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Overview for Parshah Bo

Overview for Parshah Bo

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Parashat Bo contains the narrative of the final three plagues, culminating in the dramatic release of the Jewish people from their oppressive exile and the first leg of their momentous journey into the desert. In this parashah, we witness the mighty Egyptian empire brought to its knees, its idols crushed, and its arrogant Pharaoh reduced to begging for his life. It also includes the origin and details of the observances meant to commemorate the Exodus: the Passover sacrifice and holiday and the consecration of the firstborn.

As such, parashat Bo is the parashah of the Exodus—not just the background, buildup, or aftermath of the Exodus, but the Exodus itself. Even before the actual signal to leave is given, we feel the imminence of redemption: Pharaoh's courtiers are urging him to stop his senseless refusal to let the people go and the people are collecting their long-overdue payment for their work from the Egyptian populace and preparing to leave.

It seems strange, then, that the parashah is named Bo ("Come"), after God's instruction to Moses to "come to Pharaoh." The fact that Moses must come to Pharaoh indicates that Pharaoh has the upper hand, that he is the dominant authority.

Furthermore, why are the ten plagues spread over two parashiot? It would seem more logical that the preceding parashah be devoted entirely to the theme of crushing the power of Egypt through the plagues, while this parashah with the preparations and details of the Exodus per se.


The Zohar notes1 that God did not tell Moses to "go to Pharaoh" but to "come to Pharaoh," meaning "come with Me to Pharaoh." This was because beginning with the eighth plague, God set out to break Pharaoh himself, to destroy his power from its core.

In order to do so, it was necessary to confront Pharaoh in his power seat, the setting from which he drew and commanded his ominous influence. This meant not only going to Pharaoh's throne room (where Moses had been before), but also meeting him spiritually in the depth of his evil. When God showed Moses the noxious spiritual fount of Pharaoh's evil power, Moses was afraid to approach it. God therefore reassured him that He would accompany him and help him overcome Pharaoh.

Thus, the underlying thought behind the words "come to Pharaoh" is the confrontation with Pharaoh's essence. It is here that he, and all the evil he represents, can be decisively broken. Breaking Pharaoh's power was the essential prerequisite for the Exodus; indeed, it was the essence of the Exodus. Egypt, with all its opulent wealth and imposing, awesome edifices, was the very embodiment of materialism—even its religion, its gods, and its distorted vision of the afterlife were materialistic. The Exodus was the release from this oppressive and constricting philosophy and lifestyle in order to live a life dedicated to God's transcendent reality. In order to be free, the chain had to be broken; Pharaoh had to be crushed—in the very height and seat of his power.

In this light, far from contradicting the tone of the rest of the parashah, the term Bo actually reveals its true message.


Since the Egyptian exile is the prototype of all exiles and the Exodus is the precursor of the final Redemption, the dynamic contained in the name of this parashah will be repeated at the end of the present exile, as well:

Before Pharaoh was crushed, God redeemed whatever good there was in Egypt. Non-Jews who wished to accompany the Jews were allowed to do so, and the Jews took with them an abundance of material wealth. Only when nothing of redeeming value remained in Egypt did God deal the crushing blow.

Similarly, the aim of all our Godly work during our present exile is to elevate whatever we can from the material world.2 When this process is complete, whatever is too spiritually coarse to be adopted into holiness will be eliminated and the world will be free to pursue Divinity unhindered by opposing forces.

In our own personal lives, as we undergo our own individual redemptions—which will collectively lead to the ultimate, general redemption—we must also follow this dual process of elevation and elimination. This means that we must distinguish between those aspects of our lives that are in essence "neutral" and can be elevated into holiness and those that cannot. For example, someone who feels the pull of desire toward something the Torah forbids has to distinguish between the power of desire itself—which can and must be reoriented toward holiness—and the forbidden object of his desire—which he must eliminate from his life.

Moreover, we must take our cue here from how God told Moses to crush Pharaoh: to aim for the jugular vein and attack evil at its root. Everyone has his or her personal "Pharaoh," the aspect of life where opposition to holiness is most acute. This is where our primary assault should be directed, and when this Pharaoh is vanquished, the other obstacles in life will follow suit.

Furthermore, we need not be afraid of this inner Pharaoh: just as God accompanied Moses into Pharaoh's chamber and did battle with him Himself, we can call upon God to accompany our inner Moses as it confronts our inner Pharaoh and to help us destroy it.

We are God's children, and just as loving parents seek to satisfy their children's desires, so does God "satisfy the needs of every living thing."3 When we ask God to redeem us from the issues in our lives that constrict us or distract us from pursuing our Godly goals, He naturally hastens to assist us in doing so.

Finally, if God seeks to free us from our personal constrictions and distractions, He assuredly seeks to free us collectively from the constrictions and distractions of our collective exile. It is therefore our duty to entreat God to put an end to our existential exile and usher in the final, Messianic Redemption.4

FOOTNOTES
1.

2:34a.

2.

Tanya, chapter 37.

3.

Psalms 145:16.

4.

Sefer HaSichot 5751, volume 1, pp. 271-282. See Sefer HaMa'amarim 5704, pp. 119, 127.

From the Kehot Chumash, produced by Chabad of California with an interpolated translation and commentary based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. Copyright (c) 2008 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved. For personal use only. The full volume is available for purchase at Kehotonline.
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