Parshat Hashavua Bo
By: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
At this point, the Torah relates that Hashem commanded Moshe to go to Pharaoh once again, but it does not mention any instructions He gave concerning the next plague, that of locusts. For this we have only Moshe’s later statement to Pharaoh and they said to Pharaoh, “So said Hashem, God of the Hebrews. For if you refuse to send forth My people, behold, tomorrow I shall bring a locust swarm into your border. Only from this verse do we know that Hashem must have commanded Moshe concerning this plague at the same time.
R' Moshe Feinstein reveals to us that we must say that the opening verses of this parsha are intended only to explain why Moshe was told to return to Pharaoh yet another time. Pharaoh could easily have let the Jews leave without further ado when he said, after the plague of hail [9:27], Hashem is the Righteous One, and I and my people are the wicked ones. Certainly his servants realized this, as they told him in exasperation, do you not know that Egypt is lost!
The first 7 plagues did not suffice to ensure that this display of Hashem’s power would be remember forever, since such things can easily be forgotten over the course of time. For this, 3 additional plagues were necessary, and therefore Moshe had to go to Pharaoh once again.
The Rebbe of Kotzk, explained that each of the plagues had a special effect on Yisrael. Just as the Egyptians were punished with frogs, lice, etc., so did Yisrael receive comparable spiritual gifts. As the Egyptians were lowered, Yisrael were raised in a corresponding manner. This means that as the Egyptians received their last and harshest punishment, the annihilation of their firstborn, Yisrael gained a great and commensurate gift and injection of Kedusha [holiness] into their firstborn. As the first fruit of Egypt, their firstborn, lay in their death throes, the Jewish world received a great measure of permanent sanctity to all aspects of firstness. This means that not only did the firstborn children become sanctified, but also every other manifestation of firstness
This Pesach, the first of all the festivals in the cycle, received a special measure of spirituality. Likewise, Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] and the Beis HaMikdash, the primary spots on earth, gained special sanctity, as did the primary elements of the intellect and emotions in man, which are the first powers of the soul.
This “sanctification of firsts” is actually the theme of the last part of the sidrah which we are trying to analyze. As always, there are three distinct aspects of this firstness in space, in time, and in the soul of mankind which are the primary arenas of human experience. Each of these is discussed by the verses following the introduction of the laws of bechoros: [the first born].
And it shall be, when GOD WILL BRING YOU TO THE LAND, WHICH He swore to you and your forefathers to give to you.
This refers to the Land of Israel. We have already seen above that the verses discuss Pesach, the first festival, whose principal focus is in the Beis HaMikdash, the primary spot in the Land of Israel. These are the expressions of firstness in time and space. Finally, the mitzvah of tefillin represents the dedication of the primary forces of the mind and emotions to GOD AND His rule, which are the expressions of firstness in mankind. The tefillin are placed on the bicep, opposite the heart, “tying” the powers of the emotions to the Torah. The head tefillin is placed slightly above the hairline, between the eyes, to represent the fact that control over the intellect is dependent on control over one’s faculty of sight.
We can see that the end of the sidrah is dealing not specifically with the sanctification of the bechor [first born], but with the entire realm of firsts. Each of these firsts finds its Kedusha [holiness] originating from the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt. We thus find that the verses describe the fact that even firsts outside the person, such as Eretz Yisrael and the Beis HaMikdash are sanctified, as are one’s material possessions. This is expressed by the laws of the firstborn animals and, of course, by the human firstborn.
The rule of the firstborn of the tamei [non-kosher] animal i.e. first born donkey relates to the sanctification of the body. The body and the donkey (representing man’s material possession’s) are the least spiritually inclined aspects of human life. The firstborn of kosher animals, which could be offered in the Beis Hamikdash stem from the holiness of the emotional soul. It is the soul of an animal which in some way is sacrificed as an atonement as an atonement for the soul of the sinner who brings an offering.
The final, and highest level is the firstborn human child, who is imbued from birth with a special sanctity. This corresponds to the intellect as the first child is a kind of conduit, enabling the father to pass his intellectual powers to his children.
Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim.
The Plague of Darkness
The darkness became matter, a tangible thing [Rashi].
Rabbi Nachman asks the question of Why was there a plague of Darkness? There were wicked Jews who refused to leave Egypt. They died during the Plague of Darkness and were buried at that time [so the Egyptians would not see the Jews suffering]. (Rashi on Exodus 10:22).
There is a body, there is a soul. There is matter, there is form. There is darkness, there is light. There is life. The first of each pair are all one concept, as are the second [Likutey Moharan I, 37:2]. Those who pursue the material the body are actually pursuing matter and darkness. Those who pursue spiritually merit to form and light.
Therefore, the Egyptians, who were steeped in bodily lusts, literally felt the darkness envelope them. And the wicked Jews who did not want to leave the materialistic lifestyle of Egypt died, since matter, body, darkness and death are the same concept. But those Jews who sought spirituality and anticipated the salvation had light in their homes, for spirituality and light are synonymous. In fact, they merited to the light of the Future, which is similar to the light of creation that enveloped the entire world. Rashi, [Bereishes 1:3]
The Jews willingness to leave Egypt quickly, without proper preparation for their journey through the desert, displayed great faith. From whence did they derive that faith? Moreover, the Jews were steeped in the lowest levels of idolatry, without any means of understanding the truth about God. Had they been in possession of the Torah, they would have had the means to learn about God and to have faith in Him. Without Torah, what motivated them to follow God?
This is the miracle of the Exodus that God, knowing the Jews were not quite ready, nevertheless gave them an illumination of faith and truth by which they could accept Him and follow Him into the desert. The same holds true for anyone who seeks God today. When a person displays a willingness to accept God. God will send him an illumination of faith and truth to help him begin his spiritual journey.