Parashat Bo (“go!”)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

(Exodus 10:1 to 13:26) is the command God gives to Moses to once again confront stubborn Pharoah. God had made Pharaoh’s heart stubborn in order that He could show His great power and might which would be remembered for all generations.

This time Moses warns Pharoah that God is going to send a plague of locusts that would cover the land of Egypt and devour whatever had been left after the plague of hail.

Pharaoh’s advisors start to understand the power of the God of Israel and tell Pharaoh that he ought to relent. Pharaoh, therefore, summons Moses. Moses tells him that he needs everyone, men women and children and the flocks as well, to leave in order that they may offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Pharaoh, still wanting to have the upper hand, permits the Israelites to go – but only the menfolk.

The Lord commands Moses to stretch out his rod over the land of Egypt and a great east wind brings locusts to cover the whole land. There is not a single tree or plant left. Pharaoh quickly calls Moses and Aaron and tells them that he has sinned and pleads with them to take the locusts away. God then sends a west wind to drive the locusts out. But Pharaoh’s heart hardens again.


God then commanded Moses to stretch out his hand towards heaven and darkness covers the whole land of Egypt. It was pitch black and the Egyptians could not see one another. Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived, was there light. For three whole days the Egyptians could not move from where they were because of the darkness. Pharaoh again summons Moses and this time he gives permission for the women and little ones to go with the men. But he still will not allow the Israelites to leave with their livestock. Moses replies that they need their livestock in order to perform the sacrifices since they did not know how many animals would be needed to make them. Pharaoh just throws Moses out and tells him that he won’t see his face again. Moses replies ‘that’s right’ – he won’t see Pharaoh’s face again.

Slaying of the firstborn

God speaks to Moses and tells him that there is going to be one more plague and after that Pharaoh will definitely let the people go. First, the Israelites were to ask the Egyptians for silver and gold which they willingly gave because God had made the Egyptians favourable towards them.

Moses proclaims that in the final plague the first-born son of every Egyptian family, from Pharaoh himself to the lowest slave girl, would lose their first-born sons. The cry throughout the land of Egypt from every family would be piercing, but among the Israelites you wouldn’t be able to hear even a dog bark. God would make a distinction between His people and the Egyptians.

Pesach (The Passover)

The Lord instructed the Israelites through Moses for each family to take a one-year-old lamb free from any blemish. The lamb was to be slaughtered at twilight and the blood applied to the door posts and lintel of each house. If a household was too small to eat a whole lamb, then it could be shared between households. The lamb was to be roasted in fire and the whole lamb, including its internal organs, was to be eaten. Nothing was to remain until the morning. Anything that did remain was to be burned. The lamb was to be eaten while the Israelites had their cloaks tucked into their belts and their staves in their hands, ready to move out in a hurry.

That night the Lord would pass over the land and every firstborn Egyptian would die, from the son of Pharaoh to the son of the lowliest prisoner in the dungeon. However, when the Lord saw the blood on the doorposts and lintels of the Israelite houses he would “pass over” and they would not be affected by the plague.

The ordinance of the Passover was to be a perpetual commemoration from generation to generation. For seven days the Israelites were to eat Matzo – unleavened bread – made without yeast. It was to be observed from the evening of the fourteenth day to the evening of the twenty first day of the first month. When future generations would ask the meaning of the observance, they were to be told that it is because on that night God killed all the Egyptian firstborn and spared our own people

That night at midnight God struck down all the firstborn of Egypt from Pharoah to the lowliest prisoner and the first born of all the livestock also died. There was no household in Egypt where somebody did not die.

The Exodus

Pharaoh summons Moses in the middle of the night and tells him to go with his women, children and livestock. Pharoah also asks for a blessing on himself. About 600,000 male Israelites,  besides the women and children, leave Egypt. As instructed by Moses the Israelites ask the Egyptians for silver and gold to take with them.  This was liberally supplied since God had granted favour to the Israelites in the eyes of the Egyptians. They made Matzo because in their hurry to leave there was no time to add yeast to the dough. On the night that they left the Israelites had been in Egypt for 430 years to the day.

