YHVH charges Moshe to "go to Pharaoh", and it is this "going" which our Parasha is named after (the literal meaning of "bo" is "come"). The approximately three and a half chapters of Parashat Bo encompass a number of central themes. The historical narrative (describing the last plagues, some of the Israelites' preparations to leave Egypt, and a few of their moves), is interspersed with themes of redemption, ransom, the Pesach celebration, injunctions to instruct the future generations, and several teaching tools which are to accompany the nation of Yisrael down the road of time. Thus, at the outset of Yisrael's travels, which ultimately will bring them to the Land of Promise, they are also embarking on a journey to becoming a (special) Nation. And while they had no time to prepare supplies (ref. 12:39), and were carrying almost only that which the Egyptians had given them (ref. 12:33, 35, 36), YHVH was starting to do His own equipping of this nascent nation on the road toward its destiny.
educational theme is evident right at the beginning, by the reason given for
By this time in the narrative, the land of Egypt has experienced great devastation, with much more to come. The severity of the next plague is such that locusts "shall cover the face [literally "eye"] of the earth, so that no one will be able to see the earth, and they shall eat the residue of what is left, which remains… from the hail…" (10: 5, 15). Here we find a sequel of three synonyms. The repetition serves to heighten the proportions of the catastrophe. The Hebrew reads: "yeter [ha]*pleta [ha]nish'eret". “Yeter” is that which remains, as is also seen in 12:10, where the lamb is to be eaten in such a way that "you shall let none of it remain until morning" (emphasis added). The term "pleta nish'eret" was also mentioned by Yoseph, when he disclosed his identity to his brothers, saying the following: "And Elohim sent me before you to put a remnant ["she'erit", of the same root as "nish'eret" above] in the land for you and to keep alive for you a great survival [pleta]” (Gen. 45:7, literal translation, italics added). Yoseph’s words, regarding the survival of his brethren, had a prophetic fulfillment, as the “remnant” of the Children of Yisrael has not only “survived”, but it had actually turned into multitudes, resulting in Egypt's soil being left (almost) without residue of remaining life (through the plagues inflicted by the Elohim of the “remnant”). Therefore, that which was a means of salvation for one people (as expressed by Yoseph), turned into deadly circumstances for the other! Shaul the apostle expresses a similar principle in the following words: “We are to Elohim the fragrance of Messiah among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life" (2nd Cor. 2:15-16).
Par’oh's now-exasperated servants complain about Moshe,
describing him as a "mokesh"
– “snare” (10: 7). However, according to Ee’yov (Job) 34:30, it is a
Godless king, such as Par’oh, who “should not reign lest the people be ensnared" (emphasis added)!
Indeed, no sooner were the locusts removed, when Par’oh's persistence brought
about the ninth plague. Total darkness
descended upon his land, and his people were ensnared once more. The darkness was so thick that it could be
"ya'mesh", that is, "felt"
or "touched" (10: 21. See also Genesis 27:12, describing the
concern of Ya'acov, who was impersonating his brother, lest his father should
discover his real identity by “touching” his smooth skin). In 10:23 we are
struck by the contrast between the total darkness prevailing over
It is time now to prepare for the last phase, and for the start of a new one. YHVH declares to Moshe that He is about to strike the final blow on the Egyptians and on their king, “afterward he will let you go from here; when he lets you go he will surely drive you out of here altogether” (ref. 11:1). The last phrase may be also rendered (although without negating the conventional meaning): “he will send you from here. As if sending off a bride will he expel you from here” (“surely” – ‘kala’ here – can mean completely OR a bride). The (Hebrew) terms “driving” and “sending” are terms also used for divorce. What’s more, when in the next verse Moshe is told that Israel is to ask from their neighbors' articles of silver and gold, one wonders if this isn’t symbolic of a bride’s dowry, the dowry that she was now to retrieve, upon her ‘disengagement’ from the relationship with Egypt and its ruler, being set free to follow YHVH to “the wilderness, to a land not sown” (ref. Jer. 2:2). Perhaps YHVH's insistence (in spite of His own unlimited power) that it be Par'oh who would release Yisrael, supports this probability that YHVH's people were bound legally to Mitzrayim's sovereign.
It is taught that the pattern of lives of the fathers is followed by their children or posterity. If that is the case, then Avram's descent into Egypt during a time of famine, giving up his wife to Par'oh who suffered from "great plagues" as a consequence (ref. Gen. 12:10-20, cf. 26:1-11), certainly supports the latter events taking place in our Parasha.
Moshe goes on to convey to Pharaoh the news regarding the slaying of the Egyptians' firstborn sons, in place of Yisrael’s slain male babies, while the slaying of Egypt’s firstborn was already predicted by YHVH in Shmot 4:22-23. This is followed by instructions for the Pesach lamb, whose smeared blood will single out the homes of the Hebrews when YHVH will be striking the Egyptian homes by killing their firstborn. Each Hebrew household is to partake of one lamb or share it with others if the family happens to be too small. The expression used, "according to the number" (12:4), is denoted by a single word - "[beh]mich'sat," rooted in k.s.s (kaf/chaf, samech, samech), meaning "to allocate". A similar root is k.s.h (kaf, samech, hey) which means "to cover". Thus, even before an explanation is given for the procedure of choosing, slaughtering, eating the lamb, and applying its blood, the text points subtly to the Lamb which has been ‘allocated’ and designated to be slain from the foundations of the world (ref. Rev. 13:8), Whose blood was given for the covering of sin.
