VORTIFY YOURSELF

From
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosil@MNSi.net

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PARSHAT BO

Shemot (Exodus) 10:1-13:16
Haftorah Jeremiah 46:13-28
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Parshat Bo has so many very interesting subject and concepts that it is no wonder that so many of our rituals and practices, as well as most of the Pesach Seder, find their origins in our Parsha. In todays "VORTIFY" we will look at just a few of these Mitzvot (commandments).

The Exodus began four hundred and thirty years after Hashem promised Avraham Avinu (our patriarch Abraham) that he would father a great nation who would be strangers in a strange land (Brayshit 15:13-14), four hundred years after Yitzchak Avinu was born, and two hundred and ten years after Ya'akov Avinu and his family joined Yosef in Egypt. Many Mitzvot (commandments) such as Shabbat, the three pilgrimage festivals and even the daily recitation of the Shema are connected to the Exodus as a Zecher Yetzi'at Mitzrayim (a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt). This significant event that happened over 3,500 years ago was so profound that it has remained at the forefront of our individual and national consciousness. Two Mitzvot that are practiced everyday, the Mitzvot of Mezuzah and Tefillin are mentioned in our Parsha.

The Mitzvah of Mezuzah is actually commanded in Devarim 6:9. But in Shemot 12:3-15 the reason for the Mitzvah is explained: "Speak to the entire assembly of Israel, saying: On the tenth of this month each person shall take for themselves a lamb or a kid, for each household...[on] the fourteenth of this month, the entire congregation of the assembly of Israel shall slaughter it in the afternoon. They shall take some of its blood and place it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they will eat...I shall go through Egypt on this night, and I shall strike every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from man to beast; and against all gods of Egypt I shall mete out punishment. The blood shall be a SIGN for you upon the house where you are; when I see the blood I shall PASSOVER you; there shall not be a plague of destruction upon you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a remembrance for you and you shall celebrate it..."

An Oht (a sign) is significant because it is a reminder of an act that occurred before the eyes of the entire nation. The Mezuzah is a SIGN that Hashem is a personal G-d, who cares about the welfare of each of His children. He rescued us then, He continues to protect us and He will always safeguard our nation's existence.

Rashi elucidates this point by commenting on the phrase "the blood shall be a sign for YOU." He teaches us that the blood was placed on the inside of the doorways not on the outside. Hashem didn't need a sign to know which houses were occupied by the obedient Israelites. The blood was placed on the inside doorposts so that the B'nai Yisrael conducting the first Seder in Jewish history could gaze upon the SIGN and draw inspiration during that dreadful night of terror in Egypt.

Rabaynu Bachya teaches that the lamb was an Egyptian god and that by sacrificing it and then smearing its blood on the doorposts, it was a sign that YOU [the B'nai Yisrael] were righteous and courageous and therefore worthy of Hashem's protection. We, therefore, place our Mezuzot as signs upon our houses showing that we are aware of Hashem's personal interest in our lives. It is our sign that He was, is and will always be our Protector.

There is another sign in this Parsha, which ends with the Mitzvah of Tefillin being mentioned twice. The first time, Shemot 13:9 tells us:
"And it shall be for you a SIGN upon your hand and a remembrance between your eyes - so that Hashem's Torah may be in your mouth - for with a strong hand Hashem removed you from Egypt."

The next passage Shemot 13:16 tells us:
"And it shall be for you a SIGN upon your arm and an ornament between your eyes, for with a strong hand Hashem removed us from Egypt."

These passages are taken from two separate references to donning Tefillin that also deal with the special status of our firstborn males, the Exodus from Egypt and the Mitzvah of Tefillin.

The firstborn of Egypt was smitten, while the firstborn of Israel was saved; therefore even now the firstborn of every Jewish mother has special status. The Tefillin of the arm and of the head contain the above mentioned passages. They are our signs of Hashem's everlasting concern with our welfare. The Tefillin are placed upon our bodies (on our weak hand adjacent to the heart, and on our heads close to our consciousness) so that these facts will never be forgotten by us.

Like the Mezuzah, Tefillin is our sign of past, present and future redemption and salvation. The Talmud states that just as we don our Tefillin daily, so too, does Hashem don His Tefillin daily (Brachot 6a). While our Tefillin contain four passages (two from this Parsha and two from Devarim 6:5-9 and 11:13-21), His contain the passage from Divrei Hayamim I (Ist Chronicles) 17:2:
"Mi K'amcha Yisrael, Goy Echad Ba'aretz (Who is like Your nation Israel, the one nation on earth [that G-d redeemed])."

The Exodus must be remembered because without it there would never have been a Jewish nation.

Rabbi Shalom Gutman of Jasse writes in his work, Tiferet Bayt Levi, of an incident with Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev:
"Once Reb Levi Yitzchak saw a simple Jew drop his Tefillin. The man gently raised them to his lips and lovingly kissed them. Reb Levi Yitzchak then raised his hands towards the heavens and said, 'Master of the Universe, the Jewish people are Your Tefillin. You have dropped them and let them lie on the ground for more than two thousand years, trampled by their enemies. Why do You not pick them up? Why do You not do as much as the simplest Jew? Why?'"

As Jews, we do not rely only on faith. Faith implies that we believe in the unprovable. Rather, we surround ourselves with Mitzvot which attest to historical facts that were witnessed by our entire nation. We recite the Shema, we observe the Shabbat, and the three pilgrimage festivals, we place Mezuzot on our doorposts, and Tefillin on our arms and heads ever since the Exodus took place. We don't only have faith in Hashem, we have knowledge of His ways. In fact, our very existence is the proof of His existence.

May we all gather the strength from the SIGNS and REMEMBRANCES to know, with absolute certainty that Hashem is One and His Name is One.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig


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