The Passover meal was to be eaten by the Israelites only. If any foreigner among the Israelites wanted to eat it with them, they were first to be circumcised. Everyone in the community of Israel was to take part in the Passover meal and the meal was to be eaten inside of the houses.

Pidyon haben– Redemption of the firstborn

Every firstborn male. human or animal belongs to God and is to be consecrated to Him.

The Passover was to be celebrated each year to remember that God delivered our ancestors from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

To remember that the firstborn of Israel were saved while the firstborn of Egypt died, every firstborn male animal was to be redeemed. All firstborn sons were to be also redeemed. This command is observed amongst our people today in the ceremony of Pidyon haben.

Haftarat Bo                                      הפטרות בא

In a similar way to last week’s portion Va’era, the connection between the Sedra and Haftarah is the judgement on Egypt. The judgement on Egypt prophesied by Jeremiah takes place some thousand years after the exodus. However, the message is very similar. The Babylonians will be the instruments of judgement against Egypt for the way they treated Israel. Israel will not go totally unpunished by God but whereas all the other nations of the world will come to an end, Israel will never be come to an end. The prophet Jeremiah promises a future for Israel with these words at the end of the Haftarah

Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant,
    for I am with you,” declares the Lord.
“Though I completely destroy all the nations
    among which I scatter you,
    I will not completely destroy you.
I will discipline you but only in due measure;
    I will not let you go entirely unpunished.”  Jeremiah 46:28 NIV

Messianic Message 

If you ever choose to fly to Israel by El Al, Israel’s national airline you may shorten some of the security procedure by telling the checkers that you are Jewish. That however will lead to another security question which is “where did you spend Pesach?”. Confirmation of your Jewish identity would be verified by the fact that, if you are Jewish, you will have celebrated the festival in some way shape or form. It’s interesting that the security team ask about Pesach rather than Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Observing Pesach is the hallmark of Jewish identity. It is ingrained from a very early age when the youngest child at a Passover Seder (meal) recites the Ma Nishtana -the four questions- commencing with “Why is this night different?”.

The response is summed up in the verse

“Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand.  Exodus 13:3 NIV

The importance of the sacrificed lamb must not be overlooked. It was the blood that protected the Israelites when the firstborn of Egypt were slain.

The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. Exodus 12:12 NIV

The blood had to be applied. Without the blood being on the doorposts of the houses of the people of Israel there would have been no protection. If they had merely sacrificed a lamb but not used its blood, they still would have been vulnerable to death.

Likewise, we too have to apply the blood of Messiah to our lives. Messiah dying is in itself not sufficient to save us. We must apply the blood for the forgiveness of sin and salvation.

The blood of His Son Yeshua purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:7 TLV

Pharaoh’s repentance was never sincere. He regretted the suffering incurred during each plague but once the discomfort had passed his heart hardened again. There is a lesson here for us. We may pray for God to deliver us from sickness or other difficulty, enduring the period of difficulty with much prayer, devotion and drawing close to the Lord. However, once the difficulty is passed or we have recovered, we often go back to our old ways and fail to put God at the centre of our lives. True repentance is sincere and not affected by circumstances. Many people who were previously used mightily by God fall foul of some scandal or other because they get too comfortable in their success. It can sometimes be harder to serve God in humility when everything is going well than when things are going badly.

In order to remember the lesson that the first born of Israel were saved from the plague, God instructed the redemption of all firstborn sons. In contemporary Judaism the Pidyon haben ceremony is marked by giving silver coins to a Kohen –  a descendant of the priests.

In Messiah we can all be redeemed regardless of birth or gender by something much more valuable,

You know that you were redeemed from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors—not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with precious blood like that of a lamb without defect or spot, the blood of Messiah 1 Peter 1: 18,19 Tree of life version

This article originally appeared on the BMJA website and is reposted with permission.