that the plagues originated from Hashem, the specific mention of Moshe and Aharon in the pasuk serves to emphasize the significance of collaborative efforts. Through their unity, they were able to access the power of Hashem and demonstrate their worthiness as Hashem's messengers in the liberation of the Jewish people.

With Pharaoh still refusing to let the Jewish people go, the pasuk moves on to tell us about the first commandment given. Rashi point out: 

ויאמר ה' אל משה ואל אהרן. בשביל שאהרן עשה וטרח במופתים כמשה, חלק לו כבוד זה במצוה ראשונה, שכללו עם משה בדבור: - “ Because Aaron had worked and toiled in performing the wonders just the same as Moses He paid him this honour at the first command by including him with Moses in the communication”

In collaboration, Aharon and Moshe accomplished awe-inspiring wonders and brought forth the plagues. Therefore, it was befitting that the inaugural commandment be imparted in a state of unity, with Moshe and Aharon together. The first commandment, bestowed by Hashem, is stated as, החודש הזה לכם - "This month shall be to you." Rashi comments: 

הראהו לבנה בחדושה ואמר לו כשהירח מתחדש יהיה לך ראש חדש - “He showed him the moon in the first stage of its renewal, and He said to him, “The time when the moon renews itself thus, shall be unto you the beginning of the month” ”

The mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh can only be accomplished through collaboration and cooperation among individuals. The celebration of the new month is contingent upon the testimony of witnesses who have observed the renewal of the moon. While it is ultimately a commandment from Hashem, the celebration can only occur when people collectively acknowledge the appropriate time. Two witnesses must appear before a court and provide their testimony. These witnesses collaborate with the court, who then makes the official declaration that allows for the celebration of the new month.

During the first Rosh Chodesh, Moshe and Aharon were instructed to jointly inform the Jewish people about the Paschal sacrifice. This sacrifice required the participation of every household, which is a unique requirement. Furthermore, the pasuk indicates that if a household was unable to consume an entire lamb, they were to share it with another family.

ואם־ימעט הבית מהיות משה ולקח הוא ושכנו הקרב אל־ביתו במכסת נפשת - “and if the household be too little for a lamb, let him and his neighbour next to his house take it according to the number of the souls;”

They were truly all in this together. Perhaps it is the togetherness itself that kept them going at this point. They were all keeping their sheep together.

והיה לכם למשמרת עד ארבעה עשר יום לחדש הזה ושחטו אתו כל קהל עדת־ישראל בין הערבים - “and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Yisra᾽el shall kill it towards evening.”

It is possible that the term משמרת (watch) in this verse is meant to convey the idea that Hashem watches over us when we are genuinely united as the entire congregation of Israel - כל קהל עדת־ישראל.

Following an elaborate description of the Paschal sacrifice, the Torah instructs the Jewish people to consume Matzos for a period of seven consecutive days. The designated punishment for the consumption of leavened bread (חמץ) is כרת. There remains some scholarly debate regarding the exact nature of this punishment; however, it is notable that the language employed in this parsha of unity and togetherness is ונכרתה הנפש ההוא מישראל - “that soul shall be cut off from Yisra᾽el.” Implicit in this statement is the Torah's intent to convey to us the gravity and severity of the punishment of being disconnected from one another. Consequently, it is imperative that we never allow ourselves to become isolated from each other. Rather, we must consistently strive to maintain and strengthen our connections with one another.

Subsequent to the aforementioned events transpiring, Hashem imparted additional commandments. The first one was:

 קדש־לי כל־בכור פטר כל־רחם בבני ישראל - “Sanctify to me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Yisra᾽el”

In this passage, Hashem reinforces the notion of a profound bond between Himself and the Jewish people. The phrase "קדש־לי" - "Sanctify to me", serves as a divine imperative, conveying the message that this connection is not merely symbolic but rather a tangible and enduring reality.

Rashi comments: 

לי הוא. לעצמי קניתי, ע"י שהכיתי בכורי מצרים: - “I have acquired him for Myself through My having smitten the first born of the Egyptians.”

Rashi is telling us that in this parsha, Hashem established an eternal bond and connection with the Jewish people. It was as if Hashem was conveying that through the trials and tribulations depicted in this narrative, an unbreakable connection was forged. From that moment on, they were and forever shall be inextricably linked.

The parasha appropriately concludes with the commandment regarding Tefillin. 

והיה לך לאות על־ידך ולזכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת ה בפיך כי ביד חזקה הוצאך ה ממצרים - “And it shall be for a sign to thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thy eyes, that the Lord’s Tora may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand did the Lord bring thee out of Miżrayim.”

Rashi comments: והיה לך לאות. יציאת מצרים תהיה לך לאות: - “ i. e. the Exodus from Egypt shall be to thee as a sign”. The harrowing experience endured by the Jewish people serves as an eternal reminder of our enduring bond with Hashem.

The final verse in the parsha cements this commandment:


והיה לאות על־ידכה ולטוטפת בין עיניך כי בחזק יד הוציאנו יהוה ממצרים - “And it shall be for a token upon thy hand, and for frontlets between thy eyes: for by strength of hand the Lord brought us forth out of Miżrayim.”

Rashi comments: שהרואה אותם קשור בין העינים, יזכר הנס וידבר בו: - “whoever sees them (the Tephillin) bound between the eyes will remember the miracle (so that they become a זכרון, a reminder) and will speak about it (so that they become a טטפת. something that causes one to speak about the miracle).” 

It is imperative that we consistently recognize the fact that we are never truly isolated and alone. We have each other and we have Hashem. 


Beshalach - Trust only in Hashem

The parasha initiates with the words ויהי בשלח פרעה - “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go”. It is noteworthy that after centuries of enslavement at the hands of the Egyptians, and after witnessing the Egyptians suffer through ten devastating plagues, it was still Pharaoh who compelled them to depart. The word בשלח almost bears a negative connotation, implying that the Jewish people had to be forcefully expelled from Egypt. It suggests a certain lack of faith in Hashem. Perhaps the years of enslavement had instilled this sentiment, despite the numerous miracles performed on their behalf. A reading of this parsha sheds light on the mindset of the Jewish people at this historical juncture and how they grappled to overcome that mindset despite the many miracles they would encounter on their journey out of Egypt and towards receiving the Torah.

In the very first pasuk of the parsha, we observe that Hashem has already taken into consideration this negative sentiment by instructing them to proceed on a circuitous route:

ויהי בשלח פרעה את־העם ולא־נחם אלהים דרך ארץ פלשתים כי קרוב הוא כי  אמר אלהים פן־ינחם העם בראתם מלחמה ושבו מצרימה - “And it came to pass, when Par῾o had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Pelishtim, although that was near; for God said, Lest the people repent when they see war, and they return to Miżrayim:”

Rashi explains:

פן ינחם. יחשבו מחשבה על שיצאו ויתנו לב לשוב: - “[The people] might change their minds. They might have second thoughts about going out, and set their hearts to return [to Egypt].”

The complexities of understanding why the Jewish people would have desired to return to Egypt, a land where they had endured enslavement, may be puzzling. However, there is evidence to suggest that such a possibility was a genuine concern. As will be elaborated upon, there were valid reasons for this anxiety. Furthermore, this may explain the necessity of Hashem's physical manifestation as a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud to guide the people. The act of divine intervention served to reassure the populace.

Astonishingly, at the earliest sign of adversity after departing from Egypt, the people precipitously implore Moshe to return. One would think that Hahsem had done enough to “prove Himself”, however, upon witnessing the Egyptians in pursuit, the people exclaim to Hashem and address Moshe, saying:


המבלי אין־קברים במצרים לקחתנו למות במדבר מה־זאת עשית לנו להוציאנו ממצרים - “Because there were no graves in Miżrayim, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? why hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us out of Miżrayim?”

הלא־זה הדבר אשר דברנו אליך במצרים לאמר חדל ממנו ונעבדה את־מצרים כי טוב לנו עבד את־מצרים ממתנו במדבר - “Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Miżrayim, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve Miżrayim? For it had been better for us to serve Miżrayim, than that we should die in the wilderness.”

The Jewish people were essentially telling Moshe “See! We told you so!” They didn't want to leave! The mindset of בשלח was still there. They failed to recognize Hashem's role in their liberation. They continued to perceive Pharaoh as the source of their control. Moshe tried to calm them and conveyed to them that Hashem was in charge - not Pharaoh: 

ויאמר משה אל־העם אל־תיראו התיצבו וראו את־ישועת יהוה אשר־יעשה לכם היום כי אשר ראיתם את־מצרים היום לא תספו לראתם עוד עד־עולם - “And Moshe said to the people, Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show you today: for as you have seen Miżrayim this day, you shall not see them again any more for ever.”

Perhaps we can understand this to mean that Moshe was telling them not to look at Egypt the same way any more!Their existence should not be perceived through the perspective of enslaved individuals. Instead, it should be examined from the vantage point of servants of Hashem. Moshe conveyed the message that they were not subject to Egyptian authority but were instead under the protection of Hashem, as expressed in the subsequent pasuk: ה ילחם לכם ואתם תחרשון - “The Lord shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” 

In what manner could the Jewish people extricate themselves from this frame of mind? It would indeed require a supernatural intervention. As soon as Moshe attempts to pacify the people, Hashem instructs Moshe: 

דבר אל־בני־ישראל ויסעו - “speak to the children of Yisra᾽el, that they go forward:” 

ואתה הרם את־מטך ונטה את־ידך על־הים ובקעהו ויבאו בני־ישראל בתוך הים ביבשה - “but lift up thy rod, and stretch out thy hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Yisra᾽el shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.”

Hashem was asking them to take a leap of faith. Confronted with the formidable Egyptian army approaching and the vast expanse of the sea before them, Hashem told them to trust in Him and just walk right through the sea. Subsequently, the miraculous parting of the sea occurred, and the Jewish people traversed the sea on dry land.  Possibly, this extraordinary event marked the beginning of their shedding the entrenched belief of בשלח פרעה, the notion that Pharaoh had initiated their departure from Egypt. Perhaps, it was then that the Jewish people finally began to comprehend that Hashem was the true orchestrator of their liberation. They bore witness to the awe-inspiring miracle of the sea parting and the subsequent collapse of the waters upon the Egyptians. This served as the ultimate sign that it was not בשלח פרעה, that it was not Pharaoh who compelled them to leave but rather Hashem, who through His omnipotent hand, led them out of Egypt. This is why the pasuk says:

וירא ישראל את־היד הגדלה אשר עשה ה במצרים וייראו העם את־יהוה ויאמינו בה ובמשה עבדו - “And Yisra᾽el saw that great work which the Lord did upon Miżrayim: and the people feared the Lord, and believed in the Lord, and in his servant Moshe.”

Now the Jewish people saw what Hashem had done while they were in Egypt. They finally came to that realization. It was only at this point, that they were ready to sing praise to Hashem as the pasuk says: אז ישיר־משה ובני ישראל  - “Then sang Moshe and the children of Yisra᾽el this song to the Lord''. It was only at that moment that they were prepared to express their gratitude and praise to Hashem for orchestrating their liberation. Their readiness to acknowledge Hashem's guidance and protection stemmed from their newfound understanding that Pharaoh should not have had to resort to force to free them. Had they possessed greater faith in Hashem from the outset and relinquished the mindset embodied in the phrase "בשלח פרעה," they would have been better prepared to embrace their liberation and sing Hashem's praises.

Following their journey across the sea, the people commenced their voyage through the wilderness. After enduring three days of arduous travel without encountering water, they arrived at a location known as Mara. This name was bestowed upon the place due to the excessive bitterness of its water. In response to this scarcity, the people expressed discontent to Moshe, conveying their desperate need for potable water. Hashem enacted another miraculous act by instructing Moshe to cast a stick into the water. This intervention miraculously transformed the bitter water, rendering it palatable for consumption. This repeated demonstration of Hashem's divine intervention served as a powerful reminder to the people, urging them to cultivate a mindset of unyielding trust in His benevolent guidance. They were to shed the lingering mentality of בשלח פרעה. Hashem subtly alludes to this imperative during His communication with them amidst this pivotal incident:

ויאמר אם־שמוע תשמע לקול  ה אלהיך והישר בעיניו תעשה והאזנת למצותיו ושמרת כל־חקיו כל־המחלה אשר־שמתי במצרים לא־אשים עליך כי אני ה רפאך - “and he said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon Miżrayim: for I am the Lord that heals thee.”

Hashem specifically mentioned Egypt in this context. Hashem was conveying to them that they should no longer be concerned about Egypt. Possibly, He was instructing them to focus solely on His teachings so that He may "heal" them from this mindset of בשלח פרעה.

As the Jewish people progressed on their arduous journey through the wilderness, they once again found cause for complaint. They had not yet been liberated from the mindset of בשלח פרעה. They were experiencing hunger, which may be a legitimate reason for complaint. However, the manner in which they complained revealed that they were not yet prepared to break free from their old mindset:

ויאמרו אלהם בני ישראל מי־יתן מותנו ביד־ה בארץ מצרים בשבתנו על־סיר הבשר באכלנו לחם לשבע כי־הוצאתם אתנו אל־המדבר הזה להמית את־כל־הקהל הזה ברעב - “and the children of Yisra᾽el said to them, Would we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Miżrayim, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Once again they invoked Egypt and reiterated their opinion that they would have been better off remaining there. They still felt the בשלח פרעה. Their belief persisted that they should have remained under Pharaoh's leadership, as they believed they would have been better off doing so. They still had a significant amount of progress to make in order to fully break free from this mindset. Consequently, Hashem communicated to Moshe that He would provide food, but the people would be required to venture out and gather it from the fields. Furthermore, they would have to collect twice the quantity on Friday to ensure they had sufficient food for the following day (Shabbos), during which they would be prohibited from gathering any food. In this manner, Hashem would observe whether or not they were ready to take the subsequent step in their belief in Hashem: למען אנסנו הילך בתורתי אם־לא - “that I may test them, whether they will follow my Tora, or no”.In order to be prepared to embrace the Torah, it was imperative that they demonstrated a  readiness to wholeheartedly accept Hashem. They had to relinquish the notion that human beings were in control of their destiny. It was imperative for them to comprehend that human beings may serve as messengers, yet their capacity extends no further. They would have to shed the attitude of בשלח פרעה. As Moshe and Aharon told the people when they relayed the message about the food from Hashem: ערב וידעתם כי ה הוציא אתכם מארץ מצרים - “At evening you shall know that the Lord has brought you out from the land of Miżrayim:” They could not have the attitude that a human being let them out of Egypt. It was Hashem. This had to be crystalized to them in order for them to be ready to continue in their journey of a nation. Moshe continued this message by telling them that when they complain to Moshe and Aharon  ונחנו מה לא־עלינו תלנתיכם כי על־יהוה - “and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord.” Hashem is the ultimate provider. Not Pharaoh. Not Moshe or Aharon. Hashem alone provides our needs. 

This experiment yielded mixed outcomes. A contingent of the individuals continued to disregard Moshe's guidance, provoking his ire. Moshe recognized the existence of a loftier objective that required attainment: the bestowal of the Torah and the eventual arrival in Eretz Yisroel. However, it was imperative to effect a transformation in the collective mindset. As their odyssey progressed, the individuals once again argued with Moshe. They engaged in contentious discourse, demanding water. Moshe, steadfast in his endeavors to impart the message that their supplications ought to be directed towards Hashem, conveyed the following: מה־תריבון עמדי מה־תנסון את־יהוה - “Why do you strive with me? why do you tempt the Lord?” The people answered: למה זה העליתנו ממצרים להמית אתי ואת־בני ואת־מקני בצמא - “Why is it that thou hast brought us up out of Miżrayim, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” It is possible that a gradual improvement was occurring. At the very least, they were not attributing their departure to Pharaoh's actions. Instead, they were acknowledging that Moshe had led them out. However, this acknowledgment was insufficient. They required an understanding that it was Hashem who had orchestrated the events. Furthermore, they needed to learn to place their trust in divine providence rather than relying solely on human agents. If reading this account seems repetitive to you, consider how Moshe must have felt! ויצעק משה אל־יהוה לאמר מה אעשה לעם הזה עוד מעט וסקלני - “And Moshe cried to the Lord, saying, What shall I do to this people? they are almost ready to stone me.” It must have been incredibly frustrating for Moshe. Hashem told Moshe that he would perform another miracle for the people. Moshe was instructed to take his staff, the same one he had wielded during the ten plagues in Egypt, and strike a rock in order to elicit a gush of water. The reaction of the people to this extraordinary event is not recorded. All we are told is the name they bestowed upon the city after these events had transpired: ויקרא שם המקום מסה ומריבה על־ריב  בני ישראל ועל נסתם את־ה לאמר היש ה בקרבנו אם־אין - “And he called the name of the place Massa and Meriva, because of the strife of the children of Yisra᾽el, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?” 

Perhaps the greatest test that the Jewish people faced in this parsha was what happened next: 

ויבא עמלק וילחם עם־ישראל ברפידם - “Then came ῾Amaleq, and fought with Yisra᾽el in Refidim.”

Amalek is the eternal foe of the Jewish nation. Now they have come to battle.

ויאמר משה אל־יהושע בחר־לנו אנשים וצא הלחם בעמלק מחר אנכי נצב על־ראש הגבעה ומטה האלהים בידי - “And Moshe said to Yehoshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with ῾Amaleq: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.”

Immediately Moshe told Yehoshua to draft an army to do battle. Moshe would, of course, do his part by going on top of the mountain to pray to Hashem. 

והיה כאשר ירים משה ידו וגבר ישראל וכאשר יניח ידו וגבר עמלק - “And it came to pass, when Moshe held up his hand, that Yisra᾽el prevailed: and when he let down his hand, ῾Amaleq prevailed.”

Rashi points us to the Mishna in Rosh Hashana that tells us:

״והיה כאשר ירים משה ידו וגבר ישראל וגו׳״, וכי ידיו של משה עושות מלחמה או שוברות מלחמה? אלא לומר לך: כל זמן שהיו ישראל מסתכלין כלפי מעלה ומשעבדין את לבם לאביהם שבשמים — היו מתגברים, ואם לאו — היו נופלים. - “Incidental to the discussion of the required intent when sounding the shofar, the mishna cites the verse: “And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed” (Exodus 17:11). It may be asked: Did the hands of Moses make war when he raised them or break war when he lowered them? Rather, the verse comes to tell you that as long as the Jewish people turned their eyes upward and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they prevailed, but if not, they fell.” 

This constitutes the culmination of the parsha. It encapsulates the totality of Moshe's teachings. It is imperative that we perpetually direct ourselves toward Hashem in times of need. Naturally, we must undertake the necessary actions to fulfill His will, but we must always bear in mind that the sole deliverer is Hashem. Ultimately, Yehoshua led the Jewish people to triumph. The parsha concludes with Moshe's teaching to us not to disregard the imparted lesson.

ויאמר כי־יד על־כס יה מלחמה ליהוה בעמלק מדר דר - “he said, Because the Lord has sworn by his throne that the Lord will have war with ῾Amaleq from generation to generation.”

From generation to generation, all through the years, Hashem will always be there for us to turn to.