Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 46:13-28 (Ashkenazi and Sefardi) | Yeshayahu 19:1-25 (Teimani)
[על-התורה] הפטרה: ירמיהו מו יג-כח (אשכנזים וספרדים) | ישעיהו יט א-כה (תימנים)
- The Eighth Plague: Locusts – ארבה
- The Ninth Plague: Darkness – חושך
- The Tenth Plague: Death of the Firstborns – מכת בכורות
- The Beginning of Months
- Instructions for the First Pesach
- The Institution of the Holiday of Pesach
- Bnei Yisrael Leave Egypt
- Laws of Korban Pesach
- Laws of Bechorot, Pesach, and Tefillin
- Haftarah Summary – הדבר אשר דבר ה’ אל ירמיהו הנביא
Parashat Bo continues with the plagues, including locusts (#8) and utter darkness (#9), concluding with the awful death of the firstborns (#10). Finally, Bnei Yisrael leave Egypt, having been freed from harsh enslavement, and we are given a number of laws, including many specifics of Pesach (Passover) observance.
Hashem’s communication to Moshe, with which our parsha begins, emphasizes the importance of the Egyptians’ recognition of Hashem’s sovereignty. Moshe is instructed:
בֹּא אֶל פַּרְעֹה כִּי אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת לִבּוֹ וְאֶת לֵב עֲבָדָיו לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה בְּקִרְבּוֹ: וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן בִּנְךָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם וְאֶת אֹתֹתַי אֲשֶׁר שַׂמְתִּי בָם וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי ה’:
Go to Paraoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your child and of your child’s child how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know that I am Hashem.Shemot 10:1-2
When Moshe approaches Paraoh, he then underscores the importance of humility before Hashem with the message, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go that they may worship Me.”
The Eighth Plague: Locusts – ארבה
Moshe then tells Paraoh that if he refuses, a plague of locusts will strike Egypt. This is the eighth plague, the first seven of which we read about in Parashat Vaera. The locusts, Moshe explain, will be so numerous they will cover the land, eating anything left behind by the hail (plague number seven).
At this point, Paraoh’s courtiers advise him to relent. Paraoh agrees, summoning Moshe and asking him who exactly would be going into the wilderness to worship their G-d. Moshe’s answer: “We will all go—young and old—we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds” (בִּנְעָרֵינוּ וּבִזְקֵנֵינוּ נֵלֵךְ בְּבָנֵינוּ וּבִבְנוֹתֵנוּ בְּצֹאנֵנוּ וּבִבְקָרֵנוּ נֵלֵךְ). This proves too much of a demand for Paraoh; he dismisses Moshe, and Moshe brings the plague of the locusts. It is every bit as terrible as he said it would be.
Paraoh summons Moshe once again, saying, “I stand guilty before your G-d Hashem and before you” (חָטָאתִי לַה’ אֱלֹקיכֶם וְלָכֶם). Paraoh asks Moshe to intercede on his behalf, which he does. Hashem causes a strong west wind1 that lifts the locusts off the land and deposits them into Yam Suf (the Sea of Reeds). However, Hashem hardens Paraoh’s heart once more and Paraoh does not free Bnei Yisrael.
The Ninth Plague: Darkness – חושך
As a result of Paraoh’s continued obstinacy, Hashem instructs Moshe to hold out his arm towards the sky and bring a special, absolute kind of darkness (חֹשֶׁךְ אֲפֵלָה) over Egypt. It is utterly dark in Egypt for three whole days, such that people could not see anything or move about—with the notable exception of Bnei Yisrael, who had light in their homes.
Paraoh then agrees that Bnei Yisrael may go worship Hashem, including everyone down to the young children, with the proviso that they leave their flocks behind. Moshe insists on bringing the livestock, and Paraoh’s heart hardens once more. He refuses to let Bnei Yisrael go. In fact, this time Paraoh tells Moshe never to appear before him again, lest he be put to death. Moshe concurs: “You have spoken rightly. I shall not see your face again!” (כֵּן דִּבַּרְתָּ לֹא אֹסִף עוֹד רְאוֹת פָּנֶיךָ).
The Tenth Plague: Death of the Firstborns – מכת בכורות
Hashem informs Moshe that He will cause one more plague to befall Egypt, after which Paraoh will not only permit Bnei Yisrael to leave, he will drive them out of Egypt with all that they have. Hashem also instructs Moshe to tell each man and woman to borrow gold and silver from their neighbors, which they are inclined to do, since Hashem disposes the Egyptians favorably. In addition, Moshe is a well-respected figure in Egypt.
Moshe then conveys Hashem’s message about the plague of the firstborn sons: all of Egypt’s firstborns, from Paraoh’s son to the son of the lowliest slave, including even firstborns of animals, will die that night. He departs from Paraoh in anger.
The Beginning of Months
While still in the land of Egypt, Hashem communicates a series of important laws to Moshe and Aharon. The first of these is:
הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה:
This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.Shemot 12:2
This is the first law given to Bnei Yisrael as a people, and Rashi on Bereshit 1:1, in his very first comment on the Torah, famously suggests that the Torah might well have started with this very commandment.2 (Rashi concludes that the narratives of Bereshit and Shemot thus far are necessary for establishing the promise of the Land to Bnei Yisrael.)
There is a dual significance to this commandment: it both introduces the concept of Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of each month, and establishes the month of Yetziyat Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt), a.k.a. Nisan, as the first month of the Jewish calendar—as Rashi says, “This shall be the beginning of the order of counting the months” (זֶה יִהְיֶה רֹאשׁ לְסֵדֶר מִנְיַן הֶחֳדָשִׁים).3 Throughout the Torah, what we now call Nisan is known as the first month, making what we call Tishrei, when we now mark Rosh Hashana, the seventh month. (The names of the months we use today date from after Galut Bavel, the first Babylonian exile. Later in the Parsha, the month is referred to as Chodesh ha-Aviv.)
Instructions for the First Pesach
Hashem tells Moshe to address the people (כָּל עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל)4 Each household (בֵּית אָבֹת) is to take an unblemished, yearling (year-old) male lamb or kid (שֶּׂה) on the tenth of the month (smaller households can consolidate; the idea is that there should be enough for each person to partake). The animal needs to be watched until the fourteenth of the month, when it will be slaughtered at twilight (bein ha-arbayim – בֵּין הָעַרְבָּיִם).5
Each household is to take of the blood of the animal and put it on the two doorposts of their home and on the lintel. A lintel is the crossbeam that goes over the opening of the door. In the image below the lintel is the part made of wood:
Slightly later (in Shemot 12:22), Moshe will specify that the blood is to be dipped in bundles of hyssop (אֲגֻדַּת אֵזוֹב) in order to be placed on the doorposts and lintels.
There are specific instructions regarding the Korban Pesach (Passover offering):
וְאָכְלוּ אֶת הַבָּשָׂר בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה צְלִי אֵשׁ וּמַצּוֹת עַל מְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻהוּ: אַל תֹּאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ נָא וּבָשֵׁל מְבֻשָּׁל בַּמָּיִם כִּי אִם צְלִי אֵשׁ רֹאשׁוֹ עַל כְּרָעָיו וְעַל קִרְבּוֹ. י וְלֹא תוֹתִירוּ מִמֶּנּוּ עַד בֹּקֶר וְהַנֹּתָר מִמֶּנּוּ עַד בֹּקֶר בָּאֵשׁ תִּשְׂרֹפוּ:
They shall eat the flesh that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire (tzli esh), with unleavened bread (matzot) and with bitter herbs (marorim).6 Do not eat any of it raw, or cooked in any way with water, but roasted—head, legs, and entrails—over the fire.7 You shall not leave any of it over until morning; if any of it is left until morning, you shall burn it.8Shemot 12:8-10
For this first Pesach, there are special additional instructions:
וְכָכָה תֹּאכְלוּ אֹתוֹ מָתְנֵיכֶם חֲגֻרִים נַעֲלֵיכֶם בְּרַגְלֵיכֶם וּמַקֶּלְכֶם בְּיֶדְכֶם וַאֲכַלְתֶּם אֹתוֹ בְּחִפָּזוֹן פֶּסַח הוּא לַה’
This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly: it is a Passover offering to Hashem.
The aforementioned blood on the doorposts and lintels will be an indicator that those houses should be passed over (u-pasachti – וּפָסַחְתִּי).
