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.

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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?

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The Heart of Pharaoh

The Heart of Pharaoh

Jan 30, 2009 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Bo

God “has hardened [Pharoah’s] heart and the hearts of his courtiers” in order to teach them and the entire world a painful and difficult lesson about where true power resides. In order to understand that lesson, I think, we must try to understand Pharaoh.

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Lighting the Darkness

Lighting the Darkness

Jan 11, 2008 By Lisa Gelber | Commentary | Bo

It’s difficult not to notice darkness at this time of year; so many of us set out for work in the dark and leave our places of business long after the sun has set.

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Pesah Three Ways

Pesah Three Ways

Jan 27, 2007 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

Unambiguous ambiguity is the hallmark of philology, the study of words. The deeper one delves into the meaning of a given word, the more that particular word yields to shades of meaning. This week’s Torah reading, Parashat Bo, presents us with one such example of multilayered understandings and readings. As the Children of Israel depart from Egypt, God issues the first commandment to the Israelites: “This month [Nisan] will mark for you the beginning of the months.” (Exodus 12:2). How are the Israelites to mark this new month of Nisan? On the tenth day of the month, the Israelites are commanded to select a lamb which will serve as the Pesah offering to God. What precisely is the meaning of Pesah?

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Free Will and Dental Care

Free Will and Dental Care

Jan 26, 2007 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Bo

After years of neglect and in response to the prodding of my dentist, I have undertaken a much more rigorous program of care for my teeth.

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Labor & Leisure

Labor & Leisure

Jan 31, 2004 By Joshua Heller | Commentary | Bo

The eve of the Exodus, as described in Parashat Bo and as we relive it in the Passover seder, reflect a peculiar admixture of labor and leisure. On the one hand, as the Mishnah (Pesahim 10:1) teaches, on the seder night, “even the poorest in Israel should not eat until he reclines.” (In this context, reclining is the classic sign of leisure.) At the same time, we eat matzah, the bread of poverty and affliction. In ancient times having more than one “tavlin” (dipping sauce), was a sign of luxury, and yet even as we dip twice, one of the things that we dip is bitter herb, and one of the sauces is salt water. This contradiction has its beginnings in this week’s parashahBo, which describes the Paschal sacrifice (the true first seder) and carries through to a central paradox in modern life.

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Life’s Cycles

Life’s Cycles

Jan 31, 2004 By Melissa Crespy | Commentary | Bo | Shabbat Rosh Hodesh

In the midst of recounting the horrifying last three plagues in Egypt, God tells Moses and Aaron: “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” (Exodus 12:2) As the Etz Hayim Humash remarks: “A slave does not control his or her own time; it belongs to someone else.” (p. 380). One of the first steps in the liberation of the Israelites, then, was for them to have their own calendar – to measure their lives and their holy moments in their own way, not at the dictates of others.

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Fourth Sons

Fourth Sons

Jan 11, 2003 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

I am fortunate to be able to teach to people who know how to ask questions. My students are part of the universe of transmitters and receivers of Judaism. Yet I sometimes wonder about people who are not in my orbit. It is as if a traveler comes to Earth and occupies himself with its inhabitants and their activities, and then looks out into the vast deep darkness of space and wonders who is out there in that domain of silence.

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Dread of Darkness

Dread of Darkness

Jan 11, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bo

Darkness unsettles us. As children we went to sleep with a small light on; as adults we prefer to come home to a dwelling not totally dark. We fear what we cannot see. It is for this reason that we start the evening service with the recitation of a verse from Psalm 78: “But he, the compassionate one, would expiate sin, and not destroy; he would again and again turn back his anger, and would not arouse his full wrath” (v. 38, trans. by Edward J. Greenstein). As the darkness of night envelops us, we affirm God’s nearness. God does not withdraw with the setting of the sun.

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Darkness As Threat & Haven

Darkness As Threat & Haven

Jan 19, 2002 By Lauren Eichler Berkun | Commentary | Bo

In an emotional television interview, the last person rescued alive from the World Trade Center described her panic when she saw that night had arrived while she was still trapped beneath the wreckage. Once this woman realized that the light had faded from between the slabs of concrete and metal and that it was truly dark outside, she lost hope of ever being rescued.

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Fear and Power

Fear and Power

Jan 19, 2002 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Bo

The final blow is about to fall. The tenth plague, the killing of the first–born of Egypt, is soon to occur. Yet in contrast to the unfolding of the first nine plagues, this one must wait a bit. Two things must happen first: the Israelites must ask their Egyptian neighbors to give them objects of gold and silver, and they must prepare for the first Passover. The Torah explains why the Egyptians would agree to give the Israelites what they request: “The Lord disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people. Moreover, Moses himself was much esteemed in the land of Egypt [literally, was seen as very great] among Pharaoh’s courtiers and among the people.” (Exodus 11:3)

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Angel Analysis

Angel Analysis

Feb 3, 2001 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

The Passover seder song, Had Gadya, is sung to a merry little tune that belies the violent content. Why this song is sung at Passover is the subject of varying interpretations, but one connection seems clear: malakh ha-mavet, the angel of death. After all wasn’t it the angel of death that slew the first-born of Egypt? Actually, it was not.

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The Right to Question

The Right to Question

Jan 15, 2000 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

The custom at many a Seder table is to have the youngest child recite the famous four questions which open the evening’s dialogue. Often the child, still several years away from knowing how to read, recites from memory, having learned them by heart in pre-school. The performance is more than a moment of pride for parents and grandparents. It is a taste of the spirit of Judaism which the child will only come to appreciate years later. Judaism is a religion that not only permits but encourages us to ask questions. Because things are sacred does not mean that we have forfeited the right to think for ourselves.

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Moses on Trial

Moses on Trial

Jan 23, 1999 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Bo

Perhaps by now you have seen the animated feature, The Prince of Egypt. In one scene, the character of Moses is portrayed as being plagued(!) by his conscience immediately after killing the Egyptian who had been beating the Israelite (see Exodus 2:12). In fact, the movie eliminates the secretive nature of this act as the Biblical narrative presents it (look it up!), and instead depicts Moses as fleeing Egypt — not because the Egyptian authorities are seeking his life — but as a result of his moral abhorrence of his own act. The taking of a human life is judged by this animated pacifist as reason for self-exile from society. Unfortunately, the film does not take up the issue of the wholesale loss of Egyptian life in the ensuing plagues sequence and splitting of the sea. In the movie, Moses never questions God’s fierce methods in freeing the Israelites from slavery. We shall return to this issue below.

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Trading Pharaoh for God?

Trading Pharaoh for God?

Jan 31, 1998 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]? (Exodus 12:26). 

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Asking Questions

Asking Questions

Jan 27, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bo

Isidor I. Rabi, who was born in Austria in 1898, won the Nobel prize in physics in 1944.

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The Significance of the Tenth

The Significance of the Tenth

Jan 15, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bo

The tenth plague finally shatters Pharaoh’s resistance.

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Bo

Bo

Jan 1, 1980

13 The word which the Lord spoke to the prophet Jeremiah about the coming of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon to attack the land of Egypt:

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Bo

Bo

Jan 1, 1980

1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, 

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