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Bo (בֹּא — in Hebrew, the command form of “go,” or “come,” and the first unique word that God speaks in the parashah, in Exodus 10:1) is the fifteenth weekly Torah portion (פָּרָשָׁה, parashah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the third in the book of Exodus. It constitutes Exodus 10:1–13:16. Jews read it the fifteenth Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in January or early February.
As the parashah describes the first Passover, Jews also read part of the parashah, Exodus 12:21–51, as the initial Torah reading for the first day of Passover, and another part, Exodus 13:1–16, as the initial Torah reading for the first intermediate day (Chol HaMoed) of Passover. Jews also read another part of the parashah, Exodus 12:1–20, which describes the laws of Passover, as the maftir Torah reading for the Special Sabbath Shabbat HaChodesh, which falls on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the month in which Jews celebrate Passover.
In traditional Sabbath Torah reading, the parashah is divided into seven readings, or עליות, aliyot. In the Masoretic Text of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), Parashah Bo has seven "open portion" (פתוחה, petuchah) divisions (roughly equivalent to paragraphs, often abbreviated with the Hebrew letter פ (peh), roughly equivalent to the English letter “P”). Parashah Bo has seven further subdivisions, called "closed portion" (סתומה, setumah) divisions (abbreviated with the Hebrew letter ס (samekh), roughly equivalent to the English letter "S") within the open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) divisions. The first open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) contains the first and part of the second readings (עליות, aliyot). The second open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) covers the balance of the second and part of the third readings (עליות, aliyot). The third open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) covers the balance of the third and all of the fourth readings (עליות, aliyot). The fourth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) covers the fifth and part of the sixth readings (עליות, aliyot). The fifth and sixth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) divisions further divide the sixth reading (עליה, aliyah). The seventh open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) divides the seventh reading (עליה, aliyah). Closed portion (סתומה, setumah) divisions separate the first and second readings (עליות, aliyot), separate the second and third readings (עליות, aliyot), and separate the third and fourth readings (עליות, aliyot). Further closed portion (סתומה, setumah) divisions divide the fourth and sixth readings (עליות, aliyot), and conclude the seventh reading (עליה, aliyah).
In the first reading (עליה, aliyah), after seven plagues, God continued visiting plagues on Egypt. Moses and Aaron warned Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, or suffer locusts covering the land. Pharaoh’s courtiers pressed Pharaoh to let the men go, so Pharaoh brought Moses and Aaron back and asked them, “Who are the ones to go?” Moses insisted that young and old, sons and daughters, flocks and herds would go, but Pharaoh rejected Moses’ request and expelled Moses and Aaron from his presence. The first reading (עליה, aliyah) and a closed portion (סתומה, setumah) end here.
In the second reading (עליה, aliyah), Moses held his rod over the land, and God drove an east wind to bring locusts to invade all the land. Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, asked forgiveness, and asked them to plead with God to remove the locusts. Moses did so, and God brought a west wind to lift the locusts into the Sea of Reeds. But God stiffened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go. The first open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) ends here.
In the continuation of the reading (עליה, aliyah), God instructed Moses to hold his arm toward the sky to bring darkness upon the land, and Moses did so, but the Israelites enjoyed light. The second reading (עליה, aliyah) and a closed portion (סתומה, setumah) end here.
In the third reading (עליה, aliyah), Pharaoh summoned Moses and told him to go, leaving only the Israelites’ flocks and herds behind, but Moses insisted that none of the Israelites’ livestock be left behind, for “[W]e shall not know with what we are to worship the Lord until we arrive there.” But God stiffened Pharaoh’s heart, and he expelled Moses saying: “[T]he moment you look upon my face, you shall die.” The second open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) ends here with the end of chapter 10.
In the continuation of the reading (עליה, aliyah) in chapter 11, God told Moses that God would bring one more plague, and then Pharaoh would let the Israelites go. God told Moses to tell the Israelites to ask their neighbors for silver and gold, and God disposed the Egyptians to favor the Israelites and Moses. The third reading (עליה, aliyah) and a closed portion (סתומה, setumah) end here.
In the fourth reading (עליה, aliyah), Moses warned Pharaoh that God would kill every firstborn in Egypt, but not a dog of the Israelites. And Moses left Pharaoh in hot anger. A closed portion (סתומה, setumah) ends here.
In the continuation of the reading (עליה, aliyah), God told Moses and Aaron to mark that month as the first of the months of the year. And God told them to instruct the Israelites in the laws of the Passover service, of the Passover lamb, and of abstaining from leavened bread. (See Commandments below.) The fourth reading (עליה, aliyah) and the third open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) end here.
In the short fifth reading (עליה, aliyah), Moses instructed the elders of Israel to kill their Passover lambs, paint their doorways with the lamb’s blood, and remain inside their houses until the morning. For God would smite the Egyptians, but when God saw the blood on the lintel, God would pass over the house and not allow the destroyer to come into that house. The Israelites were to observe the Passover service for all time, and when their children would ask what the service means, they were to say that it commemorated the time when God passed over the Israelites’ houses when God smote the Egyptians. ' And the people bowed the head and worshipped. And the Israelites did as God commanded Moses and Aaron. The fifth reading (עליה, aliyah) and a closed portion (סתומה, setumah) end here.
