Bo: When We Finally Leave Egypt

The command to confront Pharaoh and negate his influence is given to Moshe, representative of mankind, because the negation of selfishness is a fundamental dimension of man’s service. Man was given the mission of making this world a dwelling for G-d, and this is possible only when selfishness is nullified. Haughty self-interest prevents the Divine Presence from being manifest.

And yet, this nullification of self cannot be accomplished by man alone; it requires G-d’s power. For this reason, Moshe shrank at G-d’s command; he realized that the task was beyond him. That is why G-d instructed him: “Come to Pharaoh,” i.e., come with Me, and not “Go to Pharaoh.” G-d would confront Pharaoh together with Moshe.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Confronting Pharaoh”
Commentary on Torah Portion Bo
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXI, p. 48-49; Vol. XXXI, p. 32-33;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Bo, 5733, 5751

The primary function of the mitzvot is to enable man to permeate the world with goodness and holiness.

“Sanctifying Time”
Commentary on Torah Portion Bo
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. (Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXVI, pp. 59-65.)

And all the Israelites did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. That very day the Lord freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.Exodus 12:50-51 (JPS Tanakh)

As I wrote in last week’s Torah commentary Exodus: Challenge in Exile, one of the ways we can think of the exile of the Israelites in Egypt is as an “exile” into their own humanity and as a result, they were distanced from God. Yet, they could not release themselves from their own slavery without God’s intervention, thus God sent Moses as His agent to free the people, to lead them out of slavery, and to redeem them to Himself.

However, what did the Children of Israel have to surrender in order to be free?

I suppose that’s an odd question, since who wants to be a slave? What possible reason would a slave have for not “surrendering” their slavery in order to be free? What about all of the harmful things that enslave us? Pharaoh is a perfect example of this. After the terrible plagues that God had caused upon the land of Egypt, it was in Pharaoh’s best interest to release his slaves and allow them to leave. Even after the plague of the firstborn, when the Israelites finally looted Egypt and left, Pharaoh “strengthened” himself and sent his army to retrieve the Hebrews. As we see, even in the face of overwhelming adversity from God, Pharaoh found it impossible to surrender his “self” in order to protect his nation and his people. He reaped utter destruction as a result.

Is that how we sometimes destroy ourselves, even in the face of the living God who desires to redeem us? The Children of Israel were redeemed when they left Israel and they were saved from themselves. Pharaoh and Egypt could have been redeemed by just letting Israel go at God’s command. Rabbi Touger’s commentary concludes thus:

Penetrating and nullifying self-orientation makes possible the revelation of a positive dimension. And thus the Zohar refers to the House of Pharaoh as: “the place where all lights are revealed in an unrestrained manner.”

Carrying this concept further, the Exodus from Egypt is connected to the ultimate Redemption. Indeed, had the Jews merited, they would have entered Eretz Yisrael immediately after leaving Egypt.

As it is, the entire period from the Exodus until the final Redemption is referred to as “the days of your exodus from Egypt.” For nullifying the selfishness of Pharaoh and breaking through the limitations of Egypt began and begins for each of us as we relive the Exodus a self-reinforcing dynamic destined to take our nation beyond all natural limitations and lead to the Redemption.

And once redeemed, then what? Remember the true purpose of the mitzvot as I mentioned above:

The primary function of the mitzvot is to enable man to permeate the world with goodness and holiness.

The purpose of our redemption, our freedom, and our status as sons and daughters of the Most High is not to exalt ourselves but to “permeate the world with goodness and holiness.” The Master commanded us not to continually resist the insults of “one who is evil” but to turn the other cheek to him (Matthew 5:39). Jesus didn’t teach us to refuse to go a mile with someone by force, but instead, to go with him for two (Matthew 5:41). Yesterday, I tried to say that there are times we must stand resolute before evil as an iron wall against the storm, but there are also times we must bend and be supple like a reed before the wind.

The prophet Isaiah teaches:

a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. –Isaiah 42:3

Yet for all I’ve just said, we cannot free ourselves from ourselves alone. We must rely on God for that strength and that sense of direction which leads us out of our personal Egypt, across the desert, to the redemption promised to all who serve as disciples of the Messiah. If we refuse, even though we claim his name as Master, and continue on our own egotistical and self-destructive course, we’ll find our freedom is an illusion and discover that we never left Egypt at all.

When the time for redemption came, G-d did not keep them for even the blink of an eye

Rashi’s commentary

In the Passover haggadah we say: “Had G-d not taken our forefathers out of Egypt, we, our children, and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharaoh.”

After two centuries of exile and subjugation there was little to differentiate the Jewish people from their idol-worshiping masters. So deeply had they sunk into the pagan depravity of Egypt that their redemption came at the very last possible moment, when they were but a hairsbreadth from spiritual annihilation.


Ironically, we don’t always find redemption when we ask or even beg for it. God waits until we are totally lost within our own worlds of self-indulgence and sin and when we’ve forgotten God completely. Then our redemption comes as Moses came for the unwilling children of Israel.

Said the Zeidehof Shpoli to the Almighty: “Master of the Universe! The sages of the Talmud pleaded before You to bring the Moshiach. You chose not to do so. The holy Ari begged You to bring Moshiach – again You were unwilling. We have reached the point where it is left to someone of my ilk to ask for the redeemer. Still You are holding out.

“Mark my words. There will come a generation who will have no interest in You or Your Moshiach. Then You will have no choice but to bring him.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Mark My Words”
Commentary on Torah Portion Bo
Once Upon a Chasid

This week, there have been many discussions on my “morning meditations” and they do not reflect well on we who claim the cause of Christ. As disciples of Jesus, we have lost our way and are like the Children of Israel in their Egyptian slavery. We say we belong to God but we act like we have completely forgotten Him. We stand up and demand our “rights” for this or that under God, and completely forget that the primary message of Jesus was not one of individual rights but rather, our responsibilities to God and to other people. Christ had the “right” to claim Kingship of the world and its people 2,000 years ago, but instead of standing up for his “rights” (and this is how the adversary tempted him), he submitted to the will of the Father, surrendering even to the horrible death on the cross. If he had “stood up for his rights”, humanity would have no hope. Only by Messiah’s humility and submission have we all been reconciled to God and saved by grace and mercy.

The message has been lost. We must take it back.

Good Shabbos.


2 thoughts on “Bo: When We Finally Leave Egypt”

  1. Amen, well said James.

    I strongly believe that one need not, and must not, attack others in order to witness to the firmness of one’s faith convictions – David J Michaels, Director of inter-communal affairs for B’nai B’rith.

    Following your consideration of the Exodus text, Bo, this has encouraged me to think that about how there seems to be many instances of God leading or redeeming individuals/a nation/the world in the Scriptures i.e., from Abraham onwards. From life to Life Eternal or life to death and Life Eternal. There seems to be an Eternal calling upon the sons of men to be revealed as sons of God, thus revealing something of His glory, something of Heaven thus glorifying Him. Amen. Thank you James. I will continue to think about it


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