January 15, 2005 - 5 Shevat 5765
Annual: Ex. 10:1 - 13:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 374; Hertz p. 248)
Triennial Cycle: Ex. 10:1 - 11:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 374; Hertz p. 248)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13 - 28 (Etz Hayim, p. 395; Hertz p. 263)
Prepared by Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan
Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside, NY
Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director
The devastation in Egypt was complete. Nothing like it had ever been seen before nor would the people of Egypt witness such suffering again. With each plague the Egyptians became convinced that the God of Israel was far more powerful than their gods. The courtiers of Egypt told Pharaoh, "How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let the men go and worship the Lord their God! Are you not aware that Egypt is lost?" Pharaoh's irrational obstinacy, however, has become absolute. It was as if God himself refused to let Pharaoh change his mind. As Parshat Bo opens we read about the final plagues: locust, darkness, and finally the Death of the First born of Egypt. There was not a home in Egypt that was not devastated by the loss of a loved one.
Before the final plague, the Israelites are commanded to publicly prepare for their redemption. Parshat Bo contains the essentials of the first Passover. God commands the people to set aside a lamb and to prepare a special meal by roasting it and placing its blood on the door post of their homes. The lamb is to be eaten along with matzah and bitter herbs. Moses tells the people "This day shall be to you one of remembrance; you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord throughout the ages."
Theme #1: Did the Israelites Plunder Egypt?
"Please (Na) tell each person to borrow, each man from his neighbor and each woman from hers objects of silver and gold. The Lord disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people. The Israelites had done Moses' bidding and borrowed from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold and clothing. And the Lord had disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people and they let them have their request; thus they stripped the Egyptians." (Exodus 11:2-3 and 12:35-36)
- The sages were deeply troubled by the idea that the Israelites either plundered the land of Egypt before they left, or that they borrowed the valuables of the Egyptians under false pretenses and never intended to return them. The word "Na" can only mean here "Please." "I beseech you Moses, please instruct them about this (i.e. that the Israelites should take silver and gold vessels of the Egyptians), so that the righteous one, Abraham should not say, God fulfilled the promise, 'and they will enslave and inflict them.' But the promise, 'and afterwards they will go free with great wealth' God did not fulfill.'" (Rashi)
- Rashi's comment is based on a promise that God made to Abraham. "And God said to Abram: Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years; but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve and in the end they shall go free with great wealth." (Genesis 15:13-14)
- For the Israelite, the word Egyptian had the bitterest associations. It would not have been remarkable had the Jew hated the Egyptian as the enslaver of his ancestors and would have reserved the right not to accord him the generous treatment enjoined by the Torah with regard to the stranger… But the Torah records that the Egyptians and Jews parted friends, the former liberally furnishing them with gifts as the latter themselves had been bidden in the case of sending away their own Hebrew servants… Consequently, "You shall not hate the Egyptian for you were a stranger in his land." Since the Egyptians could not be expected to offer the gifts freely, Israel was bidden to spur them to do it…. (Benno Jacob)
- The Lord gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and they let them have what they asked for - literally so. Before they could make their request the offer was forthcoming. (Mechilta 12:36)
Questions for Discussion:
- According to Rashi, how does the word "Na," "Please," change the connotation of Israel's plundering of Egypt? Why is it important to draw a connection between this incident and the promise which God had made to Abraham many generations before? In "borrowing" from the Egyptians, were the Israelites acting out of their own volition or fulfilling a divine commandment?
- Why did God consider it so important for the Israelites to leave Egypt "with great wealth?" According to Benno Jacob, what purpose did Israel accepting wealth from the Egyptians serve? How did this act allow the Israelites to live up to the commandment not to hate the Egyptians?
- Was the silver and gold which the Israelites took from the Egyptians a form of reparations? Under what circumstances should one group of people give reparations to another?
- Recently an Egyptian attorney threatened to bring a class action suit against the Jewish people for plundering Egypt thousands of years ago when they left Egypt. Setting aside the absurdity of this claim, how does the Torah respond to this claim? Did the Israelites really plunder Egypt? What claims might the Israelites have against the Egyptians?
Theme #2: How Wicked is the Wicked Child?
And when your child says to you, "What does this service mean to you?" you shall say, "It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when he smote the Egyptians but saved our houses." The people then bowed low in homage. (Exodus 12:26-27)
- What does the wicked child say? "What does this service mean to you?" The child emphasizes "You" and not himself. Since the child excludes himself from the community and rejects a major principle of faith "you should set his teeth on edge" and say to him: "It is because of this that the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt (Exodus 13:8) - "Me" and not him! Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed. (The Haggadah)
- In the Haggadah the wise child asks the question, "What are the testimonies and judgments which the Lord your God commanded you?" Scholars are troubled by the fact that he uses the word "You" just like the wicked child. His question appears to exclude him from the community just like the so called wicked child. So what makes the chacham, the wise child, better than the rasha, the Wicked Child? There are many attempts to answer this question. Here is one. When the wise child asks, "What is the meaning of these laws which the Lord commanded you," he does not exclude himself from the community. Rather, as one who was born after the events at Sinai, he did not experience the Revelation first hand. God did not directly command him to observe the commandments but he wants to know what God told his elders to do so that he can faithfully observe them. The Wicked Child, on the other hand, witnesses the celebration of Passover ("What is this service to you?"). Rather than joining in, he says, "What does this mean to you?" excluding himself from the celebration. The wise child's question is a response to the commandment while the wicked child's question is a response to the act. (Rabbi Jacob Lorberbaum, Ma'aseh Nissim)
- The Chassidic Seer of Lublin - In my judgment, it is better to be a wicked person who knows he is wicked than a righteous person who thinks that he is righteous. Worst of all is to be a wicked person who thinks he is righteous. (Menachem HaCohen Haggadah HaAm. Taken from: A Different Night: the Family Participation Haggadah)
Questions for Discussion:
- Compare Exodus 12:26-27 with the passage in the Haggadah describing the rasha, the wicked child. Is there anything in the Torah passage that would lead you to conclude that the child who asks the question is so wicked?
- What does the Haggadah mean when it says to "set his teeth on edge?" Do you think this is the best strategy for dealing with the wicked child?
- Is the so called "wicked" child really so "wicked?" Can you think of a better way of describing him (or her?) What type of things can you say on behalf of the wicked child that might put him/her in a more favorable light?
- The Torah offers a different answer to this child than the Haggadah. Why does the Haggadah ignore the answer which is given by the Torah to this child's question?
- What is the "major principle of faith" which the wicked child rejects? What would you consider to be a Jewish belief or value so important that its rejection would be "unforgivable" or at least worthy of such condemnation?
- What do you think the Seer of Lublin meant by saying that sometimes a wicked person can be better than the righteous person?
- How do you think the family sitting around the seder table can make the wicked child feel more a part of this celebration? What would you say to him? What other children besides the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who does not know how to ask might be sitting at your seder table (or even at the Shabbat table?)
- Benno Jacob - German rabbi and Biblical scholar; born at Breslau in 1862.
- Rabbi Jacob Lorberbaum - Polish rabbi and halachist, 1760 - 1832, he is best known for his work in Jewish Law called Havat Da'at. He was also the author of the commentary on the Haggadah called Ma'aseh Nissim.
- Seer of Lublin - Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Horowtiz. Lived from 1745 - 1815. A Hasidic Rebbe, he was the successor of Rabbi Elimelekh of Lizensk.
- Rashi - Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki. He lived from 1040 - 1105 in Troyes, France. He is considered the outstanding Biblical commentator in the Middle Ages.