In the sixth reading (עליה, aliyah), in the middle of the night, God struck down all the firstborn in Egypt. Pharaoh arose in the night to a loud cry in Egypt, summoned Moses and Aaron, and told them to take the Israelites and go. So the Israelites took their dough before it was leavened, and asked for silver, gold, and clothing from the Egyptians. The fourth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) ends here.
In the continuation of the reading, the Israelites and a mixed multitude journeyed from Rameses to Sukkot. They baked unleavened bread, because they could not delay before they left Egypt. The Israelites dwelt in Egypt for 430 years and left the land after the night of watching for the Lord. The fifth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) ends here.
The reading (עליה, aliyah) concludes with a notice that on the same day, God bought the Israelites out of Egypt. The sixth reading (עליה, aliyah) and the sixth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) end here with the end of chapter 12.
In the seventh reading (עליה, aliyah), in chapter 13, God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to consecrate to God every firstborn man and beast, and Moses did so. Moses told the people to remember the day and the month in which God brought them out of Egypt, and to keep the service to commemorate their deliverance in the same month, eating only unleavened bread. And they were to tell their children, to keep it as a sign upon their hands and for a memorial between their eyes, and to keep this ordinance in its season from year to year. The seventh open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) ends here.
In the continuation of the reading (עליה, aliyah), God instructed Moses in the laws of the firstborn.
In the maftir (מפטיר) reading that concludes the parashah, God instructed that if their children asked about consecrating the firstborn, the Israelites were to tell their children that God slew the firstborn of Egypt, and therefore the Israelites were to sacrifice to God all firstborn animals and redeem their firstborn sons. And thus it shall be for a sign upon their hands, and for frontlets between their eyes, for with a mighty hand God brought them out of Egypt. The seventh reading (עליה, aliyah), closed portion (סתומה, setumah), and the parashah end here.
The command to apply blood to the lintel and the two door-posts in Exodus 12:22 parallels Babylonian Namburbi rituals in which blood was smeared on doors and keyholes so that “evil [plague] shall not enter the house.”
The parashah has parallels or is discussed in these Biblical sources:
The description of the 10 plagues exhibits patterns and progressions, as follows:
|Cycle||Number||Plague||Verses||Was There |
|Time Warned||Introduction||Actor||Rod?||Israelites |
|Did Pharaoh |
|Who Hardened |
|First||1||blood||Exodus 7:14–25||yes||in the morning||לֵךְ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה|
Go to Pharaoh
|2||frogs||Exodus 7:26–8:11||yes||unknown||בֹּא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה|
Go in to Pharaoh
|3||gnats or lice||Exodus 8:12–15|
(8:16–19 in KJV)
|Second||4||flies or |
(8:20–32 in KJV)
|yes||early in the morning||וְהִתְיַצֵּב לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה|
stand before Pharaoh
|5||livestock||Exodus 9:1–7||yes||unknown||בֹּא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה|
Go in to Pharaoh
|Third||7||hail||Exodus 9:13–35||yes||early in the morning||וְהִתְיַצֵּב לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה|
stand before Pharaoh
|8||locusts||Exodus 10:1–20||yes||unknown||בֹּא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה|
Go in to Pharaoh
Psalms 78:44–51 and 105:23–38 each recount differing arrangements of seven plagues. Psalm 78:44–51 recalls plagues of (1) blood, (2) flies, (3) frogs, (4) locusts, (5) hail, (6) livestock, and (7) firstborn, but not plagues of lice, boils, or darkness. Psalm 105:23–38 recalls plagues of (1) darkness, (2) blood, (3) frogs, (4) flies and lice, (5) hail, (6) locusts, and (7) firstborn, but not plagues of livestock or boils.
Some explain the double nomenclature of “Passover” and “Feast of Unleavened Bread” as referring to two separate feasts that the Israelites combined sometime between the Exodus and when the Biblical text became settled. Exodus 34:18–20 and Deuteronomy 15:19–16:8 indicate that the dedication of the firstborn also became associated with the festival.
Some believe that the “Feast of Unleavened Bread” was an agricultural festival at which the Israelites celebrated the beginning of the grain harvest. Moses may have had this festival in mind when in Exodus 5:1 and 10:9 he petitioned Pharaoh to let the Israelites go to celebrate a feast in the wilderness.
“Passover,” on the other hand, was associated with a thanksgiving sacrifice of a lamb, also called “the Passover,” “the Passover lamb,” or “the Passover offering.”
Exodus 12:5–6, Leviticus 23:5, and Numbers 9:3 and 5, and 28:16 direct “Passover” to take place on the evening of the fourteenth of Aviv (Nisan in the Hebrew calendar after the Babylonian captivity). Joshua 5:10, Ezekiel 45:21, Ezra 6:19, and 2 Chronicles 35:1 confirm that practice. Exodus 12:18–19, 23:15, and 34:18, Leviticus 23:6, and Ezekiel 45:21 direct the “Feast of Unleavened Bread” to take place over seven days and Leviticus 23:6 and Ezekiel 45:21 direct that it begin on the fifteenth of the month. Some believe that the propinquity of the dates of the two festivals led to their confusion and merger.
