Parshat Bo: Some fresh insights into a fascinating parsha

I would encourage the reader to re-visit my comments on Parshiot Bo and Beshalah from last year, prior to examining the addenda that follow here

כה אמר ה אלוקי העברים … שלח עמי ויעבדוני
Thus said the Lord G-d of the Hebrews … send my people and they will serve me (Exodus10:3)

The intent and meaning of this verse is ambiguous. It can mean any of the following:

  1. The conventional understanding, i.e. to mislead Pharaoh into believing he would be allowing the Israelites to take but a temporary leave in order to worship (serve) their G-d;
  2. That emancipation is a precondition before the Israelites are even able to serve their G-d (i.e. release them so that they can serve me);
  3. That without emancipation the Israelites will not even recognize
    G-d (i.e. only by releasing them will they serve me)
  4. That by emancipating them they will serve (be slaves to) Me (G-d) instead of to you, Pharaoh.

I would suggest that all of these are true. It seemed that misleading Pharaoh would make it easier to get the Israelites out of Egypt. It was likely that most Israelites were totally incapable of connecting to their G-d while still indentured to the Egyptian society and culture. It was likely that many if not most Israelites resisted recognizing G-d while in Egypt, again because of their total assimilation within Egypt (Indeed the purpose of the plagues, and why G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart repeatedly, was to awaken the Israelites). And, finally, that emancipation would not mean unfettered liberty. It would mean shifting the subservience of the Israelites from Egypt to YHWH.

ויאמרו עבדי פרעה … שלח את האנשים
And Pharaoh’s slaves/servants said … send these people (Exodus10:7)

 This verse would have made more sense had it said: “And Pharaoh’s people said … send these slaves”

There is something very amiss here. Can it be that the Egyptian hoi polloi already recognized that, for all intents and purposes, the Israelites were already emancipated, at least compared to themselves, and that it was only they, the Egyptians proper, who remained indentured to their king?

והשם נהג רוח קדים בארץ כל היום ההוא וכל הלילה
And G-d drove an eastern wind in the land all that day and all that night (10:13)

ויהפך השם רוח ים חזק מאד וישא את הארבה|
And G-d turned a strong west wind …(10:19)

The plague of locusts both begins and ends with seemingly natural phenomena. An east wind brings the locusts (10:13) and a reverse wind drives them out (10:19). If nothing else this may teach us that miracles are not necessarily “miraculous” — that seemingly natural occurrences may be anything but. It is for us to grasp what is in fact happening, and to understand that these are not accidents.

והעתירו להשם אלקיכם ויסר מעלי רק את המות הזה
And entreat the Lord your G-d that he remove but this death from upon me(10:17)

ויעתר (משה) אל ה
And Moses entreated G-d(10:18)

This is puzzling. Why does Pharaoh ask that Moses plead? Why doesn’t he simply say, ok, the jig is up, I give in, goodbye? And why does Moses then plead with G-d to end this plague?

A possible answer might be that locusts create famine by ravaging all crops. Hence there might be an element of déjà vu here whereby Pharaoh and, indeed, Moses might think they are on the verge of a reprise of the entire saga of the sojourn in Egypt – whereby an Israelite salvages the economy and then Egypt gets stuck with its Jews for four centuries. Hence both are inclined to pray for a change.

וישאלו איש מאת רעהו ואשה מאת רעותה כלי כסף וכלי זהב
And each (Israelite) man shall borrow from his (Egyptian male) neighbor, and each (Israelite) woman shall from her (Egyptian female) neighbor, items of silver and objects of gold. (11:12)

This passage supports of my earlier assertion (Parshat Vaera) that the Israelites were hardly slaves in the conventional sense. They were fully integrated into Egyptian society and culture. Rather than being slaves to the Egyptians, they were (as Scripture hints – Exodus 6:5) slaves to Egypt and to its ways; intoxicated and addicted to the prevailing culture much as American and British Jews are addicted to their prevailing cultures today, and pre-war Hungarian and German Jews were addicted to theirs.




About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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