Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And it came to pass that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne, to the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon, and all the …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Bo 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Pesach in S’dom? Responding to Abuse”

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Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:1 -13:16

“Pesach in S’dom? Responding to Abuse

We’re reading the parshiot in which we’re introduced to the holiday of Pesach, the Jewish people leaving Egypt, God passing over the houses of the Jewish people.

Rashi quotes an interesting midrash in the book of Bereshiet, and that is that the first Passover experience doesn’t happen in Egypt, but happens actually in S’dom.

When Lot urges the angels to come into his house and we’re told he prepares a feast for them that includes matzot – unleavened bread – that they eat together. [Genesis 19:1-3] Rashi says that happens because it’s Pesach.

And there are many similarities of text and context between the stories that Rav Yoel ben Nun and others discuss.

Here are some of them:

  1. For example, when Lot and Avraham separate,what does Avraham say to Lot? He says, ‘Listen, we’re brothers. There shouldn’t be strife between us. There shouldn’t be strife between our shepherds. There’s a whole land out there. If you go north (lit.”left”), I’ll go south (lit. “right”); and if you go south(lit. “right”), I’ll go north(lit.”left”).’ Lot responds “וישא לוט את עיניו” – Lot lifts up his eyes. He sees S’dom and Amorah, and he calls it “Gan Hashem”, like the Garden of God, “כארץ מצרים”. He compares S’dom and Amorah just like Egypt. [Genesis 13:8-13]
  1. In the story of S’dom and Amorah, the angels smite thecitizens with blindness, and in Egypt, God smite the Egyptians with darkness. [Genesis 19:11 and Exodus 10:21]
  1. The Israelites are behind closed doors,eating their matzah, and so is Lot and his family behind closed doors eating their matzah. [Genesis 19:10 and Exodus 12:22]
  1. We start off the Pesach seder inviting guests, which is ascene not from Egypt, but from Lot’s Passover experience as he invites the angels to dine and stay with him. [Genesis 19:2]
  1. In both cases, the parties are urged not to look back. The Jewish people are told not to look back, not to returnto Egypt, and Lot is told the same thing. [Genesis 19:26 and Deuteronomy 17:16]
  2. There are similar language in both cases “קומו צאו”, get up and let’s leave. [Genesis 19:15 and Exodus 12:31]
  1. The word “משחית” – ‘to destroy – is used, and two of the three timesin the Torah that the word “ויתמהמה” is used in the Torah is found in the story of Egypt and the story of S’dom. [Genesis 19:14 and Exodus 12:13]

What are the similarities that Rashi, based on the midrash, connects these two experiences?

The answer is that in both the story of S’dom and Amorah and Egypt, they represent societies in which people can be abused, in which it’s okay for people to be taken advantage of.

And the responsibility of a Jew is not to be part of a society that is willing to take advantage of other people.

A society that is willing to take advantage of other people is not a Godly society. And any time there are experiences in which people are taking advantage of, God does not dwell there.

And any experience in which we witness people being taken advantage of, it’s our responsibility, like we do in Egypt and in S’dom, to speak out against those societies, to realize those environments are totally inappropriate, that that is not the place where the Jewish people can rest.

So indeed, the connection between S’dom and Amorah and Egypt, it’s because their cultures are the same.

They’re abusive societies, and societies that are abusive are not a place for Jews.

And when Jews see people abusing others, it’s our responsibility to understand: we don’t look back; we speak out against the injustice, because that’s the responsibility of being part of the divine nation, connecting to God through recognizing our responsibility to helping people who may be oppressed or abused.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –I have always been most fascinated—and confounded—by the ninth plague, the plague of darkness. How can darkness be “tangible,” touchable? Yes, darkness can be oppressive, foreboding and forbidding. But darkness is not substantive; much the opposite, it is usually defined as the absence of light, …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Bo 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Are We Managing Our Time or is Time Managing Us?”

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“Are We Managing Our Time or is Time Managing Us?”

Recently, our collective optimism about emerging from COVID has been tempered by super-contagious mutations of the virus and a worldwide spike in infections. 

Many of us are once again in lockdown mode, apprehensive and cautious about what the coming months will hold.

Our schedules are uncertain and our time depends upon factors that are beyond our control. We juggle our work obligations and personal responsibilities around our kids’ zoom classes or the needs of our elderly parents. 

Are we managing our time, or is our time managing us? 

We have watched in horror as some people have used this time of instability and insecurity to foment disturbance and violence.

Yet so many others have used this period to grow and blossom as human beings.

Among my own family and circle of friends, I have witnessed so many who have used this period of time to reach out to others less fortunate, intensify loving relationships and develop and explore new skills and talents.

These people are embodying the spirit of the very first mitzvah given to the Jewish People in this week’s parsha, Bo. 

“HaChodesh haZeh lachem” – “This month – each month – is yours.” It belongs to you. (Exodus 12:2)

Through this mitzvah sanctifying each Rosh Chodesh, each new month, God is giving us our first gift as a nation: control over our calendar. What a revolutionary message for a People who were enslaved, whose time was NEVER their own!

God grants us mastery of our own time and emphasizes its sanctity for a reason. He wants us to use it well, in order to achieve important goals and ideals. 

Time is a gift for the free person!  