Exodus 12:23 and 27 link the word “Passover” (Pesach, פֶּסַח) to God’s act to “pass over” (pasach, פָסַח) the Israelites’ houses in the plague of the firstborn. In the Torah, the consolidated Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread thus commemorate the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt.
The Hebrew Bible frequently notes the Israelites’ observance of Passover at turning points in their history. Numbers 9:1–5 reports God’s direction to the Israelites to observe Passover in the wilderness of Sinai on the anniversary of their liberation from Egypt. Joshua 5:10–11 reports that upon entering the Promised Land, the Israelites kept the Passover on the plains of Jericho and ate unleavened cakes and parched corn, produce of the land, the next day. 2 Kings 23:21–23 reports that King Josiah commanded the Israelites to keep the Passover in Jerusalem as part of Josiah’s reforms, but also notes that the Israelites had not kept such a Passover from the days of the Biblical judges nor in all the days of the kings of Israel or the kings of Judah, calling into question the observance of even Kings David and Solomon. The more reverent 2 Chronicles 8:12–13, however, reports that Solomon offered sacrifices on the festivals, including the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And 2 Chronicles 30:1–27 reports King Hezekiah’s observance of a second Passover anew, as sufficient numbers of neither the priests nor the people were prepared to do so before then. And Ezra 6:19–22 reports that the Israelites returned from the Babylonian captivity observed Passover, ate the Passover lamb, and kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy.
A Midrash taught that God brought the locusts upon the Egyptians in Exodus 10:1–20 because the Egyptians had made the Israelites sow wheat and barley for them, and thus God brought locusts to devour what the Israelites had sown for them.
A Midrash taught that God fixed a time of “tomorrow” for the plague of locusts in Exodus 10:4 so that the Egyptians might feel remorse and do penitence (thus showing that the Egyptians were still not barred from doing penitence).
A Midrash taught that God brought darkness upon the people in Exodus 10:21–23 because some Israelite transgressors had Egyptian patrons, lived in affluence and honor, and were unwilling to leave Egypt. God reasoned that bringing a plague and killing these transgressors publicly would cause the Egyptians to conclude that the plagues punished Egyptians and Israelites alike, and thus did not come from God. Thus, God brought darkness upon the Egyptians for three days, so that the Israelites could bury the dead transgressors without the Egyptians seeing them do so.
Reading the words “even darkness that could be felt” in Exodus 10:22, the Sages conjectured that it was as thick as a denar coin, for “even darkness that could be felt” implied a darkness that had substance.
The Rabbis taught that there were seven days of darkness. During the first three days, one who wished to arise from sitting could do so, and the one who wished to sit down could do so. Concerning these days Exodus 10:22–23 says: “And there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; and they did not see one another.” During the last three days, one who sat could not stand up, one who stood could not sit down, and one who was lying down could not rise upright. Concerning these days Exodus 10:23 says: “neither rose any from his place for three days.”
During the three days of thick darkness, God gave the Israelites favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, so that the Egyptians lent the Israelites everything. An Israelite would enter an Egyptian’s house, and if the Israelite saw gold and silver vessels or garments, and when the Israelite asked for them the Egyptian replied that the Egyptian had nothing to lend, the Israelite would say where the goods were. The Egyptians would then reason that had the Israelites desired to deceive the Egyptians, they could have easily taken the goods during the darkness and the Egyptians would not have noticed. But since the Israelites did not take the goods, the Egyptians reasoned that the Israelites would not keep them. And so the Egyptians lent the Israelites their things, so as to fulfill what Genesis 15:14 foretold: “Afterward shall they come out with great substance.”
The Midrash noted that Exodus 10:23 says: “but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings,” not, “in the land of Goshen,” and concluded that light accompanied the Israelites wherever they went and illumined what was within barrels, boxes, and treasure-chests. Concerning them Psalm 119:105 says: “Your word is a lamp for my feet.”
The Midrash taught that the six days of darkness occurred in Egypt, while the seventh day of darkness was a day of darkness of the sea, as Exodus 14:20 says: “And there was the cloud and the darkness here, yet it gave light by night there.” So God sent clouds and darkness and covered the Egyptians with darkness, but gave light to the Israelites, as God had done for them in Egypt. Hence Psalm 27:1 says: “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” And the Midrash taught that in the Messianic Age, as well, God will bring darkness to sinners, but light to Israel, as Isaiah 60:2 says: “For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but upon you the Lord will shine.”