The blood over the Hebrews’ doors enabled YHVH to steer
clear of their homes by passing over - "pasach" (ref. 12:23) - a verb rooted in p.s.ch (pey, samech,
chet) and means to “pass" or "skip". Yishayahu (Isaiah) 31:5
says: "Like flying birds, so YHVH of Hosts will protect
We have already noted that our Parasha is 'didactically
inclined', with 12:14-22 being devoted to instructions pertaining to the future
life of the Israelites, once planted in their own land. This passage is fraught
with distinct words and terms. We already examined the notion of "allocating"
The lamb was to be slaughtered on the 14th day of the month, "at twilight" (12:6), which is "ben arba'yim”. “Arbayim" is the plural form of “erev” (evening), the all-familiar term we have been discussing over and again. Most interpreters and commentators believe that "between the evenings" (its literal meaning) denotes "twilight". However, there exists a minority view that supports the literal “between the evenings”, making that expression a reference to an entire day, between the 14th and the 15th. The meat was to be eaten with bitter herbs, “maror”, and unleavened bread called "matza", which are thin wafer-like crackers baked without yeast (12:8).
The root m.tz.h
(mem, tzadi, hey) means “to drain out” to the very last drop of water
(e.g., Jud. 6:38) since the leavening agents require liquid in order to be
activated. The bitter herbs most likely point to the "bitterness" experienced
by the Children of Yisrael in
In 12:14 we
encounter for the first time one of the words for "feast" -
"chag" (although in verb
form it appeared already in Ex. 5:1). Since the annual reoccurrence of the
Feasts makes them cyclical, “chag” is related to the verb "choog" which describes a circle
(Job 22:14; Pro. 8:27; Is. 40:22). By its very nature this word implies not
only a (set) time but also a place - a “circle”. Another such 'multi-dimensional' word is holy
"convocation", also appearing here for the first time (v. 16). This
"holy convocation" or "assembly", is "mikra kodesh". The root k.r.a
(kof, resh, alef) means “to call”, even though the
"convocation" - the assembling - is made up of people. The
"mikra kodesh" (i.e., the congregation) is designated, therefore, by
its calling, but is also connected to a place. In Yishayahu (Isaiah) 4:5, for
example, we read: "Then YHVH will
create over the whole area of
In their Egyptian Pesach, the Israelites were promised that "the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses... And when I see the blood, I will pass over you" (12:13). This "seeing" (of the blood) brings to mind another "seeing" on the part of YHVH, as was stated by Avraham, who on the road to Mount Moriah responded to his son's inquiry regarding the offering, saying: “YHVH will see (literally) for himself the lamb for the offering" (Gen. 22:8 italics added). And although (at that time) it was a ram that was provided, the beginning of the fulfillment of those words is taking place now, in Egypt, later to have a further fulfillment, to an even greater degree, by another Lamb. One more connection to the Lamb of Elohim is found in 12:46, where it says that none of the bones of the lamb are to be broken, an injunction which finds its fulfillment in Yochanan (John) 19:33.
The Egyptians finally relent to send off the Israelites.
According to 12:33, "they pressed” them to leave. However, "pressed"
in this case is from the root "strong" - "chazak" - which makes it a fulfillment of 6:1 “…For with a
strong hand [Par’oh] will let them go, and with a strong
When the time allotted for their sojourn in
The latter part of the Parasha, 13:1-16, is devoted to
further instructions. First and foremost, among them is the "setting
apart" of the firstborn: "…every one who opens the womb among the
Among the "firsts" in this Parasha, there is a first reference to a name of a month - the "month of Aviv" (13:4). The literal meaning of "aviv", which became synonymous with "spring", is a stalk of grain whose ears are still green. This word indicates the very beginning of growth, before the fruit or grain has had time to develop (e.g., Job 8:12; Song of Solomon 6:11), and is perhaps (also) a reflection on the condition of the Nation in formation. The fact that the noun “aviv” starts with alef, bet, the first two letters of the Alphabet, letters that also form the word “av” - “father”, highlights its “firstness”.
Twice in this portion of instructions we encounter
references to the "signs" that are to be on one's hand and forehead
(13:9, 16). These "signs" are to be for the purpose of remembering
and commemorating the "strong hand with which YHVH brought you out of
Lastly, in order to partake of the Pesach, a man was required to be circumcised (ref. 12:48), a fact that connects the Paschal lamb to circumcision. It points to the renewal of the Covenant established with Avraham and his descendants. Interestingly, in Parashat Sh'mot (4:22) YHVH declares that Yisrael is His “firstborn”, and in the same breath predicts that because Par’oh will refuse to let His firstborn go, He will kill his firstborn (4:22,23). What immediately follows is the episode where Moshe’s wife is circumcising her son, using the term "a groom of blood" (4:24-26). This act and choice of vocabulary reinforce the connection of the Paschal lamb's blood to the blood of circumcision. Our "Groom of Blood, " Yeshua, is also the epitome of the Pesach offering. His Blood has rendered us - the "circumcision who worships Elohim in the Spirit" (Phil. 3:3).
* Ha denotes the definite article in Hebrew.
 The Chumash Shmot With The Commentary Daat Mikrah, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 1991.