Teach Your Children Well

Teach Your Children Well

Jan 7, 2022 By Dov Kahane | Commentary | Bo

In Parashat Bo, we read about “Pesah Mitzrayim”—God’s instructions to the Israelites for the eve of their exodus—including slaughtering the lamb and placing its blood on the doorposts as a marker of divine protection. In Exodus 12:21–28, Moshe conveys these rites, including the need to explain them to children. Many of these passages are most familiar to us from the Passover Haggadah. What can we learn from the way they have been incorporated there?

Read More
Sworn to Sacred Service

Sworn to Sacred Service

Jan 22, 2021 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Bo

The most powerful ritual in American life is the oath of office administered to our President. The text is prescribed by the Constitution, but its choreography is a matter of convention. Most Presidents have placed their left hand on a Bible as they raise their right and swear to execute their office faithfully, to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” This ritual signals solemnity and anticipation for the work awaiting our new leader.

Read More
The Liberating Power of the Calendar

The Liberating Power of the Calendar

Jan 31, 2020 By Hillel Gruenberg | Commentary | Bo

In Parashat Bo, God instructs Moses to formally begin the counting of months, with the month of Aviv (later Nisan) kicking off what we now know as the Hebrew calendar. This injunction represents the first commandment given to the Children of Israel, and only the third or fourth in the entirety of the Torah. It might seem odd that this, of all the many commandments the children of Israel will eventually receive, is handed down first, even before the exodus from Egypt was completed. However, the institution of this uniquely Hebrew calendrical system (its overlap with other frameworks aside) was a necessary precursor to support both the communal-religious practice and mental emancipation of a newly (or rather, soon-to-be) free people.

Read More
Memory and the Exodus from Egypt

Memory and the Exodus from Egypt

Jan 11, 2019 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Bo

Zakhor—Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, from the house of bondage, for with a mighty hand Adonai brought you forth from this . . . (Exod. 13:3).

The Exodus from Egypt is the first of several things the Torah commands us to remember (zakhor). What does it mean to remember, and how do we accomplish it?

Read More
Miracles of Biblical and Everyday Proportions

Miracles of Biblical and Everyday Proportions

Jan 19, 2018 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Bo

Last week, God pummeled Egypt unprecedentedly with hail:

The LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire streamed down to the ground, as the LORD rained down hail upon the land of Egypt. The hail was very heavy—fire flashing in the midst of the hail—such as had not fallen on the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. (Exod. 9:23–24)

On the combination of fire and ice, Ibn Ezra comments that this was “a wonder within a wonder.” 

Read More
From Generation to Generation Activism is Alive!

From Generation to Generation Activism is Alive!

Feb 3, 2017 By Jonathan Lipnick | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

My son Noah and I like to take walks together. It affords us time to connect—to talk about food, sports, relationships, and politics, and, once in a while, to explore an existential question.

“If I had never met my grandfather,” Noah once asked me, “is it true to say that I will never really know him?”

Read More
“Us” and “Them”

“Us” and “Them”

Feb 3, 2017 By Paula Rose | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

“They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”

This tongue-in-cheek summary of most Jewish holidays applies most strongly, perhaps, to the Passover Seder. We retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, we praise and thank God for redeeming us, and then we eat a festive meal. Cast in that light, the story of the Exodus seems so straightforward. The Israelites are innocent victims, somehow pawns in God’s larger plan. The Egyptians, and especially Pharaoh, are wicked, oppressing the Israelites with forced labor.

Read More
The Power of Paradox for the Religious Life

The Power of Paradox for the Religious Life

Jan 15, 2016 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Bo

There are a few texts that have helped me get through dark and difficult periods in my religious life, first amongst them being several paragraphs by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik buried in a footnote in his essay Halakhic Man. At another stage of my life long since gone, I yearned for a simple faith in God. I yearned for a transcendent framework that might help me feel closer to a God that too many times felt too far away. I had believed that a sense of wholeness and integration were possible goals for the religious life.

Read More
Discovering Love at Dawn

Discovering Love at Dawn

Jan 15, 2016 By Benjamin Resnick | Commentary | Bo

The photograph above—my last before becoming a parent—was taken early in the morning on January 7, 2015, the coldest day of a very young year. In my imagination, Jonah was born just after, as the sun was rising over the city. In reality, he was not. He was born at 11:11a.m., when the sun was already high in the sky. But, like the Doe of the Morning, I remember him coming at dawn.

Read More
Where Does Midrash Begin?

Where Does Midrash Begin?

Jan 23, 2015 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Bo

In this week’s parashah we find the first legal passage in the Torah, Exodus 12, which contains laws concerning Passover. Torah as a type of literature is best defined as a combination of law and narrative. In Torah we read not only some laws here and some narratives there, but laws that are authenticated and explained by the narrative, and narrative whose purpose is to motivate us to observe the laws. Since we first encounter law in this week’s parashah, in a significant way it is here that the Torah begins in earnest.

Read More
“We Were Slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt”

“We Were Slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt”

Jan 23, 2015 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bo

Mount Sinai and a pyramid mirror each other, two halves of a whole. The pyramid is upside down, demonstrating that slavery is unnatural. Servitude distorts reality and ambition. This distortion comes not only from slavery to a human master, but also from when we become enslaved to our own drives—lacking the ability to envision an alternative or to hold fast to hope.

Read More
Out of the Darkness, into the Light

Out of the Darkness, into the Light

Jan 3, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bo

As Parashat Bo opens, the intransigence of Pharaoh increases as well as the determination of God, Moses, and Aaron.

Read More
The Many Languages of Torah

The Many Languages of Torah

Jan 3, 2014 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Bo

Sometimes basic questions are the hardest to answer. For example, I know that one plus one equals two, but when asked to prove it logically, I may struggle a bit before I can express it.

Read More
Afraid of the Dark

Afraid of the Dark

Jan 16, 2013 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Bo

I cannot read the stories of the plagues without a knot in my stomach. What kind of God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that the suffering of both the Egyptians and the enslaved Israelites increases? What kind of God comes up with the death of the firstborn as the “final straw”? What am I supposed to do with these stories as someone who wants to believe in the God of Redemption and Compassion and Justice; who wants to feel that God’s presence in my life?

Read More
Redemption in Place and Time

Redemption in Place and Time

Jan 16, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bo

In his very first comment on Torah, Rashi, the prolific medieval commentator, made this week’s parashah famous for exegetic eternity.

Read More
The Final Plague

The Final Plague

Jan 28, 2012 By David Levy | Commentary | Text Study | Bo

Each year, when we read the Exodus story and again when we encounter it at the Passover seder, we are confronted with a serious moral question. We must ask ourselves how we feel about the nature of the collective punishment of the Egyptians.

Read More
Redemption Through Law

Redemption Through Law

Jan 28, 2012 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Bo

In the midst of the tumult of the Exodus—while the plagues are still falling like locusts upon Egypt; after the deep darkness that plunged the land back into primal chaos; as the Israelite slaves desperately and, it must be admitted, somewhat gleefully despoil their former masters just after the ominous warning has been issued of the impending death of Egypt’s firstborn—the Torah pauses in its breathless narrative as if for a commercial break, a word from our Sponsor.

Read More
Intent of a Question

Intent of a Question

Jan 8, 2011 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

Everyone knows that four children are mentioned in the Passover Haggadah and that one of them is the evil child. Probably fewer of us are aware that the question attributed to this child is a biblical verse found in this week’s Torah portion, “What do you mean by this rite (avodah)?” (Exod. 12:26). 

Read More
What’s Really Bad for the Jews?

What’s Really Bad for the Jews?

Jan 8, 2011 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Bo

Apparently the wonders and miracles of the plagues were not enough to inspire all of the Israelites to want to leave Egypt. Moreover, according to this midrash, not all of the Israelites were slaves.

Read More
Realpolitik and the Exodus

Realpolitik and the Exodus

Jan 23, 2010 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Bo

This devar Torah is about religion, politics, and war. We are a country currently fighting two foreign wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and a war on terror at home and abroad. My intention is not to tilt Republican or Democrat; rather, the point of these words of Torah is to reflect on what it means to be Jewish under these circumstances. Or to ask in the classic rabbinic formulation: what can this week’s Torah portion teach us?

Read More
Reset Search

SUBSCRIBE TO TORAH FROM JTS

Our regular commentaries and videos are a great way to stay intellectually and spiritually engaged with Jewish thought and wisdom.