Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Bo –Sh’mot (Exodus) 10 – 13:16

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Bo –Sh’mot (Exodus) 10 – 13:16

YHVH charges Moshe to "go to Pharaoh," and it is this "going" which our Parasha is named after (although "bo" actually means, "come"). The approximately three and a half chapters of Parashat Bo encompass a number of central themes. The historical narrative, describing the last plagues, some of the Israelites' preparations to leave Egypt and a few of their moves, is interspersed with the themes of redemption, ransom, the Pesach celebration, injunctions to teach future generations, and several teaching tools which are to accompany the nation of Yisrael down the road of time. Thus, at the outset of Yisrael's travels, which ultimately will bring them to the Land of Promise, they are also embarking on a journey to becoming a (special) Nation. And while they had no time to prepare supplies (ref. 12:39), and were carrying almost only that which the Egyptians gave them (ref. 12:33), YHVH was starting to do His own equipping of this nascent nation on its road toward its spiritual destiny.

The educational theme is evident right at the beginning, by the reason given for the "signs" performed in Egypt: "That you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son's son the mighty things I have done…" (10:2). "I have done" here is denoted by the verb "hit'a'lalti," of the root a.l.l (ayin, lamed, lamed). It is a multi-faceted verb the meaning of which depends on context, yet its root also forms one of the words for "infant" or "babe" - "olal," such as used in Psalms 8:2: "Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength" (emphasis added). Thus, within YHVH's "doings" – or miraculous performances in Egypt, which the Israelites are to tell their children about - is hidden a word alluding to those very children!

By this time in the narrative, the land of Egypt has experienced a great deal of devastation, with much more to come. The severity of the next plague is such that locusts "shall cover the face [literally "eye"] of the earth, so that no one will be able to see the earth, and they shall eat the residue of what is left, which remains… from the hail…" (v. 5, 15). Here we find a sequel of three synonyms. The repetition serves to heighten the proportions of the catastrophe. The Hebrew reads: "yeter [ha]*pleta [ha]'nish'eret." “Yeter” is that which remains, as is also seen in 12:10, where the lamb is to be eaten in such a way that "you shall let none of it remain until morning" (emphasis added). The term "pleta nish'eret" is also mentioned by Yoseph, when he disclosed his identity to his brothers, saying the following: "And Elohim sent me before you to put a remnant ["she'erit," of the same root as "nish'eret" above] in the land for you and to keep alive for you a great survival ["pleta"] (Gen. 45:7, literal translation, italics added). Thus these words of Yoseph had a prophetic implication; The “remnant” of the children of Yisrael has not only “survived,” it has actually turned into multitudes which resulted in Egypt's soil being left (almost) without residue of remaining life (through the plagues inflicted by the Elohim of this “remnant,” that is Yisrael). Therefore, that which was a means of salvation for the one people, turned into deadly circumstances for the other! The Apostle Shaul (Paul) expresses a similar principle in the following words: "…We are to Elohim the fragrance of Messiah among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life" (2nd Cor. 2:15-16).

Paroh's now-exasperated servants complain about Moshe, describing him as a "mokesh" – “snare” (v. 7). However, it is their king, who being a “Godless person,” according to Ee’yov (Job) 34:30, "should not reign, lest the people be ensnared" (emphasis added). Indeed, no sooner were the locusts removed, and Paroh's persistence brought about the ninth plague. Total darkness descended upon his land, and his people were ensnared once more. The darkness was so thick that it could be "ya'mesh," that is, "felt" or "touched" (v. 21. See also Genesis 27:12, re-Ya'acov, who was impersonating his brother and was concerned lest his father should discover his real identity by “touching” his smooth skin). In verse 23 we are struck by the contrast between the total darkness prevailing over Egypt, and the well-lit dwellings of the Israelites, which is also a graphic illustration paralleling the spiritual reality.

It is time now to prepare for the last phase, and for the start of a new one. YHVH declares to Moshe that He is about to strike the final blow on the Egyptians and on their king, a fact which Moshe conveys to the latter. This is followed by instructions for the Pesach lamb, whose smeared blood will single out the homes of the Hebrews, while YHVH strikes the Egyptian homes by killing every firstborn son. Each Hebrew household is to partake of one lamb, or share it with others if the family happens to be too small. The expression used, "according to the number" (12:4), is denoted by a single word - "[beh]mich'sat," rooted in k.s.h (kaf/chaf, samech, samech), meaning "allocate." The root employed for this term is also used for the standard form of the verb to “cover.” Thus, even before an explanation is given for the procedure of choosing, slaughtering and eating the lamb, we have a clue alluding to the lamb which has been ‘allocated’ and designated to be slain from the foundations of the world (ref. Rev. 13:8), and whose blood was given for the covering of sin.

The blood over the Hebrews’ doors enabled YHVH to steer clear of their homes, that is
to pass over is "pasach" - a verb rooted in (pey, samech, chet) and means to “pass" or "skip." Yishayahu (Isaiah) 31:5 says: "Like flying birds, so YHVH of Hosts will protect Jerusalem…He will pass over ["pasach"] and rescue it.” Hence, a lame or limping person is a “piseh’ach” (e.g. 2nd Sam. 9:13; 1Kings 18:21).

