Tag Archives: Bo

Bo: I Will Betroth You to Me Forever

Laying Tefillin “And so it shall be as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead that with a mighty hand the Lord freed us from Egypt.”

Exodus 13:16 (JPS Tanakh)

The Children of Israel are commanded to consecrate all firstborn, and to observe the anniversary of the Exodus each year by removing all leaven from their possession for seven days, eating matzah, and telling the story of their redemption to their children. They are also commanded to wear tefillin on the arm and head as a reminder of the Exodus and their resultant commitment to G‑d.

“Bo in a Nutshell”
Summary of Torah Portion Bo

It isn’t easy for most Christians to understand many aspects of Jewish religious and ritual life. We can comprehend the need to pray, to gather together in worship, and to acknowledge God as King over all, but the way that Jews express their faith is often alien to Christians, especially Protestants, since we don’t have a strong ritual component (relative to Judaism) in our private and corporate worship lives.

Take Tefillin (phylacteries) for example. Why should a man have to wrap straps around one arm and the forehead with little boxes attached in order to pray to God? In this case, modern Jews are obeying a very ancient commandment from God as quoted above.

Here’s the commandment again as expressed in scripture that is also a part of the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this is also part of what Jesus referenced when asked about the two greatest commandments.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31 (ESV)

If you put the commandment of tefillin within the context of loving God and loving your neighbor, then obeying this mitzvot is a sign of that love and adoration, not only of the Creator above, but of your fellow human being, because you cannot say you are performing the former if you do not perform the latter.

daven-tefillin-siddurOne of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) commentaries for Torah Portion Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) specifically addresses the commandment of tefillin.

There is some argument over whether the commandment of tefillin was meant to be taken literally, or if it is just a figurative language. In the Near East, it was once common for blood covenant partners to exchange amulet-like pouches which contained tokens, or even full copies, of their covenant obligations to one another. These were worn as bracelets or necklaces. The commandment of tefillin is consistent with that ancient ritual, especially when one considers the rabbinic tradition that God Himself wears tefillin with Israel’s name on them. In that sense, the tefillin are similar to wedding rings. In fact, while a Jew winds the black leather straps for tefillin of the hand about his middle finger like a ring, he recites the betrothal passage from the book of Hosea:

“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the LORD.” (Hosea 2:19–20)

The binding on of tefillin is a tangible, ritual reminder of our obligation to bind God’s commandments on our very lives. God’s Word is to be between our eyes, filtering all that we see and think. It is to be bound on our hands, weighing all that we set our hands to do.

As you can see, the love and marital symbolism is unmistakable and in reciting the blessings for donning tefillin, the Jewish heart is drawn in affection and adoration toward God…

…and toward each other.

As we were saying goodbye, I said to the man who had been asking the questions: “I suppose that you have a special interest in tefillin; is that was why you were asking those questions about them?”

“I haven’t put on tefillin for over 20 years!” was his reply.

“But you should!” I responded.

He then said: “Everyone here is now going home to sleep, but I am going to work. I own a bakery, and we work all through the night. If you want me to put on tefillin, you can come to my bakery at about 6:30 AM. At that time we are between bakes, and I’ll put on tefillin.”

I must admit that this was not my style, but I could not refuse, so at 6:30 Wednesday morning I arrived at his bakery with tefillin, prayerbook and skullcap, and amongst the sacks of flour he put on tefillin. What surprised me was that he needed no help—he knew exactly what to do and what to say.

After he finished, I said to him: “You obviously know how to put on tefillin, and you know the blessings and the prayers. Why don’t you do it regularly?” He told me that he didn’t own a pair of tefillin, and it was not one of his priorities to buy a pair—but if someone gave him a pair of tefillin, he would put them on regularly. I answered that I was returning to England via New York, but I expected to be back in Detroit in about six weeks, and that I would bring him a pair of tefillin.

-Benzion Rader
“Another Day Without Tefillin?”

This is part of a rather lengthy story about one Jew going well out of his way (much more than the segment above indicates) to make sure another Jew could fulfill the commandment of tefillin. You might ask yourself if it was so important to the baker to daven with tefillin, why didn’t he just purchase some for himself?

jews-praying-in-the-snowI don’t know. Regardless of his reasons or circumstances, once the other man became aware of the situation, he became obligated to help his fellow Jew. You can click the link I provided to read the entire article, but in short, here’s the rest of the story. The transaction between the businessman and the baker happened in Detroit. The businessman stopped in New York on his way back home to London to consult with the Rebbe in Crown Heights (Brooklyn), and the Rebbe convinced the businessman to make sure the baker had acquired tefillin immediately, before going back home rather than waiting six weeks. With great difficulty due to limited time and finances, the businessman was finally able to purchase tefillin and had them shipped to Detroit so that the baker would not go one more day without being able to pray with tefillin.

I left for London only after advising the Rebbe what had been arranged, and after waiting to hear that they had been collected and delivered in Detroit.

A few months later, I met this person again in Detroit, and asked him how he was doing with the tefillin. He told me that he had not missed a day—even walking home in the snow one day when his car broke down so that he put on the tefillin before sundown. He said: “Because of the trouble you went to in order that I should receive the tefillin the very next day, they are especially important to me.”

Again, this might seem rather a strange thing to a Christian since we do not experience any circumstance or situation that would inhibit or diminish our prayers, and certainly nothing like a physical object or device used in prayer.

Nevertheless, from a Jewish point of view, everything that happened was the performance of a single act of love in order to help one Jewish man perform another act of love…by davening with tefillin.

The results are obvious.

Good Shabbos.

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.