21 Jan 2021 Parshas Bo: A Reason to Rejoice
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Bo, after centuries in Egypt, the Children of Israel leave the country of their enslavement, a triumphant and hopeful nation. With Egypt now destroyed as a result of the Eser Makkos (The Ten Plagues), of which the final three occur in this week’s parsha, and with G-d’s Strong Hand and Outstretched Arm, the nation will now march to Har Sinai, and ultimately, to the Holy Land.
The celebration and commemoration of Yetzias Mitzrayim – the Exodus from Egypt – was not for that generation alone! It is a celebration and commemoration for each and every generation. וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֑ה לְחָק־לְךָ֥ וּלְבָנֶ֖יךָ עַד־עוֹלָֽם, and you shall observe this matter as a decree for yourself and for your children forever (Shemos 12:24). And on the cusp of their freedom, Moshe commands the people, saying: וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־תָבֹ֣אוּ אֶל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִתֵּ֧ן ה’ לָכֶ֖ם כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר דִּבֵּ֑ר וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הָעֲבֹדָ֥ה הַזֹּֽאת – And it shall be, that when you come to the Land that Hashem will give you, as He has spoken, and you shall observe this service; וְהָיָ֕ה כִּֽי־יֹאמְר֥וּ אֲלֵיכֶ֖ם בְּנֵיכֶ֑ם מָ֛ה הָעֲבֹדָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את לָכֶֽם, and it shall be that when your children will say to you: ‘What is this service to you?’; וַאֲמַרְתֶּ֡ם זֶֽבַח־פֶּ֨סַח ה֜וּא לַֽה’ אֲשֶׁ֣ר פָּ֠סַח עַל־בָּתֵּ֤י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם בְּנָגְפּ֥וֹ אֶת־מִצְרַ֖יִם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּ֣ינוּ הִצִּ֑יל וַיִּקֹּ֥ד הָעָ֖ם וַיִּֽשְׁתַּחֲוּֽוּ, You shall say, ‘It is a Pesach feast-offering to Hashem, Who skipped over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, and our households He saved,’ and the people bowed and prostrated themselves (ibid, v.25-27).
Why did the people rejoice by bowing down and prostrating themselves upon hearing this news from Moshe? Rashi explains: ויקד העם. עַל בְּשׂוֹרַת הַגְּאֻלָּה וּבִיאַת הָאָרֶץ וּבְשׂוֹרַת הַבָּנִים שֶׁיִּהְיוּ לָהֶם – And the people bowed – Upon (I) the tidings of the impending redemption, and (II) their coming to the land of Israel, and (III) the tidings of the children that would be born to them (Rashi to Shemos 12:27).
Upon hearing that redemption was at hand, and that they were going to the Promised Land, and that they would have children, the people were overcome with gratitude and rejoicing, and they fell before G-d with great thanks. While this is surely understandable and wonderful tidings, a question can be asked.
We know that this question: מָ֛ה הָעֲבֹדָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את לָכֶֽם, what is this work to you (12:26), is the question of the ben ha’rasha, the wicked son! Why, then, did the people rejoice upon receiving these tidings?
In his beautiful, thought-provoking, easy to read and enlightening new sefer, Rav Yaakov Bender on Chumash (Artscroll/Mesorah, 2021), Rav Bender shlita, Rosh Yeshiva Yeshiva Darchei Torah, writes as follows: “We know from the Haggadah shel Pesach that the question quoted in this pasuk is that of the ben harasha – the wicked son. ‘What is this service to you?’ he asks, removing himself from the equation. So what were the parents so grateful for?
“They were filled with thanks because these future parents realized something (which was of fundamental importance). This conversation (this assurance of Moshe that children would be born to them), happened before Matan Torah. The people knew that there was a great gift awaiting them, an inheritance and a legacy that would change everything. Even someone who appeared to be a rasha or acted in a way that might be considered wicked would have a ladder that could lift him up and cleanse him.
“The Torah would be theirs; and its holy words, the sanctified air of the yeshivah and hallowed air around talmidei chachaimim, would have the potential to purify and uplift.
“We have all seen children and teenagers struggle and fall. We have seen adults struggle and fall! However, there is always a way back if you believe in the essential purity of the neshama, (the holiness of our Torah ha’Kedosha), and one’s ability to become cleansed (and purified by Torah).
“Every morning, we announce that the neshama (the soul) within us is ‘tehorah hi’, pure, without blemish. Whatever we may have done, (our soul) remains pure. It is crucial to convey that to our children – their mistakes will make them smarter and their challenges will make them stronger…
“If you believe in the power of Torah, if you believe in the power of a neshama, and if you are able to show every child that you consider them ‘good news,’ worth giving thanks for, then they will justify that faith. (And that) is a besurah tovah!” (Rav Yaakov Bender on Chumash, p.132-134).
The following vignette is related by Simcha Raz: “The poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg celebrated his son’s bar mitzvah in the Shul on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. The well-known tzaddik, Rav Aryeh Levine zt’l (1885-1969), was among the guests. One of the participants recalls: I was a young child, and I saw the elderly tzaddik making his way with difficulty up the dust path that led to the top of the mountain. I approached him and greeted him. Rav Aryeh took my hand and caressed it, as was his custom, and asked me where I was studying, and which chapter of the Talmud I was studying. In the course of conversation, we arrived at the top of the mountain.
“Rav Aryeh said to me, ‘Do you see, my son, when people are occupied with words of Torah, one does not feel any difficulty in climbing. One can go to the top of a mountain easily in spite of the difficulties’” (Tales of the Righteous, p.188).
Just as the Israelites rejoiced over their good fortune: the redemption, their coming to the land, and news of children that would be born to them, may we too, be similarly blessed. May we merit the ultimate and final redemption in our days and our time, may we be brought to our Land with peace for all, and may we merit doros yeshorim, children and their children, whose lives are immeasurably enriched by immersion in Torah and mitzvos.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,