We have already noted that this Parasha is 'didactically inclined,' and thus the rest of chapter 12 (v. 14-27) is devoted to instructions pertaining to the future life of the Yisraelites, once planted in their own land. This passage is fraught with distinct words and terms. We already examined the notion of "allocating" in verse 4. In verse 6 we note that the lamb was to be "kept" (from the 10th of the first month, until the 14th), with the verb used being "shamar" (sh.m.r - shin, mem, resh). In verse 17 the Children of Yisrael are instructed "to observe the Feast of Matzot." Again, "observe" is from the root sh.m.r, which is “to keep, or guard”; while in verse 24 they are told, "to observe," literally "keep," what now becomes an ordinance to be practiced upon entering the Land. In the future, the night commemorating the exodus from Egypt will become a "night of solemn observance (or vigil)" - "shimurim" (verse 42), and again in 13:10 …"You shall keep this ordinance in its season from year to year." Being kept from harm by YHVH is what the Israelites are experiencing; thus, those 'kept' and protected are to become ‘keepers' in return.

The lamb was to be slaughtered on the 14th day of the month, "at twilight" (12:6), which is "ben arba'yim.” “Arbayim" is the plural form of “erev” (evening), the all-familiar term we have been discussing over and again. Most interpreters and commentators believe that "between the evenings" (its literal meaning) refers to "twilight." However, since it literally indicates a whole day, i.e. between the evening of the 14th and that of the 15th , there exists a (minority) view that supports the literal meaning of the phrase. The meat was to be eaten with bitter herbs, “maror,” and unleavened bread called "matza," which are thin wafer-like crackers baked without yeast (12:8). The root (mem, tzadi, hey) means “to drain out” to the very last drop of water (e.g. Jud. 6:38), since the leavening agents require liquid in order to be activated. The bitter herbs most likely point to the "bitterness" experienced by the Children of Yisrael in Egypt. Thus, in Sh’mot (Exodus) 1:12 we read: "And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage--in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field." It should be noted that this section, being instructional for future generations, differs somewhat from the actual experience, as described in the latter part of chapter 12. In contrast to the injunction for the total removal of all leaven, which will bind the Israelites in the future (v. 15, 17-20), we read in verse34 : "So the people took their dough before it was leavened" (italics added). Thus, it appears that in the first Pesach there was leaven in the dough (which did not have enough time to be activated).

In verse 14 we encounter for the first time one of the words for "feast" - "chag" (although in verb form it appeared already in Ex. 5:1). Since the annual reoccurrence of the Feasts makes them "cyclical," it seems that this word is related to the noun "choog" which describes a circle (Job 22:14; Pro. 8:27; Is. 40:22). By its very nature, this word implies not only a (set) time, but also a place - a “circle.” Another such 'multi-dimensional' word is holy "convocation," also appearing here for the first time (v. 16). This "holy convocation" or "assembly," is "mikra kodesh." The root k.r.a (kof, resh, alef) means “to call,” even though the "convocation" - the assembling - is made up of people. The "mikra kodesh" (i.e. the congregation) is designated, therefore, by its calling. But it is also related to a place. In Yishayahu (Isaiah) 4:5, for example, we read: "Then YHVH will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over "mikra'eh'a" ("her assemblies") a cloud by day…." These “holy convocations” are, of course, to be also special times. The “calling,” then, proves to be the common ‘ingredient’ bonding the people, their place of gathering and the times wherein they are to convene, indicating that Time, Place and People are joined in YHVH's economy. This concept will surface again in future Parashot.

In their Egyptian Pesach, the Israelites were promised that, "the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses... And when I see the blood, I will pass over you" (12:13). This "seeing" (of the blood) brings to mind another "seeing" on the part of YHVH, as was stated by Avraham, who on the road to Mount Moriah responded to his son's inquiry regarding the offering, saying …"YHVH will see (literally) for himself the lamb for the offering" (Gen. 22:8 emphasis added). And although (at that time) it was a ram that was provided, the beginning of the fulfillment of those words is now taking place here in Egypt, later to have a further fulfillment, to an even greater degree, by another Lamb. One more connection to the Lamb of Elohim is found in verse 46, where it says that none of the bones of the lamb are to be broken, an injunction which finds its fulfillment in Yochanan (John) 19:33.

