The Torah Portion of Bo
Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l
There are three plagues in the Torah Portion of Bo
"Bo" (Bait-Aleph) has the gematria of three, a hint that there are three plagues in this Torah Portion. (according to Ba'al Haturim)
"Come to Pharoah" (Shemot 10:1)
When Hashem said to Moshe to come to the house of Pharoah, He said to come (in Hebrew: "Bo") to Pharaoh, and when He told him to go to the water He said to go (in Hebrew: "Lech") to Pharoah. (according to Ba'al Haturim)
"Come to Pharoah". (Shemot 10:1)
A small child walking with his father sees a dog and becomes frightened. His father says to him, come with me, give me your hand and don't be afraid. Similarly, Hashem said to Moshe, "Come to Pharaoh", come with me and don't be afraid of the sorcery and the lions.
"For I have hardened his heart". (Shemot 10:1)
The Midrash says that the root of the word "hardened" ("Kaved") is similar to "liver" ("Kaved"). In the case of liver, the more it is cooked, the harder it gets and it doesn't absorb anything. Similarly, in the case of Pharoah, the more he is struck with plagues, the more he hardens himself and doesn't want to hear what is said to him.
"That I might show these My signs in the midst of them". (Shemot 10:1)
There are two signs which are a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt: 1) Shabbat is referred to as a "sign forever", and 2) Tefillin are referred to as a "sign on your hand". This is what was meant by saying "That I might show these My signs in the midst of them"'. That is to say, because of the Exodus from Egypt we will have these two signs (of Shabbat and Tefillin).
"That one shall not be able to see the earth". (Shemot 10:5)
Rashi says that one who sees shall not be able to see. There are those that explain that locusts do not see, and the Sages say that someone who is blind eats more than he needs because his eyes don't help him to feel satiated, and therefore the locusts cause great damage to the produce. (according to the Kli Yakar)
"Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt for (or, with) the locusts". (Shemot 10:12)
The Ohr HaChaim says that it's possible that Moshe attached a locust to his staff and stretched it out like that over the land of Egypt.
8 Kinds of Locusts
There are 8 kinds of locusts and in Hebrew these are called: arbeh, selam, chargol, chagav, gazam, yelek, chasil, and tz'latzal.
"And rested in all the borders of Egypt". (Shemot 10:14)
The Baal Haturim says the phrase "and rested" appears twice in the Torah: 1) "And He rested on the seventh day" (Shemot 20:11) and 2) "And rested in all the borders of Egypt" (Shemot 10:14). This teaches that the locusts rested on Shabbat.
"And he went out from Pharoah, and he entreated Hashem". (Shemot 10:18)
The Ramban writes in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel, that from the time of the prayer of Moshe Rabbeinu until now, there has not been a plague of locusts that causes damage in all of Egypt. And if locusts fall in the land of Israel and come to enter the border of Egypt, they don't eat from all the crops of the land (of Egypt) until today. And it is said, that this is something already known to everyone, and on this it is said (in Tehillim 105:2): "speak of all His wonders".
"...and afterwards there will not be any like it." (Shemot 10:14)
Rashi writes that the plague of locusts which occurred in the days of Yoel, of which it is said "there has never been anything like it" (Yoel 2:2), consisted of many different kinds of locusts, for there were together arbeh, yelek, chasil, and gazam. But the plague in the days of Moshe was only of one species, and something like that never was and never will be again. And the Ramban raises a question about this, for behold the Tehillim describes the plagues and it is written there (in Tehillim 78:46), "and He gave the chasil their crops and their efforts to the arbeh", and it is written (in Tehillim 105:34): "He spoke and brought arbeh and yelek without number". And the Mizrachi ztz"l explains the language of Rashi, that a plague of one kind like it, there never was. His interpretation is that in the plague in the days of Moshe, regarding the particular species of locust referred to as arbeh, something like that plague never happened before and never will happen again, and therefore we find that the plague in the days of Yoel was greater from the perspective that there were more kinds of locusts, for there were arbeh, yelek, chasil, and gazam, but in the plague in the days of Moshe there were only arbeh, yelek, and chasil. And the plague in the days of Moshe was greater than the plague in the days of Yoel because of the quantity of the specific kind of locust referred to as arbeh, for the arbeh in the days of Moshe was greater than the arbeh in the days of Yoel. But the Rashi text that the Mizrachi based his interpretation on has no "Vuv" on the word "Comohu" (in English: "similar to it"), whereas the Ramban's version of the Rashi text, like our version which we have today, does have "V'comohu" (in English: "and similar to it"), with a "Vuv" and this may account for the differing interpretations of the Ramban and the Mizrachi.
