Bo (Go)

 Four QuestionsExodus 10:1 to 13:16

The power of the Eternal is demonstrated through the Ten Plagues and the exodus from Egypt which we read this week. This bit of Jewish history is an important lesson for every generation. The text also tells us how to insure this message is carried forward through the ages.

 Last week we read that God heard the cries of the Israelites and sent Moses to lead them out of slavery. Moses asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt to worship God. Pharaoh said no…. And he continued to say no as God delivered ten plagues upon the people of Egypt. This week we read about the eighth, ninth, and tenth plagues – Locusts, Darkness, and Death of the First Born. The text also tells of the Exodus and God’s commandments for the Passover festival.

Why ten plagues … Why didn’t God have caused Pharaoh to release the Israelites after a single plague?

The answer may be found in the opening words of this week’s text…. God spoke to Moses and told him to “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of children and your children’s children how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them – in order that you may know that I am the Eternal.” (Ex. 10:1-2)

Powerful words … God is making a “mockery of the Egyptians … in order that you may know that I am the Eternal.” However, we learn that the message is directed toward more than just the Egyptian leaders and their people. It is also to be told and retold to “your children and your children’s children.”

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks states that the education of the children is of the greatest importance. ”A family narrative connects children to something larger than themselves. It helps them make sense of how they fit into the world that existed before they were born. It gives them the starting point of an identity. That in turn becomes the basis of confidence. It enables children to say: this is who I am. This is the story of which I am a part. These are the people who came before me and whose descendant I am. These are the roots of which I am the stem reaching upward toward the sun.” (Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks*, Comments on Bo in Blog Covenant & Conversation,, Jan. 10, 2016)

The education of the children and the children’s children was so important that God tells us how to educate the children…. In four different places Torah tells us how to teach by simply answering children’s questions – or lack of questions. These questions have become part of the Passover Seder as the “Four Questions.”

1. The question: “And when your children ask you ‘What do you mean by this rite?’”

The response: It is the Passover sacrifice to the Eternal, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when smiting the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’” (Ex. 12:26-7)

2. The question:  (Or in this case the lack of a question…..) “And you shall explain to the child on that day.”

The response: “It is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went free from Egypt.” (Ex. 13:8)

3. The question: “And when, in time to come, a child of yours asks you, saying, ‘What does this mean?’”

The response: “It was with a mighty hand that the Eternal brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Eternal slew every [male] first-born in the land of Egypt, the first born of both human and beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the Eternal every first male issue of the womb, but redeem every male first-born among my children.” (Ex. 13:14-15)

4. The question: “When, in time to come, your children ask you, ‘What mean the decrees, laws, and rules that the Eternal our God has enjoined upon you?’”

The response: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and the Eternal freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand. The Eternal wrought before our eyes marvelous and destructive signs and portents in Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household; and us [God] freed from there, in order to take us and give us the land promised on oath to our fathers. Then the Eternal commanded us to observe all these laws, to revere the Eternal our God, for our lasting good and for our survival, as is now the case. It will be therefore to our merit before the Eternal our God to observe faithfully this whole instruction, as [God] has commanded us.” (Deut. 6:20-25)

What we see here are four simple teaching opportunities. It is hoped that this story will help our children understand who they are, where they came from, what happened to their ancestors to make them a distinctive people. (Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks,, Jan. 10, 2016)

The story effectively demonstrates the power of God and the importance of following God’s laws and passes it on generation to generation.

Earl Sabes

* Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks is emeritus chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth. He is currently teaching at New York University, Yeshiva University and King’s College London.

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