Finally, the Egyptians are persuaded to send off the Israelites. According to verse 33 (of Chapter 12) "they pressed” them to leave. However, "pressed" in this case is from the root "strong" - "chazak" - which makes it a fulfillment of 6:1 …"For with a strong hand [Paroh] will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land." Another fulfillment, this time of 3:22, is taking place here in verses 35-36, when the Egyptians consent to give their former slaves gold, silver and garments, while it says that, "they [the Israelites] spoiled the Egyptians." The "spoiling of the Egyptians" is also in fulfillment of YHVH's promise to Avraham concerning the Egyptian Diaspora, out of which his seed was to "come out with great wealth" (Gen. 15:14). "Spoiled" is "(va)yinatz'lu," of the root (noon, tzadi, lamed), which most frequently means to "survive, save, rescue, or deliver." In fact, it came up in Parashat Sh’mot (5:23) when Moshe complained to YHVH on behalf of his people, saying …"For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all (italics added)." Now they are not only being "delivered," but are also "procuring" gifts (as the root is used here) from those who had captivated them. The fact that all of these terms are rooted in the same three letters lends an extra emphasis, or 'twist,' to the rescue story and sheds light on the protagonists (YHVH as the "savior," and on those who are being "saved"). The gold and silver will no doubt serve later for the making of the Tabernacle articles. But even beforehand, in Shmot (Exodus) 33:6, where the Israelites remove their jewelry, the verb used is "(va)yitna'tzlu" (again of the root of The unusual usage of this word highlights the origin of these articles. Finally, Yeshua, too, "divested", "disarmed" or "wrested" the principalities from their powers, after His victory (Col. 2:15).

Upon leaving Egypt, a "mixed multitude" (“erev rav” - literally a "great mixture") goes out with the Sons of Yisrael. Once more, after having looked at “arbayim” (“twilight”) above, we encounter the root e.r.v., for "evening," which is a "mixed" state (12:38), and thus relating to the "multitude."

When the 'time allotment' for their sojourn in Egypt ends, "on this very day" (v. 41), YHVH's people, who had been waiting for so long, are suddenly forced to hurry and leave. We recall the case of Yoseph, who was also made to hurry (out of the pit, Gen. 41:1, 14) when the time ordained for his sufferings had fully expired. In both cases the word used is "miketz" ("at the end of"). When it is time for change, there is not one moment to spare.

The latter part of the Parasha, 13:1-16, is devoted to further instructions. First and foremost among them is the "setting apart" of the firstborn: "…every one who opens the womb among the sons of Israel belongs to me"(13:1), declares YHVH. In verse 15 He elaborates on this, saying that since He "killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt… therefore [the Israelite are to] sacrifice to YHVH all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of [their] sons [are to be] redeemed/ransomed." In last week's Parasha we saw how "ransoming" separated the Israelites from the Egyptians (8:19), even before the smiting of Egypt's firstborn. The notion of "ransom" (“p'dut”) becomes even more evident when it is blood which separates the Egyptian firstborn from those of Yisrael's. The ultimate ransom price for purchasing 'Yisrael the Firstborn' thousands of years later was, and still is, Messiah's blood.

Among the "firsts" in this Parasha, there is a first reference to a name of a month - the "month of Aviv" (13:4). The literal meaning of "aviv," which became synonymous with "spring," is a stalk of grain whose ears are still green. This word indicates the very beginning of growth, before the fruit or grain has had time to develop (e.g. Job 8:12, Song of Solomon 6:11), and is perhaps (also) a reflection on the condition of the Nation in formation.

Twice in this portion of instructions we encounter references to the "signs" that are to be on one's hand and forehead (13:9, 16). These "signs" are to be for the purpose of remembering and commemorating the "strong hand with which YHVH brought you/us out of Egypt" (13:9, 16), and, "so that the Torah of YHVH may be in your mouth" (v. 9). In both places the mention of these "signs" is related to the teaching of the generations to come. In keeping with the pedagogical message included in the Parasha, several possible approaches are offered to a variety of future inquirers about the Pesach practices and its teachings. In 12:26-27 we find: "When your children say to you, ‘what does this service mean to you…?’, you shall say, ‘it is the sacrifice to YHVH’s Passover’…" In 13:14, "When in time to come your son asks, saying, 'what is this?' You shall say to him, 'by strength of hand YHVH brought us out of Egypt’…" And in 13:8, "You shall tell your son on that day, saying, 'it is because of this YHVH did for me when I came out of Egypt.’" All three of these are echoed in the traditional Pesach Haggada read on the Passover’s eve ceremony called the Seder. There they are called the “four – since another one is added based on Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 6:20 – questions,” and are asked by the youngest member of the family.

Finally, in order to partake of the Pesach sacrifice, a man was required to be circumcised (ref. 12:48), a fact which connects the Paschal lamb to circumcision. Thus, the Covenant with the Israelites is clearly a renewal of the Covenant already established with Avraham and his descendants. Interestingly, in Parashat Sh'mot chapter 4, YHVH declares that Yisrael is His “firstborn,” and in the same breath tells Moshe that because Par’oh will refuse to let His firstborn go, He will kill his firstborn (4:22,23). It is immediately after this that Zippora, Moshe’s wife, sees the urgent need to circumcise her son and calls him "a groom of blood" (4:24-26). This reinforces the connection of the Paschal lamb's blood to the blood of circumcision.[1] Our "Groom of Blood," Yeshua, who is also the epitome of the Pesach sacrifice, through His Blood, has rendered us the "circumcision who worships Elohim in the Spirit" (Phil. 3:3).

* Ha is the definite article in Hebrew.
[1] The Chumash Shmot With The Commentary Daat Mikrah, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm.