Parashat Bo
February 3-4, 2017 – 8 Shevat 5777
Annual (Exodus 10:1-13:16): Etz Hayim p. 374-394; Hertz p. 248-252
Triennial (Exodus 10:1-11:3): Etz Hayim p. 374-379; Hertz p. 248-262
Haftarah (Jeremiah 46:13-28): Etz Hayim p. 395-398; Hertz p. 263-264


The Centrality of the Passover Sacrifice
Rabbi Shoshana Cohen, CY Faculty (Talmud and Midrash)

The Passover Sacrifice is central to Parshat Bo. It is the major feature of the Exodus and it will remain a central part of Israelite national existence for generations to come. In some sense the centrality of the Seder in our time is a continuation of this tradition that signified the birth of our nation.  It is set out in Exodus chapter 12, including:

43 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: ‘This is the law of the Passover offering: no foreigner may eat of it. 44 But any slave a man has bought may eat of it once he has been circumcised. 45 No sojourner or hired servant may eat of it. 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you may not take any of the flesh outside nor break any of its bones. 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 If a stranger who lives with you wants to offer the Passover to the LORD, all his males must be circumcised; then he may come near and keep it like any native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger residing among you.’

This sacrifice has several key features: it must be roasted, there should be one lamb per household, uncircumcised (men) cannot eat from it, and it must be consumed in its entirety in a concrete period of time (12:8-10).

At first glance these features seem to be disconnected; one speaks to who is allowed to participate, the others to how, where and when. In fact they are all related; all reflect the central feature of the sacrifice, and perhaps the event of the Exodus – wholeness.  Roasting on a spit, as they would have done rather than boiling, ensures that the animal stays intact through the cooking process. The whole household is part of the ritual and the whole animal must be consumed. Even the seemingly unrelated circumcision criterion shares this feature. From the perspective of Hazal (the Rabbis) and likely the Bible itself, the foreskin is an extra and unnecessary body part; to remove it is to become perfect and in a sense whole. Yaakov, for instance, is believed by the Midrash to have been born ‘perfect’ – circumcised.

This moment of the Exodus that will be recreated for generations to come is marked by wholeness and perfection. In some sense the units of time mentioned in the Parsha, the night and the month, also represent whole, concrete units.

This analysis represents the way that we often talk about the Exodus, as the melting pot, the creation of nation out of a family of individuals.

It is however important to note, now more than ever, that this concept of wholeness comes with a price.  While the sacrifice ritual allows for foreigners to participate, the way of entry into the group is painful and bloody and surely not for everyone. In the end the coherence of the group, the people of Israel, is preserved by excluding others. To use this metaphor somewhat crassly, the foreskins of those who want to participate are cast aside, as are those who are unwilling to be circumcised. The moment of inclusion of some is predicated on the exclusion of others.  Our national identity depends both on connecting with each other and disconnecting with others; this is a challenge we continue to face in every generation.

A Vort for Parashat Bo
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

On the Festivals, unlike Shabbat, it is permitted to cook for the needs of the day – ochel nefesh (Ex 12:16” what each person needs to eat may be prepared”). R’ Pinchas of Koritz (18th Ukraine, a close student of the Baal Shem Tov) explained that this leniency is learned davka from the verse on the seventh day of Pesach, the day the Children of Israel were saved when the Sea of Reeds split miraculously for them.  He said the reason is found in the Zohar’s statement that “providing food for one’s table is as difficult as kri’at yam suf – splitting the sea.”

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

We continue with the last 3 plagues, the preparation for the night when God will sweep across Egypt, and for the Exodus itself. The Children of Israel take the first steps to becoming a nation.

1)  The previous Parasha ended with the plague of hail that broke much of the vegetation.  What plague does this Parasha open with (10:12-15)? Why are these 2 plagues placed in this order?  What, in effect, did God destroy with these 2 plagues?

2) The plague of darkness came without warning. How did the Egyptians know that this was a plague and not a natural phenomenon that can be disregarded (10:21-24)?

3) Pharaoh is given a warning regarding the last plague. Unlike other plagues, here the potential victims are listed in details (11:4-7).  What will the plague be? Who will be hurt? Why do you think that God chose to warn Pharaoh in such detail?

4)  V.12:2 is considered the first commandment that the People of Israel are commanded.  What is this verse instructing the People about?  Why do you think that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not receive any instructions regarding a calendar, but it was given to the People in Egypt as the Exodus was beginning to become a reality? (You may want to think about what having your own calendar means.)

5) Prior to leaving Egypt, as part of the instructions for the night of the plague of the first-born, the People of Israel are instructed to keep this for generations to come in the land that God will give them (12:21-28).  Why do you think that it is important to keep this in future generations?  Why do you think that the people were instructed about it even before leaving Egypt?