We can “kill” time. We can allow the needs foisted upon us to subsume our time, becoming slaves to the pressures of the moment.

Or, we can spend time wisely to make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others. We can sanctify and manage our calendar to strive toward what we value, what we deem to be important and transformational. 

As we read Parshat Bo this week, let’s reflect on that. Let’s remember that even when so many things have been taken from us, the precious commodity of time is still in our hands and we have the ability to sanctify it. 

It is up to us to determine whether it empowers us, or, God forbid, enslaves us. May we choose wisely.

Shabbat Shalom.


Shabbat Shalom: Bo (Exodus 10:1 – 13:16) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin            Efrat, Israel – “May the renewal of the moon be for you [the Festival of] the first day of each month; this month being for you the first of the months of the year” (Exodus 12:2) This interpretation of …

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Rav Ohad Teharlev

Parashat Beshalach: The Nachshon ben Aminadav Effect How can we explain the juxtaposition of Nachshon Ben Aminadav’s leap into the Red Sea and our annual Tu B’Shvat (Jewish Arbor Day), and who has been following in Nachshon’s footsteps in the last few generations? Rabbi Ohad Teharlev is the Director of Israeli Programs at Midreshet Lindenbaum …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Bo 5780

The Fall of a Scholar: The importance of remaining in the communal dialogue”

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The Fall of a Scholar: The importance of remaining in the communal dialogue

In Pirkei Avot we are introduced to Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, the leader of the Jewish people in Judea after the destruction of the Second Temple in the first century of the Common Era, and his five students.  The Mishna goes on to describe the unique characteristics of each of those disciples, and mentions that Rabbi Eliezer ben Arach was the greatest of all. He is described as maayan hamitgaber, an ever-flowing spring of Torah knowledge and inspiration. Mishna Avot 2:8

Rabbi Elazar ben Arach and his wife thought that he would be the natural successor of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai – but he was not chosen.  Disappointed, he moved to a different location and started his own academy. Kohelet Rabba 7:7:2

His students failed to follow him and the yeshiva did not flourish.

We are told in Tractate Shabbat 147b that when Rabbi Elazar ben Arach returned to the Beit Midrash, after his time away, was called to read from the Torah. Reading from this week’s Torah portion, he came to the verse:   “hachodesh hazeh lachem” – this is the way you consecrate the new month, instead he read, “hacheresh haya libam”- their heart has become deaf.

The Maharsha, , Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555-1631) in his commentary on the Talmud, asks: “why is this story of Rabbi Elazar ben Arach scripted and choreographed around our Torah portion, and the first mitzva of the Torah, the mitzva of consecrating the new moon?”

The Maharsha explains that this incident serves to highlight that when you walk away from the Torah conversation, the Beit Midrash, even if you are as great a scholar as Rabbi Elazar ben Arach, you can even forget how to read the first mitzva in the Torah.  Chidushei Agadot on Shabbat:147b

I’d like to suggest a different answer.

How is the new moon consecrated?

It’s consecrated by two Jews going to a Beit Din, a court, and announcing that they saw the new moon.

These two Jews do not have to be great Torah scholars, they don’t even have to know how to read from the Torah, but if they can testify on what they’ve seen. That is sufficient.

The three members of the court are appointed by Beit Din HaGadol – and that is also sufficient.

A conversation takes place. Testimony is given, questions are asked and answered. And this conversation establishes the new moon. The entire Jewish calendar, the date that the festivals take place, is established through this conversation.

Even a great personality who has expertise in astronomy and in the orbit of the moon cannot contradict the outcome of that conversation on the new moon.

We follow the conversation, the dialogue that takes place between these two witnesses and the court.

What a powerful message! Even an astronomer or a professor of mathematics cannot contradict the consecration of the moon, the consecration of the new month that is established by these two individuals in their dialogue with the Beit Din, the Jewish court.

I think the message that the Gemara is trying to highlight is that no man, even a great scholar like Rabbi Elazar ben Arach, can work in a vacuum.

He made a mistake when he read the parsha, this week’s Torah portion, that speaks about the need for a dialogue, a conversation. The Jewish calendar is can only be established when Jews are in conversation with each other.

This is what allows us to orchestrate the holidays. And the question we need to ask ourselves, as individuals, is have we lost the ability to have a conversation? Have our hearts become deaf?  Do we actively listen to others? Do we sanctify the calendar and time by actively listening?

Do we listen to our children, or do we have an automatic response?

Do we find time to listen to our spouses? Do we find time to listen to Jews who celebrate their Judaism differently than we do, or perhaps don’t even celebrate their Judaism at all?

Are we willing to listen to them? Are we willing to give them credence?

Rabbi Elazar ben Arach thought that he could be an island unto himself. That simply doesn’t work.

You need to have a conversation. The first mitzva in the Torah highlights the responsibility for us to celebrate the calendar, the freedom to be able to control our time through the establishment of a new month, through a conversation between people. Exodus 12:2

Parshat Bo. The first mitzva in the Torah reminds us of the sacred opportunity to actively listen and maintain a dialogue.

And when even the greatest of Torah scholars forgot that, he loses his Torah knowledge, because without the conversation, our Torah knowledge in many ways lacks intellectual honesty and remains incomplete.

Shabbat Shalo