Askmoses-A Jews Resource
What is the relationship between the Torah and Mysticism?
Browse our archives

The Scholar is ready to answer your question. Click the button below to chat now.


Scholar Online:

Type in your question here:

Click the button below to either CHAT LIVE with an AskMoses Scholar now - or - leave a message if no Scholar is currently online.

CHAT or LEAVE A MESSAGE

Parshah Overview: Bo

by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky

  

Library » Torah » Reading of the Torah | Subscribe | What is RSS?


PRINT EMAIL COMMENT

Parashat Bo contains the narrative of the final three plagues, culminating in the dramatic release of the Jewish people from their oppressive exile and the first leg of their momentous journey into the desert. In this parashah, we witness the mighty Egyptian empire brought to its knees, its idols crushed, and its arrogant Pharaoh reduced to begging for his life. It also includes the origin and details of the observances meant to commemorate the Exodus: the Passover sacrifice and holiday and the consecration of the firstborn.

As such, parashat Bo is the parashah of the Exodus—not just the background, buildup, or aftermath of the Exodus, but the Exodus itself. Even before the actual signal to leave is given, we feel the imminence of redemption: Pharaoh’s courtiers are urging him to stop his senseless refusal to let the people go and the people are collecting their long-overdue payment for their work from the Egyptian populace and preparing to leave.

It seems strange, then, that the parashah is named Bo (“Come”), after God’s instruction to Moses to “come to Pharaoh.” The fact that Moses must come to Pharaoh indicates that Pharaoh has the upper hand, that he is the dominant authority.

Pharaoh's courtiers are urging him to stop his senseless refusal to let the people go and the people are collecting their long-overdue payment for their work from the Egyptian populace and preparing to leave
Furthermore, why are the ten plagues spread over two parashiot? It would seem more logical that the preceding parashah be devoted entirely to the theme of crushing the power of Egypt through the plagues, while this parashah with the preparations and details of the Exodus per se.

The Zohar notes1 that God did not tell Moses to “go to Pharaoh” but to “come to Pharaoh,” meaning “come with Me to Pharaoh.” This was because beginning with the eighth plague, God set out to break Pharaoh himself, to destroy his power from its core.

In order to do so, it was necessary to confront Pharaoh in his power seat, the setting from which he drew and commanded his ominous influence. This meant not only going to Pharaoh’s throne room (where Moses had been before), but also meeting him spiritually in the depth of his evil. When God showed Moses the noxious spiritual fount of Pharaoh’s evil power, Moses was afraid to approach it. God therefore reassured him that He would accompany him and help him overcome Pharaoh.

Thus, the underlying thought behind the words “come to Pharaoh” is the confrontation with Pharaoh’s essence. It is here that he, and all the evil he represents, can be decisively broken. Breaking Pharaoh’s power was the essential prerequisite for the Exodus; indeed, it was the essence of the Exodus. Egypt, with all its opulent wealth and imposing, awesome edifices, was the very embodiment of materialism—even its religion, its gods, and its distorted vision of the afterlife were materialistic. The Exodus was the release from this oppressive and constricting philosophy and lifestyle in order to live a life dedicated to God’s transcendent reality. In order to be free, the chain had to be broken; Pharaoh had to be crushed—in the very height and seat of his power.

Footnotes

  • 1. 2:34a.

ADD A COMMENT

Please email me when new comments are posted (you must be  logged in).

RELATED CATEGORIES

Torah » The Bible » Five Books of Moses
Shabbat » Reading of the Torah » Torah Reading

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Zohar
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.