"...V'acharav Lo Yihyeh Cain." (In English: "...and afterwards there will not be any like it.") (Shemot 10:14)
The word "V'acharav" (in English: "and afterwards"), has the same Gematria (numerical values of the letters) as "V'afilu Bimai Yoel" (which means "and even in the days of Yoel"). And the words 'Lo Yihyeh Kain" (in English: "there will not be any like it") has the same Gematria (numerical values of the letters) as "Zehu Min Achad" (in English: "This is one kind"). (from Rav Ch. Putiel)
"They did not see one another nor did anyone rise from his place". (Shemot 10:23).
The greatest darkness is when one does not want to be concerned about another person. (from the Chidushi Harim)
"And also our cattle shall go with us". (Shemot 10:26)
The intention of this is that the animals will go of their own accord and with the desire that they will be offered as sacrifices. This is similar to what is written regarding Eliyahu on Mount Carmel, in which the bull which he offered ran with joy. (from Malbim)
"For thereof must we take to serve Hashem" (Shemot 10:26)
There are those that explain that also from Pharoah it is possible to learn something about how to serve Hashem. Even after he received so many plagues he still stood in his rebellion. Similarly, in the case of serving Hashem, even if occasionally there are difficulties or failures Chas V'shalom, we need to strengthen ourselves with more capacity and strength to serve Hashem.
"And we don't know (with) what we will serve Hashem until we come there". (Shemot 10:26)
In this world it is not possible to know if we did the Mitzvot and served Hashem appropriately, until we come to the Next World (Olam Haba) to give a judgment and accounting, and this is the explanation of "until we come there", that is to say, to the Next World. (from Chidushei Harim)
The Rav asked his students: in what ways was Pharaoh agreeing with Moshe and what not?
The students answered: In the beginning he didn't want to agree at all. Afterwards he agreed that they should offer sacrifices in the land of Egypt, and after that he agreed that they would go out of Egypt to sacrifice but only a short distance and not far away. Afterwards he agreed only to the adult men leaving, and after that he agreed that everyone would leave except for the animals. Finally in the end he agreed on everything, and also that they would take animals from him as well.
"Speak please in the ears of the people". (Shemot 11:2)
Why is it written "please" (in Hebrew: "Na") which is a language of request? This was so that the righteous one, Avraham, should not say that the promise "And they shall serve them and they shall afflict them" (Braisheet 15:13), was fulfilled for them by Hashem, but "... afterwards shall they come out with great possessions" (ibid), was not fullfilled for them by Hashem. (Rashi) And also there are those that say that since they were being commanded to request silver and gold, the act would be tainted by impure motives (the evil inclination) , even if it were being done for their own benefit. Thus Moshe said "please", a language of request; that is to say, I request from you to overcome the evil inclination.
"And let them ask every man of his fellow". (Shemot 11:2)
On one level, "his fellow" simply refers to the Egyptians, but another explanation is that they every man should ask of his fellow Jew. The strategy behind this was as follows: if the rich Jews would give to the poor ones, then the Egyptians would also give silver and gold to them, because they would understand that a requirement of the Jewish festival was that everyone would need expensive clothing. And the Gr"a explains that first of all the Jewish people needed to do kindness with each other, and in this way Hashem would cause the Jews to find favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, who would then give silver and gold to them.
"And let them ask every man of his fellow". (Shemot 11:2)
The book Toldot Adam explains the verses "And let them ask every man of his fellow...And Hashem gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians" (Shemot 11:2-3) in a similar way. If the people of Israel act in a kind way with each other and help each other at a time of need, then Hashem will grant Israel favor in the eyes of the nations.
"Also the man Moshe was very great". (Shemot 11:3)
It would only be natural that the Egyptians should hate Moshe because he brought upon them all the plagues, but nonetheless they honored him greatly.
"Also the man Moshe was very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of Pharoah's servants, and in the eyes of the people". (Shemot 11:3)
It is known that to become well-known as a very great man in the eyes of the common people there are two possible routes: 1) One way is when the great people of the nation recognize his greatness because even though superficially he is similar to everyone else, they recognize his true righteousness, and they publicize his name also among the common people. 2) Another way is when the man does strange acts so that the common people who don't understand much think that he is a holy man, say that he is supernatural, and make up fictitious, wondrous stories about him until his name becomes publicized among the masses. The great extent of the publicity also affects the great, wise people of the nation so that a doubt enters their hearts regarding him and they think that probably it was not for nothing that his name became famous among the masses. Therefore they will also honor him. This second mechanism is by no means a proof that a man who is publicly known as a great man is truly a great man in reality. And this is why the verse emphasized "Also the man Moshe was very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of Pharoah's servants, and in the eyes of the people." (Shemot 11:3) In the beginning his name became publicized among the great, wise people of the nation who were the servants of Pharoah, and afterwards his name was publicized by them among the common people. This shows that Moshe was truly great. (according to Meshech Chachma)
"To multiply My wonders in the land of Egypt". (Shemot 11:9)
In Hebrew this phrase reads: "R'vot Moftai B'eretz Mitzaim", and the initial letters of these four Hebrew words are Reish , Mem, Bait, Mem -- which spells Rambam. It is told that at the end of his life the Rambam was in Egypt, but in the other places that he lived he suffered from many persecutions.
Where does Rambam's name appear in the Talmud Bavli?
There is only one time in all of the Talmud Bavli that the name of the Rambam is mentioned in the Tosefot, on page 42 of Menachot: The words (at the bottom of the second side of the page) that begin "Tefillin" where he brings the explanation of R' Moshe ben Maimon (the Rambam) that Mezuzot don't need to be made with proper intention (L'shma). And there is a sign which is associated with that: "See Menachot 42". In Hebrew this phrase reads: "Re'ai Menachot Mem-Bait", and the initial letters of these four Hebrew words are Reish, Mem, Bait, Mem -- which spells Rambam.
"This month is for you the beginning of months, it is the first for you of the months of the year". (Shemot 12:2)
The Chatam Sofer says that Israel is required to count according to the numbering of the months of Israel and not according to the numbering of the months of the non-Jews, because the first month is Nisan and not as the non-Jews say that the first is January, as it is said, "It is the first for you". (according to the Chatam Sofer)
"It is the first for you". (Shemot 12:2)
The Sages say, the First will come, that is the Holy One Blessed Be He of Whom it is said "I am the First"; and He will take retribution against Eisav, of whom it is said "And the first one came out ruddy"; and He will build the first, that is the Temple of which it is said, "The throne of glory from the first"; for the sake of the first, that is Israel of whom it is said "The first for Zion are they"; in the first month, of which it is said "It is the first for you". (Shemot 12:2)
Why did the Passover offering need to be a male?
It has been explained that the reason the Passover offering needs to be specifically a male and not a female is because the lamb was worshiped as an idol by the Egyptians. They had to sacrifice a male and not a female, so that the Egyptians couldn't claim that because they sacrificed a female their idol couldn't resist them, but if they had sacrificed a male the idol would have resisted them. Therefore the Passover offering also needed to be without any blemishes, so that they couldn't say that because it was weak it consented to be sacrificed by them.
"And they shall slaughter it, all the assembly of the congregation of Israel". (Shemot 12:6)
The Aramaic translation by Yonatan Ben Uziel in the Torah Portion Yitro on the verse "And I carried you on the wings of eagles" (Shemot 19:4), says that a cloud came and brought all of the children of Israel to Mount Moriah and they sacrificed the Passover offering there and then returned to Egypt.
The Rav asked his students: how is it possible that Moshe entered the Land of Israel?
And he told them the answer: according to the words of Yonatan Ben Uziel, all of Israel came in a cloud from Egypt to Mount Moriah to do the Passover offering, and certainly Moshe was also with them.
"And they shall put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel". (Shemot 12:7)
And later on it is written that Moshe told Israel to smear the blood first on the lintel and afterwards on the two side-posts. The reason for this is that the Holy One Blessed Be He, because His great love for Israel, told them first to do it below on the two side-posts because that's easier, and afterwards on the lintel. But Moshe said the opposite, that we need to show love for Hashem, first on the lintel even though that's more difficult and afterwards on the two side-posts.