A Midrash noted that Exodus 7:13 reports that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened” without God’s action, and that this was so for the first five plagues. As the first five plagues did not move Pharaoh to release the Israelites, God decreed that from then on, even if Pharaoh had agreed to release the Israelites, God would not accept it. Thus starting with the sixth plague and thereafter, as Exodus 10:27 reports, the text says, “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”
A Midrash told that immediately after the exchange between Pharaoh and Moses in Exodus 10:28–29, in which Pharaoh told Moses, “Take heed to see my face no more,” and Moses answered, “I will see your face again no more” — but before Moses left Pharaoh’s presence — God thought that God still had to inform Pharaoh of one more plague. Immediately therefore God hurriedly entered the palace of Pharaoh for the sake of Moses, so that Moses would not appear untruthful for having said that Moses would see Pharaoh’s face no more. The Midrash taught that this was the only occasion when God spoke with Moses in Pharaoh’s house. So God rushed into Pharaoh's palace and told Moses, as Exodus 11:1 reports, “Yet one plague more will I bring upon Pharaoh.” When Moses heard this, he rejoiced. Moses then proclaimed, as Exodus 11:4 reports, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt.’” Moses told Pharaoh that Pharaoh was right that Moses would see Pharaoh’s face no more, for Moses would no longer come to Pharaoh, but Pharaoh would come to Moses. And not only would Pharaoh come, but also the chief of his hosts, his governor, and all his courtiers, imploring and prostrating themselves to Moses for the Israelites to depart from Egypt, as Exodus 11:8 reports that Moses said, “And all these your servants shall come down to me.” Moses did not wish to say that Pharaoh would bow down to Moses, out of respect for royalty.
The Gemara deduced from the words, “About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt,” in Exodus 11:4 that even Moses did not know exactly when midnight fell. The Gemara reasoned that Exodus 11:4 could not say “about midnight” because God told Moses “about midnight,” for God cannot have any doubt about when midnight falls. Thus the Gemara concluded that God told Moses “at midnight,” and then Moses told Pharaoh “about midnight” because Moses was in doubt as to the exact moment of midnight. But Rav Zeira argued that Moses certainly knew the exact time of midnight, but said “about midnight” because he thought that Pharaoh’s astrologers might make a mistake as to the exact moment of midnight and then accuse Moses of being a liar. And Rav Ashi argued that in Exodus 11:4, Moses spoke at midnight of the night of the thirteenth of Nisan as it became the fourteenth of Nisan, and thus Moses said: “God said: ‘Tomorrow at the hour like the midnight of tonight, I will go out into the midst of Egypt.’”
Rabbi Johanan taught that Song of Songs 2:12 speaks of Moses when it says, “The voice of the turtle (tor) is heard in our land,” reading the verse to mean, “The voice of the good explorer (tayyar) is heard in our land.” Rabbi Johanan taught that Song 2:12 thus speaks of Moses at the time of which Exodus 11:4 reports: “And Moses said: ‘Thus says the Lord: “About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt . . . .”’”
The Gemara advised that because of the principle that a dream’s realization follows its interpretation, one who dreams of a dog should rise early and say the fortunate words of Exodus 11:7, “But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog whet his tongue,” before thinking of the unfortunate words of Isaiah 56:11 (regarding Israel’s corrupt aristocracy), “Yea, the dogs are greedy,” so as to attribute to the dream the more favorable meaning and thus the more fortunate realization.
Rabbi Jannai taught that one should always show respect to a ruler, following the example of Moses, who in Exodus 11:8, told Pharaoh that “all your servants shall . . . bow down to me,” but out of respect for royalty did not say that Pharaoh himself would seek favors of Moses, as reported in Exodus 12:30–32. Similarly, a Midrash interpreted God’s instructions to Moses and Aaron in Exodus 6:13, “and to Pharaoh, King of Egypt,” to convey that God told Moses and Aaron that although God really ought to punish Pharaoh, God wanted Moses and Aaron to show Pharaoh the respect due to his regal position. And Moses did so, as Exodus 11:8 reports that Moses told Pharaoh that God said, “And all these your servants shall come down to Me.” Moses did not say that Pharaoh would come down, only that Pharaoh’s servants would do so. But Moses could well have said that Pharaoh himself would come down, for Exodus 12:30 reports, “Pharaoh arose at midnight.” But Moses did not mention Pharaoh specifically so as to pay him respect.
Rabbi Joshua ben Karhah taught that a lasting effect resulted from every instance of “fierce anger” in the Torah. The Gemara questioned whether this principle held true in the case of Exodus 11:8, which reports that Moses “went out from Pharaoh in hot anger,” but does not report Moses saying anything to Pharaoh as a result of his anger. In response, the Gemara reported that Resh Lakish taught that Moses slapped Pharaoh before he left Pharaoh’s presence.
Rav Assi of Hozna'ah deduced from the words, “And it came to pass in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month,” in Exodus 40:17 that the Tabernacle was erected on the first of Nisan. With reference to this, a Tanna taught that the first of Nisan took ten crowns of distinction by virtue of the ten momentous events that occurred on that day. The first of Nisan was: (1) the first day of the Creation (as reported in Genesis 1:1–5), (2) the first day of the princes’ offerings (as reported in Numbers 7:10–17), (3) the first day for the priesthood to make the sacrificial offerings (as reported in Leviticus 9:1–21), (4) the first day for public sacrifice, (5) the first day for the descent of fire from Heaven (as reported in Leviticus 9:24), (6) the first for the priests’ eating of sacred food in the sacred area, (7) the first for the dwelling of the Shechinah in Israel (as implied by Exodus 25:8), (8) the first for the Priestly Blessing of Israel (as reported in Leviticus 9:22, employing the blessing prescribed by Numbers 6:22–27), (9) the first for the prohibition of the high places (as stated in Leviticus 17:3–4), and (10) the first of the months of the year (as instructed in Exodus 12:2).
