Posted by: Subway Conductor | January 22, 2021

A Derasha on Parshat Bo

 This week’s Torah portion continues the story of the ten plagues. The last three plagues which culminate in the death of the first-born of Egypt are described.

The seventh aliyah of Bo is important for several reasons. Two of the four parchments that are contained in tefillin have the paragraphs of this aliyah written on them. The entire seventh aliyah is to be found in a pair of tefillin.  We normally associate tefillin with the words of the shema. “Bind them as a sign upon your arm and they shall be frontlets between your eyes.” It is understood that this command refers to the words of the shema and therefore the first two paragraphs of the shema are written on small pieces of parchment and placed into the boxes of tefillin. But there are four pieces of parchment in tefillin. The other two Torah passages found in tefillin are the words of the seventh aliyah from this week’s Torah portion. What do they contain?

We find the mitzvah to “Sanctify to Me every first-born, the first issue of every womb among the Children of Israel, both of man and of beast is Mine.” “You must redeem every first-born among your sons.” This mitzvah is explicitly explained as being connected to the tenth plague. When G-d killed the first-born of Egypt, He took possession of the first-born of Israel.  We see, therefore, that the mitzvah of the redemption of the first-born male child is connected to the Exodus from Egypt since it is a result of the tenth plague.

We also find in these paragraphs contained in the tefillin, the commandment, “And you shall tell your son on that day.”  This is the basis for the Passover seder and the Haggadah. The Haggadah which means “telling” is specifically the fulfillment of the command “you shall tell.”

Our passages also state, “And it shall be for you a sign on your arm and a remembrance between your eyes.” Rashi comments that this refers to the Exodus from Egypt. We should make the Exodus from Egy[t a sign upon our arm. The Torah further states that the tefillin are a reminder that, “with a strong hand G-d took us our of Egypt.”  It is mentioned in the Shulchan Aruck that when putting on the arm tefillin, one should have in mind that “G-d took us out of Egypt with a strong arm.” In our passage, the connection between tefillin and the Exodus is explicit. Contained in the leather boxes are references to; the redemption of the first-born resulting from the tenth plague, the obligation to teach our children and pass the memory of the Exodus to future generation, and the commandment to put on tefillin as a way of making the Exodus a symbol and a remembrance.

The Exodus from Egypt which is the most important event in the Torah and indeed in all of Jewish history is an integral part of almost all Jewish observances and holidays. There is no other event of which this could be said.

Besides the three mitzvahs mentioned here already, Shabbat is also connected to the Exodus. We usually associate the Sabbath with the story of creation. The Decalogue in the Book of Exodus says, “Six days you shall work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your G-d, you shall do no work….. for in six days G-d created the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them and He rested on the seventh day.” So, the basis for the observance of the Sabbath is the creation of the world. However, if we look at the version of the Decalogue which is given in the Book of Deuteronomy, it is stated, “Six days you shall work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your G-d, you shall not do any work,  you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave….. so that your male or female slave may rest as you do. Remember that you were slaves in the Land of Egypt and the Lord your G-d took you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretch arm. ” Here,  the rationale for the observance of the Sabbath is to remember the Exodus from Egypt. Note that the same phrase is used here as in connection with tefillin, “with a strong hand G-d took us out of Egypt.”

The mitzvah of reading the shema twice every day also has a connection to the Exodus. The third paragraph of the shema which begins with the mitzvah of tzitzit ends with the words, “I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of Egypt to be your G-d.” This statement is the reason for this third paragraph being a part of the shema. When we read this last line of the shema, we should keep in mind that we are fulfilling an additional mitzvah here – the mitzvah of mentioning the Exodus from Egypt every day.

And let’s not forget about Passover which is the festival which commemorates the Exodus. Moreover, if you take a look at the Kiddush for the other festivals, you will find that they are also said to be, “a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt.”

There is no other event in Jewish history which has had this much of an impact on the observances of Judaism.  I am not aware of any holiday or ritual which is intended to remind us of the Jewish People’s entry into the Land of Israel or its conquest. It is true that the building of the Temple can certainly be associated with Hanukkah which commemorates the rededication of the Temple in the time of the Hasmoneans.  The destruction of the Temple is lamented on Tisha B’av. The revelation at Mt. Sinai is commemorated on the Festival of Shavuot. But beyond these special days, I am not aware of other rituals and observances hat are memorials to these events.

The Exodus from Egypt is unique in the number and significance of the rituals, observances, and holidays that are meant to preserve its remembrance and to symbolize its centrality for Judaism and the Jewish People.

Good Shaboos!

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