"And the blood shall be to you a sign upon the houses" (Shemot 12:13)
The Rashba in his questions and answers, part 4, section 187 writes that a non-Jewish priest asked him about the verse "Greater will be the glory of this last House from the first", here it calls the second House the last, and if so doesn't that mean there will not be a third Temple? And he answered him, in the Torah Portion of Shemot it says "And they will believe the voice of this last sign" (Shemot 4:8). And afterwards it is written, "And if they will also not believe in these two signs" (Shemot 4:9), and if so we see that the last is not always the last. Until here were the words of the Rashba. And it has been added on the verse written in this Torah Portion, "And the blood shall be to you a sign upon the houses" (Shemot 12:13), that the blood which was the third sign (in the Torah Portion of Shemot) even though the sign before it was called the last, will be a sign regarding the Temples.
"And you shall have it in keeping until the fourteenth day of this month, and all the congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at dusk." (Shemot 12:6)
Rashi says on Shemot (12:6) "for they circumcised themselves on that night". It is also written by the Ba'al Haturim on verse 13 that they circumcised themselves on the night of Passover. Also Rashi on a verse in Yehoshua (5:2) wrote that they circumcised themselves on the night of Passover. It has been asked, how is it permissible to circumcise at night? The explanation is that it is written in the Holy Zohar that during that night there was light such as during the season of Tammuz as it is said, "A night which like a day will give light". If so, then this night was daytime. [And we still need to clarify this, because circumcision needs to be done specifically during the daytime.]
How does the Passover offering symbolize unity and completeness?
The Passover offering symbolizes unity and completeness, for it needs to be eaten in a group in unison, and its roasting is precisely when it is whole. It is forbidden to break a bone in it because it needs to be whole. It needs to be roasted and not cooked, because cooking causes it to break apart and roasting only contracts it and it remains intact. The Holy One Blessed Be He wanted to hint to us that the first offering should be in unity and completeness, and in that manner, we will have success in everything. (according to Maharal)
"And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succot, about six hundred thousand". (Shemot 12:37)
What is the meaning of the language "about six"? The Da'at Zekainim says that also the Divine Presence (Shechina) returned with them from Egypt, as it is said, "In all their troubles He has sorrow".
"And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succot". (Shemot 12:37)
Israel had a miraculously quick jump between places in their journey (in Hebrew: K'fitzat Derech), two times: 1) from Goshen to Rameses, as Rashi wrote on the verse "And I carried you on wings of eagles" (Shemot 19:4), and 2) from Rameses to Succot which was a distance of 120 miles but they arrived there within a moment. (according to Rashi)
"Any alien shall not eat from it". (Shemot 12:43)
A non-Jew and an apostate are not given to eat from the Passover offering. And it has been asked, why do we say during Kol Nidrei that we are allowed to pray with the transgressors, and in the case of the Passover offering we don't participate with them? The answer is that on Yom Kippur the transgressors also come to fast, and we certainly need to join with them, but if they come to eat the broiled Passover offering it is not possible to join with them. (according to Pardes Yosef)
"And for frontlets (in Hebrew: Totafot) between your eyes". (Shemot 13:16)
Rashi says that "Tat" in the Coptic language denotes "two", and "Pat" in Africa denotes "two". It has been asked, isn't the Torah written in the Holy Tongue? So how is it found that the language of other nations is found in the Torah? The explanation is, that during the generation of the separation of the languages (at the time of the attempt to build the tower of Bavel) each nation inserted into its language some words from the Holy Tongue, because also the impure draws into itself some aspects of holiness in order for it to be able to exist. (from various Meforshim)
Why does the Midrash P'liah say that we don't eat the Passover offering except "with leavening"?
Midrash P'liah says that we don't eat the Passover offering except "with leavening" (in Hebrew: "B'Chametz"). And the explanation is that the letters of the Hebrew word "B'Chametz" (Beit, Chet, Mem, Tzadi) are the initial letters of the words "at night" (in Hebrew: "B'laila"), "midnight" (in Hebrew: "Chatzot"), "by subscription" (in Hebrew: "Minui"), and "roasted" (in Hebrew: "Tzli").