The Institution of the Holiday of Pesach
Next, Hashem instructs that this occasion be marked as a festival (chag) for all time:
וְהָיָה הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה לָכֶם לְזִכָּרוֹן וְחַגֹּתֶם אֹתוֹ חַג לַה’ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם חֻקַּת עוֹלָם תְּחָגֻּהוּ: שִׁבְעַת יָמִים מַצּוֹת תֹּאכֵלוּ אַךְ בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן תַּשְׁבִּיתוּ שְּׂאֹר מִבָּתֵּיכֶם כִּי כָּל אֹכֵל חָמֵץ וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל מִיּוֹם הָרִאשֹׁן עַד יוֹם הַשְּׁבִעִי: וּבַיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כָּל מְלָאכָה לֹא יֵעָשֶׂה בָהֶם אַךְ אֲשֶׁר יֵאָכֵל לְכָל נֶפֶשׁ הוּא לְבַדּוֹ יֵעָשֶׂה לָכֶם
This day shall be to you one of remembrance: you shall celebrate it as a festival to Hashem throughout the ages; you shall celebrate it as an institution for all time. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses,9 for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. You shall celebrate a sacred occasion on the first day, and a sacred occasion on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them; only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared for you.Shemot 12:14-15
From the 14th of Nisan at sundown until the 21st at sundown, no leaven (chametz) can be consumed and only matzah may be eaten.10Anyone who eats leaven during this period11 will be excised from the community of Israel ( וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מֵעֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל). This is the punishment known as karet, first mentioned in Bereshit 17:14 in connection with a male who refuses to be circumcised.12
Moshe goes over the plan with Bnei Yisrael, and then says:
וְהָיָה כִּי יֹאמְרוּ אֲלֵיכֶם בְּנֵיכֶם מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶם: וַאֲמַרְתֶּם זֶבַח פֶּסַח הוּא :לַה’ אֲשֶׁר פָּסַח עַל בָּתֵּי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמִצְרַיִם בְּנָגְפּוֹ אֶת מִצְרַיִם וְאֶת בָּתֵּינוּ הִצִּיל
And when your children ask you, “What do you mean by this rite?” you shall say, “It is the Passover sacrifice to Hashem, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when smiting the Egyptians, but saved our houses.”Shemot 12:25-26
Bnei Yisrael Leave Egypt
Bnei Yisrael do exactly as Moshe has instructed. In the middle of the night, Hashem inflicts the plague of the firstborns on Egypt, causing chaos. Paraoh, as foretold, urges Bnei Yisrael to leave Egypt with all their possessions. As a result of the haste, the people take their dough before it has had time to leaven, wrapping their kneading-bowls in their cloaks. They will later bake unleavened cakes. They also take with them the gold and silver they had borrowed, fulfilling the promise that Bnei Yisrael will leave Egypt with great wealth.
The people journey (וַיִּסְעוּ) from Rameses (רַעְמְסֵס) to Sukkot (סֻכֹּת)—both names of places)—numbering 600,000 men, not including non-combatants. They are accompanied by an erev rav—a “mixed multitude” (עֵרֶב רַב).13 We are also told that this occurs in the 430th year, to the very day, that Bnei Yisrael were in Egypt.14 Because it was a leil shimurim – לֵיל שִׁמֻּרִים, a night of vigil, that year, it remains a leil shimurim through the ages.
Laws of Korban Pesach
Hashem conveys to Moshe and Aharon that no “stranger” (בֶּן נֵכָר)15 may eat of the Korban Pesach16 (although circumcised slaves may, as well as the circumcised ger (גֵּר) – resident).17. In addition, it must be eaten within the precincts of a single household, cannot be taken outside,18 and none of its bones may be broken.19 In fact, no uncircumcised male may eat of it.20 Furthermore: “There shall be one law for the citizen and for the resident who dwells among you” (תּוֹרָה אַחַת יִהְיֶה לָאֶזְרָח וְלַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכְכֶם).
Laws of Bechorot, Pesach, and Tefillin
Another law given at this point in the text is, “Consecrate to Me every male first-born; human and beast” (קַדֶּשׁ לִי כָל בְּכוֹר פֶּטֶר כָּל רֶחֶם בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּאָדָם וּבַבְּהֵמָה).21
Moshe then goes over the laws of Passover once again.22 Some of these instructions take the form of instructing Bnei Yisrael that they are required to observe Passover once they are settled in the Land, which is presently “the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Chivites, and the Yebusites” (אֶרֶץ הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַחִתִּי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי). Here Moshe first refers to Eretz Yisrael as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ). He also instructs that the following be said, familiar from the Passover Haggadah (along with much other language found in this and the previous parsha):
וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יְהוָה לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם
And you shall explain to your child on that day, “It is because of what Hashem did for me when I went free from Egypt.”23Shemot 13:8
Next, the laws of tefillin are given:24
And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead —in order that the Teaching of Hashem may be in your mouth—that with a mighty hand Hashem freed you from Egypt…
And so it shall be as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead that with a mighty hand יהוה freed us from Egypt.Shemot 13:9, 16
A final set of laws relates again to redeeming firstborns, specifically of a donkey: “Every firstling donkey you shall redeem with a sheep; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck” (וְכָל פֶּטֶר חֲמֹר תִּפְדֶּה בְשֶׂה וְאִם לֹא תִפְדֶּה וַעֲרַפְתּוֹ).25
Haftarah Summary – הדבר אשר דבר ה’ אל ירמיהו הנביא
This is the second in a series of two prophecies of Yirmiyahu (in perek 46) which foretell the downfall of Egypt in Yirmiyahu’s time. In the struggle between Egypt and Babylonia, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar will bring punishment to Egypt. Thematically, this prophecy is also linked specifically to the plagues that occur in our parsha, because once again Israel will be conspicuously spared among the nations subject to desolation.
