Parashat Bo: Genesis 10:1 to 13:16

Week of January 19, 2024

Our Torah portion begins with the phrase, “go in unto Pharaoh,” as God is instructing Moses to speak with the ruler and tell him about the last three plagues. “Bo” is a verb form, meaning”to go, (or) to come into.” Moses reminds Pharoah that this destruction will not end, and is he not willing to humble himself before the Lord. What are these final plagues?

These are locusts, darkness, and the slaying of the firstborn. Has God indeed frozen Pharoah’s heart, or are the ruler’s actions based on his own free will? Maimonides explains that Pharaoh sinned based on his own volition. The hardening of his heart was Pharoah’s doing, that is, he had totally lost the capacity to understand that his human power meant nothing in the eyes of the Almighty.

What does it mean when the Torah describes the darkness enveloping the country? This is a darkness so thick that “they saw not one another.” (Exodus 10:33) A young student once asked his teacher, how could it be so dark? Didn’t the people light their lamps when the sun set in Egypt? The answer from the teacher was: the plague that the Egyptians suffered from was a unique form of darkness. It was a pall that affected their eyes and their hearts. Physically they could have seen each other, but they didn’t care for one another. They were spiritually dead. That is what the Torah intends when it states, “they saw not one another.” They were blind to each other’s needs and travails. Each person saw only himself. That is a terrible plague.

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