"...the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem." (Shemot 13:13)
A person came to Rav Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld ztz"l and said to him that the Sde Chemed says that there is no source for what people say that it is possible to redeem 84 fasts at a feast for a Redemption of a Firstborn Son (in Hebrew: "Pidyon Haben"). Rav Yosef Chaim answered, I have found for this a hint, in the words "...man among your sons you shall redeem" (Shemot 13:13) which in Hebrew is "Adam b'vanecha tifdeh". The letters of these Hebrew words are: Aleph, Dalet, Mem, Bait, Bait, Nun, Yud, Chaf, Tav, Pey, Dalet, Hey. In Hebrew, these letters spell the initial letters of: "If you have enjoyed an item of food at a Pidyon Haben it is as if you fasted 84 fasts". (In Hebrew: "Im Davar Ma'achal B'pidyon Ben Neheneta Y'hyeh K'ilu Ta'aniot Peh-Dalet (that is, 84) Hita'anita".
A page of Gemara is also worth 84 fasts
It is told that a person came to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztz"l when he was in the middle of learning and asked him to stop learning in order to attend a Pidyon Haben. He answered him that he was in the middle of learning. The person inviting him said, this is as important as 84 fasts. Rav Shlomo Zalman answered him, a page of Gemara (in Hebrew: "Daf") has the gematria of 84 (since the letters of "Daf" are "Dalet" with a value of 4 and "Peh" with a value of 80). If so, also a page of Gemara is as important as 84 fasts.
"And every firstborn of a donkey..." (Shemot 13:13)
It is said in the name of Rav Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld that two animals helped Israel to leave Egypt, the donkey who carried the burdens of Israel out of Egypt and the dog that didn't bark. Why to the dog do we only give an unkosher animal to eat, and to the donkey do we perform a Mitzvah of the firstling of a donkey (in Hebrew: "Peter Chamor") and we publicize it with great publicity? The reason is that the donkey gave a shoulder, that is, he struggled with a large burden of possessions, as it is said by the Sages, there wasn't a poor person in Israel who did not take a burden carried by 90 donkeys. We see that there is a great difference between a Mitzvah which is done by means of struggling and a Mitzvah which is done easily.
Why were the Egyptians punished by the plague of locusts?
Because they said to Jews to shepherd their (the Egyptians') flocks. And why the plague of darkness? 1) In order that the Jews would know where they were hiding their silver and gold, 2) so they wouldn't know that there were Jews in the congregation of Israel who were dying because they didn't want to leave Egypt, and 3) because they told the Jews to light lanterns for them to illuminate the road. And why the plague of the firstborn? Because the congregation of Israel are called firstborn, as it is written "My son, My firstborn, Israel", and Pharoah tortured Israel who are the firstborn of Hashem. In addition, the firstborn were worshiped as an idol by the Egyptians.
Why do we begin the observance of aspects of Passover a half a day earlier than the Festival, from mid-day of the day before Passover (Erev Pesach)?
This is not the case with any other Festival. Since the Holy One Blessed Be He hastened the end (of our exile in Egypt), we also hasten to begin the observance of Passover as a remembrance of the haste. This is referred to in the Yotzrot of Shabbat Hagadol (special prayers said on the Shabbat before Passover) in the section beginning "There is no measure": "And why is there eating of Chametz (leavening) for 6 hours? As a remembrance for the haste of the Divine Presence (Shechina) to remove the evil decrees."
Why do we emphasize specifically for the plague of the firstborn the word "plague"?
For the rest of the plagues we don't emphasize the word "plague", we just say "blood", "frogs", etc. The reason is that everyone understands that "blood", "frogs", etc., are things that are not good, but from the word "firstborn" by itself we don't understand that there is anything not good about that, so therefore we emphasize this by referring to it as the "plague of the firstborn".
The Ramban at the end of the Torah Portion Bo
The Ramban at the end of the Torah Portion Bo says: "From the great, publicized miracles a man acknowledges the hidden miracles, which are the basis of the entire Torah. A man does not have a portion in the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu, until he believes that all of our matters and circumstances are all miracles and that they are not controlled by forces of nature and the customs of the world, whether we are speaking of events affecting many people or events affecting individuals. Everything is a decree from above."
It is said about the Gr"a that when he was a small boy they told him to play with a seesaw. He answered that when playing with a seesaw, one person goes up and another goes down, and he doesn't want to be elevated if his friend will be lowered. And also, perhaps he would be elevated only because his friend is lowered, and he doesn't want to be elevated at the expense of his friend.
The Torah Portion Bo has 106 verses.The Haftorah is "Hadavar Asher Dibair Hashem" (Yirmiyahu 46)There are 9 positve commandments and 11 negative commandments in the Torah Portion Bo.
We say Borchi Nafshi.
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772