For the week ending 8 January 2022 / 6 Shvat 5782

Parashat Bo

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Hashem 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.

Hashem 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 Hashem is going to bring one more plague, the death of the firstborn, and then the Jews will leave Egypt. Hashem 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 Hashem 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 Hashem's commands, and the Jewish People fulfill them flawlessly. Hashem sends the final plague.


Egyptian Pandemic Reaches Its Climax

“Pharaoh said to him (Moshe), ‘Go from me!’” (10:28)

As we near the end of the second year of the coronavirus pandemic, life without a mask seems like a fond memory. And no one has any idea as to how long it will go on. Having had the privilege of being born at the half-way mark of the twentieth century in a stable western democracy, I never experienced a catastrophe like war or famine. That is, of course, until COVID-19 was unleashed upon the world.

I recently finished reading "The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race" by Walter Isaacson. I guess I have always been a bit naïve about scientists. Like many people, I like to think of them as somewhat otherworldly and not interested in the flesh-pots. Nothing could be further from the truth. The world of bio-tech is big business, and intellectual property is as fiercely fought over and as guarded as the crown jewels. The egos involved are as large as in any Hollywood movie.

But the nightmare of Covid changed all that. There was no attempt, as Doudna put it, ‘"to protect the university’s ability to profit from hypothetical inventions that might arise from scientists doing what we’re supposed to do — share our work with each other.”

She further writes: “Scientists around the world contributed to an open database of coronavirus sequences that, by the end of August 2020, had thirty-six thousand entries.

“The sense of urgency about COVID also brushed back the gatekeeper role played by expensive, peer-reviewed, paywall-protected scholarly journals such as Science and Nature. Instead of waiting months for the editors and reviewers to decide whether to publish a paper, researchers at the height of the coronavirus crisis were posting more than a hundred papers a day on preprint servers, such as medRxiv and bioRxiv, which were free and open and required a minimal review process.

“This allowed information to be shared in real time, freely, and even be dissected on social media. Despite the potential danger of spreading research that had not been fully vetted, the rapid and open dissemination worked well: it sped up the process of building on each new finding and allowed the public to follow the advance of science as it happened.

“On some important papers involving coronavirus, publication on the reprint servers led to crowdsourced vetting and wisdom from experts around the world.”

Pharaoh needed ten pandemics to humble his ego and let the Jews leave Egypt. It is encouraging that bio-tech scientists needed only one.

But maybe it is naïve to think that this spirit of humility and sharing will outlast the pandemic itself.

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