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Parashat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)

“And Moses said, ‘We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go; for we must make a feast for the Lord’” (Exodus 10:9).

Parashat Bo describes the final two plagues, darkness and the slaying of the Egyptian first-born, the last of which causes Pharaoh to capitulate, finally, and release the Israelites from slavery. Bo also includes three of the four commands in the Torah to teach your children Torah (the fourth appears in Parashat Va-etchanan). Classic commentary assumes each command indicates a specific audience; the four passages are the source for Passover Haggadah’s four sons (or daughters!), who are presented there in order of their cognitive ability: the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who doesn’t know how to ask.

Brurei Hamidot (?-1906; Lithuanian commentator), however, pairs them along two different axes. The simple and wicked are the two extremes of Jewish practice: the simple practice even when it’s irrational, while the wicked refuse to accept even the rational. The wise and the one who doesn’t ask are the two extremes of Jewish thinking: the wise want to investigate everything while the one who doesn’t know how to ask isn’t curious about anything.

These Jewish archetypes exist to this day, symbolizing the fragmentation of the Jewish (and larger) community. They also provide a lens for understanding the significance of the “heavy” darkness that fell over Egypt (Ex. 10:22). Ketav Sofer (1815–1871; Hungarian rabbi) says darkness comes when a person doesn’t “see” others; the plague is the inability of one human being to interact with another. Today, despite the new ways technology connects us, we still suffer from a plague of isolation. In Parashat Bo, only God can undo the actual darkness. Our challenge is to undo the metaphorical darkness.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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