Kenneth Cohen

Mitzvot in Egypt

The Torah contains 613 Mitzvot. There are 248 positive commandments and 365 negative commandments. The Book of Bereishit only contains three Mitzvot: Be fruitful and multiply, circumcision, and the prohibition against eating the sciatic vein.

The Torah resumes its listing of the commandments only in Parshat Bo. There are twenty Mitzvot in this Parsha, nine positive, and eleven negative. And the focus here is on the Pesach holiday and the preparation of the Pesach sacrifice.
These commandments coincide with the emergence of the Jewish people as a nation. They came to Egypt as a family of seventy individuals, and left as a nation of 600,000 in just 210 years. ( We must also compare these figures with the State of Israel that began with a Jewish population of 600,000 in 1948. In 2023, that number has swelled to nearly seven million. We must never minimize this impressive miracle, taking place right before our eyes.!)

The point to note here is that the success of the Jewish people as a nation, depends on its laws. We need a system of discipline and direction to maintain our ultimate purpose of being “a light unto the nations.”

These first twenty Mitzvot focus on Pesach with all of its details. In particular, there was a reminder to tell the story of the exodus of Egypt, every year on Passover. This was meant to strengthen our commitment to our people and realize why we are the “chosen people.”

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at
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