Image: Marc Chagall, Les Israélites, pendant que passe sur l’Egypte l’Ange de la mort, mangent l’agneau de Pâques, 1934.
- See Rashi on Shemot 10:10/
- In the Chinuch, it is commandment 4, only three mitzvot having been given in Sefer Bereshit: (1) “be fruitful and multiply,” (2) circumcision, and (3) the prohibition of eating gid ha-nasheh, the sciatic nerve. In Rambam’s count, it is Aseh 163.
- Rashi on Shemot 12:2 is a fascinating comment; he notes the midrash (from the Mechilta 12:2) that reads it as referring to Rosh Chodesh but then states that the peshat (contextual meaning) is that Nisan is the first in the count of months. Ibn Ezra on Shemot 12:2 is a blockbuster comment as well, explaining different calendrication systems (there’s astrology, of course) and how they affected Bnei Yisrael.
- Ibn Ezra on Shemot 12:3 says this is everyone who has attained majority, the age at which they are required to fulfill mitzvot.
- This is Mitzvah 5 in Sefer ha-Chinuch, Aseh 55 in Rambam.
- In the Chinuch, this is Mitzvah 6; in Rambam, Aseh 56.
- In the Chinuch, this is Mitzvah 7; in Rambam, Lo Taaseh 125.
- In the Chinuch, this is Mitzvah 8; in Rambam, Lo Taaseh 117.
- In the Chinuch, this is Mitzvah 9; in Rambam, Aseh 156.
- Eating matzah is only mandatory on the first night, as explained in the Mechilta on 12:8 (Parashat Bo). The Chinuch also counts the mitzvah of eating matzah on the first night here (Mitzvah 10, Aseh 158 in Rambam’s count.
- The Chinuch‘s mitzvah 11 is the prohibition on having chametz in one’s possession over Pesach (and is Rambam’s Lo Taaseh 201). Mitzvah 12 is specifically not to consume anything containing chametz on Pesach (Rambam’s Lo Taaseh 198).
- See Mishnah Keritot 1:1 on the 36 cases in the Torah for which one is punished with karet; it’s the major subject of Masechet Keritot.
- Rashi on 12:38 says these were Egyptian converts; Ibn Ezra on Shemot 12:38 suggests, similarly, that these were Egyptians who had integrated among the people.
- See Rashi on Shemot12:40 for the traditional view of how this is accounted.
- Rashi on Shemot 12:43 cites the Mechilta that this applies to one whose acts have estranged them to Hashem, meaning a non-Jew or an apostate Jew.
- This is the Chinuch‘s Mitzvah 13 and Rambam’s Lo Taaseh 128.
- The Chinuch‘s Mitzvah 14 and Rambam’s Lo Taaseh 126
- The Chinuch‘s Mitzvah 123 and Rambam’s Lo Taaseh 128
- The Chinuch‘s Mitzvah 16 and Rambam’s Lo Taaseh 121.
- The Chinuch‘s Mitzvah 17 and Rambam’s Lo Taaseh 127.
- the Chinuch‘s Mitzvah 18 and Rambam’s Aseh 79.
- The Chinuch‘s Mitzvah 19 states that one may not eat chametz itself; this is different from Mitzvah 12 (see above) because there the prohibition was on items containing chametz. Rambam counts it as Lo Taaseh 197. Mitzvah 20 states that both chametz (leavened products, e.g. bread) and seor (leavening agents, e.g. yeast) cannot be seen in one’s domain(s) during Pesach; again, this is similar to but distinct from Mitzvah 9 (above), the obligation to remove chametz from one’s domain(s). In Rambam this is Lo Taaseh 200.
- The obligation to retell Yetziyat Mitzrayim (the Exodus) on the night of Passover is Mitzvah 21 in the Chinuch and Rambam’s Aseh 157.
- However, these laws are repeated in Sefer Devarim in both Parashat Vaetchanen and Eikev. The Chinuch considers Vaetchanen to be the primary site of the mitzvah.
- The redeeming of the donkey is Mitzvah 22 in the Chinuch (Rambam’s Aseh 81) and the breaking of its neck if unredeemed is Mitzvah 23 (Aseh 82).