Tractate Beitzah in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws common to all of the Festivals in Exodus 12:3–27, 43–49; 13:6–10; 23:16; 34:18–23; Leviticus 16; 23:4–43; Numbers 9:1–14; 28:16–30:1; and Deuteronomy 16:1–17; 31:10–13.
Tractate Pesachim in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of the Passover in Exodus 12:3–27, 43–49; 13:6–10; 23:15; 34:25; Leviticus 23:4–8; Numbers 9:1–14; 28:16-25; and Deuteronomy 16:1–8. And elsewhere, the Mishnah in tractate Zevahim taught that intent to eat the Passover offering raw (violating the commandment of Exodus 12:9) or to break the bones of the offering (violating the commandment of Exodus 12:46) did not invalidate the offering itself. The Mishnah in tractate Challah taught that anyone who eats an olive’s bulk of unleavened bread on Passover has fulfilled the obligation of Exodus 12:18, and interpreted Exodus 12:15 to teach that anyone who eats an olive’s bulk of leavened bread (chametz) on Passover is liable to being cut off from the Jewish people. Similarly, the Mishnah in tractate Beitzah reported that the House of Shammai held that an olive’s bulk of leavening or a date’s bulk (which is more than an olive’s bulk) of leavened bread in one’s house made one liable, but the House of Hillel held that an olive’s bulk of either made one liable. The Gemara noted that the command in Exodus 12:18 to eat matzah on the first night of Passover applies to women (as did the command in Deuteronomy 31:12 for all Israelites to assemble), even though the general rule is that women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments. The Gemara cited these exceptions to support Rabbi Johanan’s assertion that one may not draw inferences from general rules, for they often have exceptions.
The Mishnah taught that on the evening of the 14th of Nisan, Jews search for leaven in the house by candlelight. Any place into which one does not bring leaven does not require checking. The Sages taught that one must check two rows in a wine cellar, as it is a place into which one brings leaven. The House of Shammai taught that one checks the two front rows of the entire wine cellar, but the House of Hillel taught that one checks only the two outer rows that are uppermost.
Chapter 10 of Mishnah Pesachim taught the procedure for the Passover Seder. On the eve of Passover, no one was to eat from before the Minhah offering (about 3:00 pm) until nightfall. That night, even the poorest people in Israel were not to eat until they reclined in the fashion of free people. Every person was to drink not less than four cups of wine, even if the public charities had to provide it.
But one was not to eat matzah during the day before the Seder. Rabbi Levi said that those who eat matzah on the day before Passover are like those who cohabit with their betrothed before they are fully married. Rava used to drink wine all day before the Seder so as to whet his appetite to eat more matzah in the evening.
The Gemara taught that one needed to recline for the eating of the matzah and for the drinking of the wine, but not for the bitter herbs.
A Baraita taught that each of the four cups of wine needed to contain at least a reviis of wine (the volume of one and a half eggs, or roughly 4 to 5 ounces). And Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak taught that one must drink most of each cup.
The Rabbis taught that Jews are duty bound to make their children and their household rejoice on a Festival, for Deuteronomy 16:14 says, “And you shall rejoice it, your feast, you and your son and your daughter.” The Gemara taught that one makes them rejoice with wine. Rabbi Judah taught that men gladden with what is suitable for them, and women with what is suitable for them. The Gemara explained that what is suitable for men is wine. And Rav Joseph taught that in Babylonia, they gladdened women with colored garments, while in the Land of Israel, they gladdened women with pressed linen garments. Rabbi Judah ben Bathyra taught that in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jews could not rejoice without meat (from an offering), as Deuteronomy 27:7 says, “And you shall sacrifice peace-offerings, and shall eat there; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God.” But now that the Temple no longer exists, Jews cannot rejoice without wine, as Psalm 105:15 says, “And wine gladdens the heart of man.”
They mixed the first cup of wine for the leader of the Seder. The House of Shammai taught that the leader first recited a blessing for the day, and then a blessing over the wine, while the House of Hillel ruled that the leader first recited a blessing over the wine, and then recited a blessing for the day.
Then they set food before the leader. The leader dipped and ate lettuce (which was karpas) before the bread. They set before the leader matzah, lettuce (hazeret), charoset, and two cooked dishes. The charoset was not mandatory, although Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Zadok said that it was. In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, they would bring the body of the Passover lamb before the leader.
They filled a second cup of wine for the leader. Then a child asked questions. If the child was not intelligent, the parent would instruct the child to ask why this night was different from all other nights. On all other nights they ate leavened and unleavened bread, while on this night they ate only unleavened bread. On all other nights they ate all kinds of herbs, while on this night they ate only bitter herbs. On all other nights they ate meat roasted, stewed, or boiled, while on this night they ate only roasted meat. On all other nights they dipped once, while on this night they dipped twice. And the parent instructed according to the child’s intelligence. The parent began to answer the questions by recounting the people’s humble beginnings, and concluded with the people’s praise. The parent recounted the credo of Deuteronomy 26:5–10, “My father was a wandering Aramean . . . .”
The Rabbis taught in a Baraita that if a child is intelligent enough to ask the four questions, the child asks them. If the child is not intelligent enough, the wife asks them. If the wife does not ask the questions, the leader of the seder asks them. And even two scholars who know the laws of Passover must ask one another (if no one else can ask).
Rabbi Akiba would distribute popcorn and nuts to children on the eve of Passover, so that they might not fall asleep but ask the four questions. Rabbi Eliezer taught that the matzah are eaten hastily on the night of Passover, on account of the children, so that they should not fall asleep. Rabbi Akiba never said in the house of study that it was time to stop studying, except on the eve of Passover and the eve of the Day of Atonement. On the eve of Passover, it was because of the children, so that they might not fall asleep, and on the eve of the Day of Atonement, it was so that they should feed their children before the fast.
Rabban Gamaliel said that one needed to mention three things on Passover to discharge one’s duty: the Passover offering, unleavened bread (matzah), and bitter herbs (maror). The Passover offering was sacrificed because God passed over the Israelites’ houses in Egypt. They ate unleavened bread because the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt. And they ate bitter herbs because the Egyptians embittered the lives of the Israelites in Egypt. In every generation, all were bound to regard themselves as though they personally had gone out of Egypt, because Exodus 13:8 says, “You shall tell your child in that day: ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” Therefore it was everyone’s duty to thank and praise God for performing those miracles for the Israelites and their descendants. God brought them forth from bondage into freedom, from sorrow into joy, from mourning into festivity, from darkness into light, and from servitude into redemption. Therefore they were to say hallelujah!
The House of Shammai and the House of Hillel disagreed about how far one should recite into the Hallel, Psalms 113–118. The House of Shammai maintained that one recited until the words “as a joyous mother of children” in Psalms 113:9, while the House of Hillel said that one recited until the words “the flint into a fountain of waters” in Psalms 114:8. And one concluded with a blessing of redemption. Rabbi Tarfon used to say (that the blessing included), “who redeemed us and redeemed our fathers from Egypt,” but one did not conclude with a blessing. Rabbi Akiba said (that one added to Rabbi Tarfon's version the following), “So may the Lord our God and the God of our fathers allow us to reach other seasons and festivals in peace, rejoicing in the rebuilding of Your city and glad in Your service, and there we will eat the sacrifices and the Passover-offerings . . . ,” (and one proceeded) as far as, “Blessed are You, o Lord, who have redeemed Israel.”
They filled the third cup of wine. The leader then recited the Grace After Meals. Over the fourth cup, the leader concluded the Hallel, and recited the grace of song. Between the first, second, and third cups, one could drink if one wished, but between the third and the fourth cups one was not permitted to drink.
One may not conclude the Passover meal with dainties. If some of the party fell asleep, they could eat when they awoke, but if all fell asleep, they were not permitted to eat. Rabbi Jose said that if they slept only lightly, they could eat, but if they fell fast asleep, they were not permitted to eat.
Rabban Gamaliel once reclined at a Passover seder at the house of Boethus ben Zeno in Lud, and they discussed the laws of the Passover all night until the cock crowed. Then they raised the table, stretched, and went to the house of study.
A Midrash interpreted the words of Exodus 8:22, “Lo, if we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?” to teach that the Egyptians saw the lamb as a god. Thus, when God told Moses to slay the paschal lamb (as reflected in Exodus 12:21), Moses asked God how he could possibly do so, when the lamb was as Egyptian god. God replied that the Israelites would not depart from Egypt until they slaughtered the Egyptian gods before the Egyptians’ eyes, so that God might teach them that their gods were really nothing at all. And thus God did so, for on the same night that God slew the Egyptian firstborn, the Israelites slaughtered their paschal lambs and ate them. When the Egyptians saw their firstborn slain and their gods slaughtered, they could do nothing, as Numbers 33:4 reports, “While the Egyptians were burying them whom the Lord had smitten among them, even all their firstborn; upon their gods also the Lord executed judgment.”
A Midrash noted that God commanded the Israelites to perform certain precepts with similar material from trees: God commanded that the Israelites throw cedar wood and hyssop into the Red Heifer mixture of Numbers 19:6 and use hyssop to sprinkle the resulting waters of lustration in Numbers 19:18; God commanded that the Israelites use cedar wood and hyssop to purify those stricken with skin disease in Leviticus 14:4–6; and in Egypt God commanded the Israelites to use the bunch of hyssop to strike the lintel and the two side-posts with blood in Exodus 12:22.
The Mishnah described the appropriate hyssop for ceremonial use as a bunch containing three stalks bearing three buds. Rabbi Judah said three stalks bearing three buds each.
The Mekhilta interpreted the words “the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne” in Exodus 12:29 to teach that Pharaoh himself was a firstborn, as well. And the Mekhilta taught that God preserved him as the only firstborn of Egypt to survive the plague.
The Mekhilta asked how the captives had sinned that God struck their firstborn, as Exodus 12:29 reports. The Mekhilta explained that God struck them so that they should not say that their god brought this punishment on the Egyptians but not on them. Alternatively, the Mekhilta told that God struck them because the captives used to rejoice over every decree that Pharaoh decreed against the Israelites. And the Mekhilta taught that the Egyptian servants did so, as well, thus explaining why God said in Exodus 11:5 that God would strike the firstborn of the maidservant who was behind the mill.
Reading the report of Exodus 12:30 that “there was not a house where there was not one dead,” Rabbi Nathan asked whether there were no houses without firstborn. The Mekhilta explained that when an Egyptian firstborn would die, the parents would set up a statue of the firstborn in the house. The Mekhilta further taught that on the night of the plague of the firstborn, God crushed, ground, and scattered those statues as well, and the parents grieved anew as though they had just buried their firstborn.
The Mekhilta explained that the Egyptians said, “We are all dead men,” in Exodus 12:33 because in many families, many sons died. The Egyptian men had thought that a man who had four or five sons would have lost only the eldest, in accord with the warning of Moses in Exodus 11:5 that “the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die.” But they did not know, told the Mekhilta, that all their sons were the firstborn sons of different bachelors with whom their wives had committed adultery. God exposed the women’s adultery, and all of the sons died. The Mekhilta taught that if God makes public evil, which is of lesser importance, how much more will God reward good, which is of greater importance.
Rab Judah in the name of Samuel deduced from Genesis 47:14 that Joseph gathered in and brought to Egypt all the gold and silver in the world. The Gemara noted that Genesis 47:14 says: “And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan,” and thus spoke about the wealth of only Egypt and Canaan. The Gemara found support for the proposition that Joseph collected the wealth of other countries from Genesis 41:57, which states: “And all the countries came to Egypt to Joseph to buy corn.” The Gemara deduced from the words “and they despoiled the Egyptians” in Exodus 12:36 that when the Israelites left Egypt, they carried that wealth away with them. The Gemara then taught that the wealth lay in Israel until the time of King Rehoboam, when King Shishak of Egypt seized it from Rehoboam, as 1 Kings 14:25–26 reports: “And it came to pass in the fifth year of king Rehoboam, that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem; and he took away the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house.”
A Baraita taught that in the time of Alexander the Great, the Egyptians summoned the Israelites before Alexander, demanding from them the gold and silver that Exodus 12:36 reported that the Israelites had borrowed from the Egyptians. The sages granted Gebiah ben Pesisa permission to be Israel’s advocate. Gebiah asked the Egyptians what the evidence was for their claim, and the Egyptians answered that the Torah provided their evidence. Then Gebiah said that he would also bring evidence from the Torah in Israel’s defense. He quoted Exodus 12:40 and demanded back wages from the Egyptians for the labor of 600,000 Israelite men whom the Egyptians had compelled to work for them for 430 years. Alexander turned to the Egyptians for a proper answer. The Egyptians requested three days’ time, but could not find a satisfactory answer, and they fled.
Rabbi Eliezer interpreted the words “the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to sukkot” in Exodus 12:37 to mean that the Israelites went to a place where they put up booths, sukkot. Other Sages said that Succot was simply the name of a place, as in Numbers 33:6. Rabbi Akiba taught that Succot in Exodus 12:37 means the clouds of glory, as in Isaiah 4:5.
A Midrash taught that the Israelites were counted on ten occasions: (1) when they went down to Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:22); (2) when they went up out of Egypt (Exodus 12:37); (3) at the first census in Numbers (Numbers 1:1–46); (4) at the second census in Numbers (Numbers 26:1–65); (5) once for the banners; (6) once in the time of Joshua for the division of the Land of Israel; (7) once by Saul (1 Samuel 11:8); (8) a second time by Saul (1 Samuel 15:4); (9) once by David (2 Samuel 24:9); and once in the time of Ezra (Ezra 2:64).
The Mekhilta interpreted the account of unleavened cakes of dough in Exodus 12:39 to teach that the Israelites had kneaded the dough but did not have sufficient time to let it leaven before they were redeemed.
A Baraita taught that when Moses broke the stone tablets in Exodus 32:19, it was one of three actions that Moses took based on his own understanding with which God then agreed. The Gemara explained that Moses reasoned that if the Passover lamb, which was just one of the 613 commandments, was prohibited by Exodus 12:43 to aliens, then certainly the whole Torah should be prohibited to the Israelites, who had acted as apostates with the golden calf. The Gemara deduced God’s approval from God’s mention of Moses’ breaking the tablets in Exodus 34:1. Resh Lakish interpreted this to mean that God gave Moses strength because he broke the tablets.
The Mekhilta asked why Exodus 12:49 directed that there be one law for both the native and the stranger who sojourns among us when Exodus 12:48 had just enjoined that the stranger be treated as one who is born in the land. The Mekhilta concluded that Exodus 12:49 comes to declare that the convert is equal to the born Jew with respect to all the Torah’s commandments.
The Mishnah taught that invalidity in any of the four portions of the Bible in tefillin — one of which is Exodus 13:1–10 and another of which is Exodus 13:11–16 — impair the validity of all four, and even one misshaped letter impairs their validity.
Tractate Bekhorot in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Talmud interpreted the laws of the firstborn in Exodus 13:1–2, 12–13. Elsewhere, the Mishnah drew from Exodus 13:13 that money in exchange for a firstborn donkey could be given to any Kohen; that if a person weaves the hair of a firstborn donkey into a sack, the sack must be burned; that they did not redeem with the firstborn of a donkey an animal that falls within both wild and domestic categories (a koy); and that one was prohibited to derive benefit in any quantity at all from an unredeemed firstborn donkey.
The Gemara reported a number of Rabbis’ reports of how the Land of Israel did indeed flow with “milk and honey,” as described in Exodus 3:8 and 17, 13:5, and 33:3, Leviticus 20:24, Numbers 13:27 and 14:8, and Deuteronomy 6:3, 11:9, 26:9 and 15, 27:3, and 31:20. Once when Rami bar Ezekiel visited Bnei Brak, he saw goats grazing under fig trees while honey was flowing from the figs, and milk dripped from the goats mingling with the fig honey, causing him to remark that it was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey. Rabbi Jacob ben Dostai said that it is about three miles from Lod to Ono, and once he rose up early in the morning and waded all that way up to his ankles in fig honey. Resh Lakish said that he saw the flow of the milk and honey of Sepphoris extend over an area of sixteen miles by sixteen miles. Rabbah bar Bar Hana said that he saw the flow of the milk and honey in all the Land of Israel and the total area was equal to an area of twenty-two parasangs by six parasangs.
Also in the magid section, the Haggadah quotes Exodus 12:12 to elucidate the report in Deuteronomy 26:8 that “the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” The Haggadah cites Exodus 12:12 for the proposition that God took the Israelites out of Egypt not through an angel, not through a seraph, not through an agent, but on God’s own.
Also in the magid section, the Haggadah quotes Exodus 12:26 to provide the question of the wicked son and quotes Exodus 13:8 to answer him. And shortly thereafter, the Haggadah quotes Exodus 13:14 to answer the simple child and quotes Exodus 13:8 again to answer the child who does not know how to ask.
Also in the magid section, the Haggadah quotes Exodus 12:27 to answer the question: For what purpose did the Israelites eat the Passover offering at the time of the Temple in Jerusalem? The Haggadah quotes Exodus 12:27 for the proposition that the Israelites did so because God passed over the Israelites’ houses in Egypt.
In the concluding nirtzah section, the Haggadah quotes the words “it is the Passover sacrifice” from Exodus 12:27 eight times as the refrain of a poem by Eleazar Kallir. Also in the nirtzah section, the Haggadah quotes the words “it was the middle of the night” from Exodus 12:29 eight times as the refrain of a poem by Yannai.
Also in the nirtzah section, in a reference to the Israelites’ despoiling of the Egyptians in Exodus 12:36, the Haggadah recounts how the Egyptians could not find their wealth when they arose at night.
In the magid section, the Haggadah quotes Exodus 12:39–40 to answer the question: For what purpose do Jews eat matzah? The Haggadah quotes Exodus 12:39–40 for the proposition that Jews do so because there was not sufficient time for the Israelites’ dough to become leavened before God redeemed them.
In the magid section, the Haggadah responds to a question that “one could think” that Exodus 13:5–6 raises — that the obligation to tell the Exodus story begins on the first of the month — and clarifies that the obligation begins when Jews have their maztah and maror in front of them.
Also in the magid section, the Haggadah quotes Exodus 13:8 — emphasizing the word “for me” (li) — for the proposition that in every generation, Jews have a duty to regard themselves as though they personally had gone out of Egypt.
Many Jews recite Exodus 13:1–10 and 13:11–16 two of the four texts contained in the tefillin, either immediately after putting on the tefillin or before removing them, as Jews interpret Exodus 13:9 to make reference to tefillin when it says, “and it shall be for a sign to you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes,” and Exodus 13:16 to make reference to tefillin when it says, “and it shall be for a sign upon your hand, and for frontlets between your eyes.”
Both the parashah and the haftarah describe God’s judgment against Egypt. The parashah reports that God told Moses to go (bo’) to Pharaoh; the haftarah reports God’s word that Nebuchadrezzar would come (la-vo’) to Pharaoh. Both the parashah and the haftarah report a plague of locusts — literal in the parashah, figurative in the haftarah. Both the parashah and the haftarah report God’s punishment of Egypt’s gods. And both the parashah and the haftarah report God’s ultimate deliverance of the Israelites from their captivity.
The parashah has parallels or is discussed in these sources: