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Torah Comment – Parashat Bo

In Parashat “Bo”(Go) Moses and Aaron continue to plead with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free. Because Pharoah refuses, God is is co-erced into raining down the last plagues onto the Egyptians: the plague of locusts, darkness, and finally, the death of their firstborn. At midnight on the night of the last plague, Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and proclaims that each year on the evening of the 14th day of the first month a festival lasting seven days – called Pesach – will be celebrated in order to recall the Israelites liberation from Egypt. (In this year Erev Pessach falls on 03 April.)

“Hold out your arm toward the sky that there may be darkness upon the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be touched” (Ex 10:21). There has been much speculation about whether all 10 plagues brought upon Egypt were really all that necessary. Were it not for the stubbornness of Pharaoh, it seems likely that the average Egyptian would have had enough by the third or fourth plague. They would have asked for mercy, and began petitioning their ruler to take steps to end their suffering. But, at the time, Egypt was far from being a representative democracy and there is a good chance that their demonstrations to Pharoah would have little chance of changing Pharaoh’s heart. The question remains, though, why did God make all Egyptians suffer? If we look at the plagues from a different angle, we find that each of them had an individual purpose in raising the awareness of the “Egyptians on the street” to the plight of the Israelites. The plague of darkness, for instance, affected not only the sight of those afflicted, but it was ’a darkness that can be touched’. In other words, it had a tangible, measureable impact on the Egyptians. It prevented them from moving forward in any way.

In contrast, “all the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwelling” (Ex. 10:23). So, while the Egyptians were beginning to understand what oppression felt like, the Israelites were getting a taste of freedom. Like in Nazi Germany, it was not only the upper echelons in the army who caused the suffering, nor was it Pharaoh in Egypt alone who was responsible; it was also the bystanders – the average citizens – who let things happen. There is a very important message in the Exodus narration. The freedom our forefathers once achieved now depends on us. If we remain silent when we see injustice, and do nothing about it, we are gambeling with our own freedom, and there is a good chance that we are no better than the average Egyptian in Mitzraim. Tikkun Olam, to bring brightness into the dark, and creating a world where every human can experience freedom, always begins with naming the suffering, and to take action against it.

-Rabbi Adrian M Schell [Source: Alan Cook, 2006]

Parashat Bo Exodus 10.1-13:16  (Reading 12.43 – 13.16 Plaut p.414; Hertz p.259)

Haftarah Jeremiah 46:13-28 (Plaut p.427; Hertz p.263)