Weekly Reading Insights:
Bo 5774

Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Bo, 3 Shvat 5774/Jan. 4

Torah: Exodus 10:1-13:16; Haftorah: Jeremiah 46:13-28 (about another downthrow of Egypt by G-d, eight centuries later)

Bo is the 3rd Reading out of 11 in Exodus and it contains 6149 letters, in 1655 words, in 106 verses

Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) opens with the plagues of locusts and darkness. Then, Moshe warned Pharaoh of the last plague, the death of the firstborn. G-d commanded the Jews to designate a lamb as a pascal offering which would be slaughtered and its blood put on the doorpost, a sign so that in that Jewish home, no Jewish firstborn would be harmed. G-d commanded that Jews not do labor on the first and last days of the holiday, to eat matzahs, and not to own any leavening. The Jews did as they were commanded, and the night of Passover, the non-Jewish male and animal firstborns were killed. The Egyptians sent the Jews away, bestowing upon them many riches. They hurried the Jews so much so that the Jews' dough did not have time to rise and remained unleavened matzahs. Next are listed a few of the Passover laws for future generations. Also mentioned are laws of consecrating firstborn Jewish males and animals, and the mitzvah of tefillin.


An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, G-d tells Moshe to warn Pharaoh about the 8th plague, locusts: “And G-d said to Moses, ‘Come to Pharaoh….’” G-d’s choice of the word, “come” (which is also the name of the portion, “Bo”) is a peculiar one. Shouldn’t
G-d instruct Moshe to “go to Pharaoh”?

The Zohar (v2:34a) suggests a simple way to understand this. Moshe was to enter into Pharaoh’s inner chamber, to challenge him at his most powerful level. G-d is telling Moshe: Whenever you go into a difficult situation, you are not alone. Come, G-d is saying, with Me.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe looks at this idea from another angle. In the previous portion, Va’eira, the Jewish people are still under the control of the Egyptians, and in next week’s portion we find them after the exodus. This week’s portion is the turning point from exile to freedom—it is the portion of the redemption of the Jewish people. The unique language of the opening verse–G-d’s use of “come” instead of “go”—is connected to this theme of redemption.

It is possible that we can fulfill the commandment to study Torah in the best way, by fixing set times to study and carving out time from a busy schedule, and yet something is lacking. Even though we “go” to the learning and interact with it proactively, nevertheless, the Torah study itself is does not effect us. We are getting the information, but we are not getting it! The Torah we are studying and the self that is studying it remain two separate things.

This is why the Torah uses the word “come.” To change the nature of the game, to find redemption, we must fully come to the study; we must allow the content of the material that is being studied to enter our inner selves. The subject matter needs to fill us so that we are completely united with it—intellectually and emotionally. This approach is not something that concerns Torah study only. Rather, the aspiration of all our spiritual work is to sincerely connect to G-d, through Torah study and observing the commandments, so that we are attached from our most inner selves—the one serving to the service and the One being served.

Naming the redemption portion after this word, “Bo,” teaches us that both in our personal lives and to bring the final redemption for the Jewish people and the world as a whole, it is only through a total involvement on this level of “coming”—where there is a union of the person with his purpose—that we can bring true and complete redemption.

There is a short story told about the Lubavitcher Rebbe where he illustrates this point. In the dynamic community that a rebbe and his chassidim (followers) create, there are always a few select people, who might be called family friends, who show an extra level of concern for the Rebbe’s welfare. Chabad-Lubavitch was no exception, and so at one juncture these individuals felt it was important to suggest that the Rebbe take a vacation. It was so radical an idea for the Rebbe, who would sometimes be on call for over 24 hours consecutively, that they did not want to make the suggestion themselves. So they asked one of the more well-known and respected chassidim, Rabbi Nissan Neminov, to broach the topic with the Rebbe.

The Rebbe declined to accept the proposition. However, Rabbi Neminov was not so easily dissuaded. “In the annals of the lives of the Lubavitch Rebbes,” he put forward, “we find that the rebbes did go out on rest trips, including the Rabbi Rayatz (the Rebbe’s father-in-law), whom the Rebbe often mentions and follows.”

The Rebbe ended the discussion by saying the following: “In previous generations, the rebbes were able to take a break because their chassidim sat and studied Torah. But today the situation is reversed. The chassidim are the ones who go on vacation, and so I am the one who has to sit and learn.”

The manner in which we enter into our Torah study, or not, is not just a personal matter; our future depends on it.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


This week's story from Yerachmiel Tilles, managing editor of ascentofsafed.com and kabbalaonline.org

From the Kabbalah Commentaries on the Chumash ("5 Books of Moses")

13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman

14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Tsfat

17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya Horowitz

18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar

a sample for this week:


"Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his advisors, so that I will be able to demonstrate these miraculous signs within them." [10:1]

The effect of the plagues never penetrated inside of him. Now, however, G-d would display miracles which would result also in the previous ones registering bam, "within them."

Hardening of the heart of his servants, was for the purpose of teaching Israel the lesson of what befalls hardened sinners, as outlined in Tzefaniah 3:6-8. The Jewish people, though they had known G-d, had to learn that the same G-d who is the source of mercy, is also the source of justice. Sometimes, when one experiences what one believes to be G-d's goodness, one assumes that this is an expression of approval of one's conduct. The Egyptians who had brought their livestock and slaves into safety, did not realize that they were being saved merely to enable G-d to prepare an even bigger disaster for them.

The righteous know that when they experience hardships, this is merely a facet of G-d's mercy. The wicked delude themselves that when they experience ease and comfort that this is their ultimate destiny, forgetting that it may be only a prelude to G-d's justice. Saving the unripe crops made the Egyptians susceptible to the plague of locust. What Pharaoh thought was relief was merely a preparation for the next round of retribution.

(Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech, the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

For the rest of "The Masters of Kabbala and Chumash" on this Weekly Reading; and on all the other Readings.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Bo

one sample:

Mystical Classics
Secrets of the Jewish Leap Year

From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

The Shelah teaches that whereas the gentile nations arrange their calendar according to the orbit of the sun, the Jewish people count according to the orbit of the moon.

When G-d told the moon to diminish itself, the moon was not placated until told that Israel would use it for its calendar calculations and also promised that the righteous would bear its name.

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