For the week ending 23 January 2021 / 10 Shvat 5781

Parashat Bo

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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G-d tells Moshe that He is hardening Pharaoh's heart so that through miraculous plagues the world will know for all time that He is the one true G-d. Pharaoh is warned about the plague of locusts and is told how severe it will be. Pharaoh agrees to release only the men, but Moshe insists that everyone must go. During the plague, Pharaoh calls for Moshe and Aharon to remove the locusts, and he admits he has sinned.

G-d ends the plague but hardens Pharaoh's heart, and again Pharaoh fails to free the Jews. The country, except for the Jewish People, is then engulfed in a palpable darkness. Pharaoh calls for Moshe and tells him to take all the Jews out of Egypt, but to leave their flocks behind. Moshe tells him that not only will they take their own flocks, but Pharaoh must add his own too.

Moshe tells Pharaoh that G-d is going to bring one more plague, the death of the firstborn, and then the Jews will leave Egypt. G-d again hardens Pharaoh's heart, and Pharaoh warns Moshe that if he sees him again, Moshe will be put to death. G-d tells Moshe that the month of Nissan will be the chief month.

The Jewish People are commanded to take a sheep on the 10th of the month and guard it until the 14th. The sheep is then to be slaughtered as a Pesach offering, its blood put on their doorposts, and its roasted meat eaten. The blood on the doorpost will be a sign that their homes will be passed-over when G-d strikes the firstborn of Egypt. The Jewish People are told to memorialize this day as the Exodus from Egypt by never eating chametz on Pesach.

Moshe relays G-d's commands, and the Jewish People fulfill them flawlessly. G-d sends the final plague, killing the firstborn, and Pharaoh sends the Jews out of Egypt. G-d tells Moshe and Aharon the laws concerning the Pesach sacrifice, pidyon haben (redemption of the firstborn son) and tefillin.

  • Pesachim 68a


Not Quite Kindled

“…and you shall not break a bone of it (the Pesach offering).” (12:46)

Living in Israel makes it somewhat difficult to buy and read English language books. Even before Corona, buying a real paper book and shipping it out from the States or the UK could take a month. Kindle promised to change all that. Amazon Kindle is a series of e-readers, devices that enable users to browse, buy, download and read electronic books, newspapers, magazines and other digital media via wireless networking to the Kindle Store — pretty much instantly.

I bought a Kindle over a year ago and I must have read twenty or more books on it. It is very convenient and certainly instant, but I realized after a while that there is something lacking in my reading experience. Having a real book, picking it up, seeing it age and spilling coffee on its pages — create a relationship with the reading matter of the book itself. The way we interface with the objects in our lives has an impact on our intellectual experience. The form influences the content.

When I cast my eyes over my bookshelves, I sense a visceral relationship with the physical books there, and I feel in some way more connected to the content of their pages.

What remains from the Kindle experience of reading is somehow more abstract, more distant, and cold. It is not just the lack of a good cover. I do not have the same connection to the material of the book because I did not have the physical experience of touching it, opening it, cracking its cover and remembering it whenever I see its spine of my shelf.

The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 16) asks a famous question about why we need so many mitzvahs to remember the Exodus. One entire volume out of four of the Shulchan AruchOrach HaChaim — is devoted to the minutiae of every aspect of the observance of Pesach. Says the Chinuch, surely to remember our leaving Egypt all we should need is to eat a bit of matzah each year. He then outlines a key principle of human psychology: Feelings are created by actions. Our actions influence the way we feel about something. A mitzvah is a physical embodiment of a spiritual reality. The experience of the spiritual reality can only be “kindled” by physical experience.

Tu B'Shevat

The Torah likens man to a tree: "For man is a tree of the field" (Deut. 20:19). Man is like a tree in that his head is rooted in the Heavens, nestled in the spiritual soils of the Eternal, and nourished by his connection to his Creator. His arms and legs are like branches, through which he accrues good deeds, and upon which the "fruits" of his labor are laden.

Therefore, on Tu B’Shevat one should revitalize his connection to G-d, and rejuvenate his commitment to keep the mitzvahs (Midrash Shemuel on Pirkei Avot 3:24).

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