charges Moshe to "go to
Pharaoh", and it is this "going" which our Parasha is named
after (literal meaning of "bo" is "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 themes of redemption, ransom, the Pesach celebration,
injunctions to instruct the 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
educational theme is evident right at the beginning, by the reason given for
the "signs" performed in
By this time in the narrative, the
Par’oh's now-exasperated servants complain about Moshe, describing him as
a "mokesh" – “snare”
(10: 7). However, according to Ee’yov (Job) 34:30, it is a Godless king, such
as Par’oh, who “should not reign lest the people be ensnared" (emphasis added)! Indeed, no sooner were the locusts
removed, when Par’oh'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"
(10: 21. See also Genesis 27:12, describing the concern of Ya'acov, who was
impersonating his brother, lest his father should discover his real identity by
“touching” his smooth skin). In 10:23 we are struck by the contrast between the
total darkness prevailing over
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, “afterward he will let you go from here;
when he lets you go he will surely drive you out of here altogether” (ref.
11:1). The last phrase may be also rendered (although this does
not negate the conventional meaning): “he will send you from here, as if
sending off a bride will he expel you from here” (“surely” – ‘kala’ here – can
mean completely OR a bride). The (Hebrew) terms for “driving” and “sending” are
terms also used for divorce. What’s more, when in the next verse Moshe is told
that Israel is to ask from their neighbors articles of silver and gold, one
wonders if this isn’t symbolic of a bride’s dowry, dowry that she was now to retrieve,
upon her ‘disengagement’ from the relationship with Egypt and its ruler, being set
free to follow YHVH to “the wilderness, to a land not sown” (ref. Jer. 2:2).
Moshe goes on to convey to Pharaoh the news regarding the slaying of the Egyptians
firstborn sons, in place of Yisrael’s slain male babies, while the slaying of
The blood over the Hebrews’ doors enabled YHVH to steer clear of their
homes by passing over - "pasach"
(ref. 12:23) - a verb rooted
in p.s.ch (pey, samech, chet) and means to “pass" or "skip".
Yishayahu (Isaiah) 31:5 says: "Like flying birds, so YHVH of Hosts will
We have already noted that our Parasha is 'didactically inclined', with 12:14-22
being devoted to instructions pertaining to the future life of the Israelites,
once planted in their own land. This passage is fraught with distinct words and
terms. We already examined the notion of "allocating" in verse
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) denotes "twilight". However, there exists a minority view that supports the literal “between the evenings”, making that expression a reference to an entire day, between the 14th and the 15th. 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 m.tz.h (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
In 12:14 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, “chag” is related to the verb "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 is also connected to a place. In Yishayahu (Isaiah) 4:5, for
example, we read: "Then YHVH will
create over the whole area of
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 italics added). And although (at that time) it was a ram that was provided, the beginning of the fulfillment of those words is taking place now, 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 12:46, 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.
The Egyptians finally relent to send off the Israelites. According to 12:33,
"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 [Par’oh] will let them go, and with a strong
When the time allotted for their sojourn in
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
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. The fact that the noun “aviv” starts with alef, bet, the first two letters of the Alphabet, letters that also form the word “av” - “father”, highlights its “firstness”.
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 out of
Lastly, in order to partake of the Pesach, a man was required to be circumcised (ref. 12:48), a fact which connects the Paschal lamb to circumcision. It points clearly to the renewal of the Covenant that was established with Avraham and his descendants. Interestingly, in Parashat Sh'mot (4:22) YHVH declares that Yisrael is His “firstborn”, and in the same breath predicts that because Par’oh will refuse to let His firstborn go, He will kill his firstborn (4:22,23). What immediately follows is the episode where Moshe’s wife is circumcising her son, using the term "a groom of blood" (4:24-26). This act and choice of vocabulary reinforce the connection of the Paschal lamb's blood to the blood of circumcision. Our "Groom of Blood" who is Yeshua, is also the epitome of the Pesach offering. His Blood has rendered us the "circumcision who worships Elohim in the Spirit" (Phil. 3:3).
 The Chumash Shmot With The Commentary Daat Mikrah, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 1991.