Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Bo


Hachodesh hazeh lachem Rosh Chodoshim (12:2)

Our verse contains the first mitzvah which was given to the Jewish people as a collective nation. When read literally, it presents the mitzvos of sanctifying the new moon and making Nissan the first month of the Jewish year. However, the Seforno understands that also included in this first mitzvah was the most precious commodity of all: time, and the freedom to do with it whatever one desires. The ability to spend one’s time freely is itself freedom, and control over one’s time is a necessary prerequisite to the rest of the 613 commandments.

Rav Avrohom Yaakov Pam symbolically suggests that the first mitzvah is not just for the Sanhedrin to sanctify the new month, but for every individual Jew to sanctify every moment of his day. Just as people devote tremendous amounts of time and energy to seeking out the best investments for their money, so too should we focus on how to achieve the maximum return with the precious time that we are granted and how to wisely “invest” it in our futures. The Gemora in Chagigah (4a) defines a shoteh (crazy person who is exempt from performing mitzvos) as a person who throws away what he is given. If so, Rav Pam suggests that anybody who adopts the American hobby of “killing time” is legally crazy.

Rav Uri Weissblum derives another insight into the importance of valuing our time from a comment of Rashi later in the parsha. Rashi (12:17) suggests that just as the Torah commands us to guard our matzo to prevent it from becoming chometz, so too must we do mitzvos with alacrity so that they don’t turn into “chometz.” Rav Weissblum questions the comparison, as a person who takes too long baking his matzos and eats them after allowing them to turn into chometz is liable to the penalty of kares (spiritual excision). On the other hand, a person who delays the performance of a positive commandment, while not commendable, is certainly not punished with kares, especially since it can be performed at a later opportunity. If so, how can Rashi equate the two cases?

Rav Weissblum suggests that in comparing the two laws, Rashi is teaching us that the only person truly considered alive is one who is connected to Hashem. Even a single moment during which a person neglects the opportunity to cleave to Hashem by performing one of His mitzvos is considered voluntary spiritual excision, as every moment of life which isn’t appreciated and used properly is a form of self-induced spiritual death.

V’achaltem oso b’chipazon Pesach hu l’Hashem (12:11)

Most of the laws pertaining to the Passover sacrifice which the Jews brought in Egypt also apply to the Korban Pesach which was brought in the Temple by future generations. One exception is that the initial sacrifice had to be eaten hastily, a requirement which was unique only to the first Passover. Why were the Jews in Egypt subject to this requirement, and why wasn’t its rationale applicable to future generations as well?

Rav Tzaddok HaKohen explains (Tzidkos HaTzaddik 1) that whenever a person wants to begin a new spiritual undertaking, it must be done speedily. Because a person is naturally drawn after his habits, he will be unable to uproot himself from his instinctual attachment to worldly pleasures unless he swiftly seizes his moment of inspiration and decisively acts upon it. Once he has successfully done so and finds himself firmly on the new path he has selected for himself, he may then continue in slow, small increments until he reaches his ultimate target.

When the Jewish people were at the 49th level of impurity in Egypt, on the night that they were to be transformed from Pharaoh’s slaves into Hashem’s servants, they were required to consume the Passover sacrifice with great alacrity in order to quickly and effectively uproot the powerful impure forces from within themselves. Once they were redeemed and accepted the Torah, which bound them to their new mission as Hashem’s chosen people, they were able to continue their growth in a more gradual manner, as symbolized by the lack of a requirement to consume the Korban Pesach in the future in haste.

Zachor es hayom hazeh asher y’tzasem mi’Mitzrayim (13:3)

During his travels, Rav Yisroel Salanter once entered an inn at which he had stayed several times previously. Rav Yisroel noticed that the innkeeper had significantly deteriorated in his level of religious observance since his most recent visit. The innkeeper explained that the change was due to an atheist who had recently lodged there.

The guest spent several days sharing his philosophy about the lack of a Divine system of reward and punishment. Finally, to prove his case, he took out a sandwich filled with non-kosher meat. He announced that if he’s wrong, he should choke on the sandwich and die an agonizing death. The atheist proceeded to consume the entire sandwich with no apparent consequences. Ever since, the innkeeper’s religious belief and observance had slowly weakened.

Rav Yisroel didn’t respond to the story. He chose to wait for the right opportunity, which wasn’t long in coming. Later that day, the innkeeper’s young daughter returned home from school. She was glowing and excited about receiving her diploma, with especially good marks in the areas of singing and mathematics. Rav Yisroel asked her to sing for him so that he could judge her talents for himself, but she grew bashful and refused. He went to inform the innkeeper that his brazen daughter refused to sing for their respected guest.

The innkeeper summoned his daughter and demanded an explanation. She told him that the entire purpose of her diploma was to prove her talent once and for all. She argued that it was in fact their guest who was being unreasonable in demanding that she perform according to his whims just because he refused to believe her established record.

Hearing this, Rav Yisroel told the innkeeper that two of the great early commentators – the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 21) and Ramban (Shemos 13:16) – explain that the reason the Torah contains so many mitzvos as a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt is that it was in Egypt that Hashem proved His power and providence through the numerous miracles he performed for the Jewish people once and for all.

Rav Yisroel concluded by pointing out that just as the innkeeper’s daughter rightfully refused to lower herself and perform on demand for whomever may doubt her diploma, so too Hashem already established Himself for all time through the events of the Exodus and has no further need to prove Himself to every doubter who comes along throughout the generations.

Now that we understand the significance of the events which are detailed in these Torah portions, we can appreciate why the Chiddushei HaRim suggests that they be analyzed as comprehensively as yeshiva students study a page of the Gemora with its commentaries. The Chofetz Chaim, wanting to make the events recorded in these portions come alive, actually pictured them occurring in front of his very eyes. These images were so realistic that as he reviewed our portion, which contains the final three of the ten plagues, he literally laughed out loud as he envisioned the suffering being meted out to Pharaoh and the Egyptians in the middle of his study.

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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Moshe and Aharon rebuked Pharaoh in the name of Hashem (10:3), “How much longer will you refuse to be humbled by Me and send out My people to serve Me?” What complaint could be lodged against Pharaoh for refusing to be humbled by the recent plagues when Hashem Himself had hardened his heart so that he couldn’t be affected by them? (Mishmeres Ariel)

2)     During the plague of darkness, a humbled Pharaoh called to Moshe (10:24) and offered to allow the Jews to travel to the desert to bring offerings to Hashem. As Rashi writes (10:22) that during the final 3 days of the plague, the darkness was so thick that the Egyptians were unable to move, how was Pharaoh able to call Moshe during the darkness? (Moshav Z’keinim, Mahari Bruna)

3)     The Zohar HaKadosh teaches (Vol. 2 38a) that on the night of the Exodus, a tremendous light shone which was as bright as the day. If it never became dark and the day of 14 Nissan never ended, how were they able to fulfill the requirement (12:8) of eating the Pesach-offering on the night of 15 Nissan? (Mirkeves HaMishneh Mechilta 13:6 and 18:7)

4)     Does a blind person who possesses chometz during Pesach violate the Torah prohibition (13:7) that chometz shall not be seen in your possession on Pesach? (Rosh Pesachim 1:9, Kesef Mishneh Hilchos Chometz U’Matzah 1:3, Minchas Chinuch 20:1, Mas’as HaMelech)

  © 2011 by Oizer Alport.