January 15-16, 2016 – 6 Shevat 5776
Annual (Exodus 10:1-13:16): Etz Hayim p. 374; Hertz p. 248
Triennial (Exodus 12:29-13:16): Etz Hayim p. 387; Hertz p. 258
Haftarah (Jeremiah 46:13-28): Etz Hayim, p. 395; Hertz p. 263
This is My God, This is My Month
By Shoshana Cohen, CY Faculty (Talmud and Midrash)
In Parshat Bo we have the first marking of time that is cast as uniquely Jewish: we are told ‘This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you’ (Ex. 12:2). At the very moment when the Israelites leave Egypt and become a nation they are commanded to mark time by a lunar calendar that will start from the place where they are – the month that will later be known as Nisan. According to the Talmud in Sanhedrin 42b:
ואמר רבי אחא בר חנינא אמר רבי אסי אמר רבי יוחנן: כל המברך על החדש בזמנו – כאילו מקבל פני שכינה, כתיב הכא: +שמות י”ב+ החדש הזה וכתיב התם +שמות ט”ו+ זה אלי ואנוהו.
Rabbi Aha bar Hanina said in the name of Rabbi Asi in the name of R. Yohanan, ‘Anyone who blesses the month in its time it is as if they welcome the shekhina (Divine presence), for it says here (Ex. 12) ‘This month’ and it says there ‘this is my God and I will glorify Him’ (Ex. 16:2).
The drasha or interpretation links the use of the word זה (‘this’) here in reference to the new moon to the use of the same word, זה, in the Song of the Sea. We know from this and other Rabbinic sources that the word זה was considered to mean that someone was actually pointing to something. At the Sea this meant a full scale revelation, with Moses and the singers of the Song actually pointing at God when they said “This is my God.” Therefore the use of the word זה here is also seen as an indication of revelation; to bless the month is to be in the Divine presence.
While the connection here is clearly linguistic, the implications of the comparison are more far-reaching. It is one thing to say that Israel experienced an historical moment of revelation at the Sea, but it is quite another to say that there is an ongoing revelation that occurs every month when we bless the new moon.
This phrase ) לקבל פני שכינהlekabel pnei schina, to welcome the Divine presence) is found in several other places in Rabbinic literature, including in the Tannatic midrash on Numbers, the Sifrei (115) during the discussion of the mitzvah of tzitzit. There, the blue of the tzitzit is meant to remind us of the sea, the sea of the sky, and the sky of the Divine throne.
Both of these mitvzot, tzitzit and blessing of the month, are very common. To say that in gazing on our tzitzit or blessing the new moon we have chance to experience the presence of God is to say that revelation is constant and possible. We are given an opportunity, on a daily and monthly basis, to look up, to see and feel that there is something beyond us in this world.
In the Biblical narrative the events of the Exodus, the parting of the Sea, and the revelation at Sinai all feel spectacular and historically unique. However, in the middle of these events we are given ways to recreate them, to experience the closeness and intimacy with God over and over. Rosh Hodesh, the new month, is a chance to rededicate ourselves to the Divine, to realign ourselves with the task of making God’s just and righteous presence manifest in our lives and in the world.
A Vort for Parshat Bo
By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
The ninth plague was darkness, tangible, one that could be actually felt (Ex. 10:21). Sforno says this was not normal darkness that even a little light can dispel, but a new creation that light could not penetrate. The Midrash that says that this darkness was as thick as a gold coin connects it to the next verse (10:22) – “people could not see each other nor did they get up from their place.” People’s obsession with acquiring wealth blinds them; they did not see the problems of others. The worst darkness, the Chidushei HaRim (Yitzchak Meir Rotenberg-Alter, the first Gerer Rebbe, 19th Poland) said is when people don’t want to see the needs of others and to get up to extend a helping hand.
Here come the last 3 plagues, the preparation for the night when God will sweep across Egypt, and the Exodus itself – a great moment that will forever be commemorated by the people of Israel.
1) There seem to be several reasons for the plagues. What is the reason given at the beginning of this week’s Parasha (10:1-2)? How will the plagues achieve that?
2) The reaction to the plague of locust seems to suggest that something is changing in the thinking of Pharaoh’s and of his close servants. At what point does each of those groups realize the potential consequence of this plague? What terms do they use to express it? (10:7-17)
3) God instructs the People of Israel to ask the Egyptians for gold and silver prior to leaving the land. Why would the Egyptians agree to give up gold and silver? Why is it important for the People of Israel to receive it? (11:1-3)
4) Getting ready to leave, the People of Israel are told to roast a sheep and put its blood on their doorposts. God says that He will see the blood and skip over those houses during the plague of the first born. However, God surely does not need a sign to know what houses to skip, so why put the blood on the doorposts? (12:5-13)
5) The Exodus from Egypt has left a great mark on the People of Israel until today. 13:1-16 mentions several things that are done to remember the Exodus. What things are you familiar with? The Exodus is also mention in liturgical material (Tfilla etc.) Try to find some mentions of it.