Parshas Bo possesses a unique dimension. The parshiyos which precede it, Shmos and Vaeira, describe the preparations for the exodus from Egypt. Parshas Beshalach which comes afterwards describes the aftermath of the exodus. The redemption itself, however, is discussed in only one parshah, Parshas Bo.
Indeed, the entire parshah revolves around the redemption. Even the beginning of the parshah (which describes the final phase of preparation for the exodus, the last three plagues) shares a direct connection to the exodus as evidenced by the demand voiced by Pharaoh's servants that he allow the Jews to leave Egypt.
Similarly, the conclusion of the parshah is connected with the redemption as reflected in the mitzvah of tefillin which states, "And it will be a sign on your hand and a remembrance between your eyes... that G-d took you out of Egypt with a strong hand."
There is, however, a problematic dimension to this point. Although the entire parshah is connected with the redemption, the very name of the parshah, Bo and the verse with which it is connected, "And G-d said to Moshe, come to Pharaoh," point to the fact that Pharaoh still maintained his power and therefore, Moshe had to approach him. Despite the seven plagues which were inflicted upon him, Pharaoh remained unbroken. The question arises: Why is the parshah which centers on the redemption given a name which indicates Pharaoh's power?
There is also a question regarding the mention of the mitzvah of tefillin at the conclusion of this parshah: The passage describing the mitzvah of tefillin states, "And when it will come to pass that G-d will bring you into the land of the Canaanites." Based on this verse, there are some authorities who maintain that the Jews were not obligated to wear tefillin during the forty years that they journeyed through the desert. Even according to the opinions which maintain that the Jews did wear tefillin throughout their journey, there is still a connection between tefillin and Eretz Yisrael as our Sages declared, "Fulfill this mitzvah so that you will enter the land." Thus, tefillin are related to the ultimate and final phase in the exodus from Egypt, the entry into Eretz Yisrael.
Since tefillin are associated with the ultimate and final phase of the redemption, the question arises: Why is this mitzvah mentioned in a parshah which describes only the preliminary stages of the redemption? Indeed, as related in Parshas Beshalach, until the miracle of the Red Sea, the Jews still considered returning to Egypt and for that reason, "G-d did not lead them through the land of the Philistines... lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt." Furthermore, it is difficult to understand why tefillin are mentioned in a parshah which begins with an indication of Pharaoh's power.
These questions can be resolved within the context of the Zohar's statements at the beginning of Parshas Bo. The Zohar states:
Why is it written, "Come to Pharaoh"? It should say, "Go to Pharaoh." The word "come" indicates that since G-d caused Moshe to enter room after room until he confronted a sublime and powerful crocodile [the symbol of Pharaoh].... Moshe was afraid of it.... When the Holy One, blessed be He, saw that Moshe was afraid... He declared, "Behold, I will confront you Pharaoh King of Egypt...." G-d, Himself, was forced to combat him. He and no one else.
The Zohar implies that Pharaoh is the source of the forces of evil and therefore, Moshe feared him. Accordingly, G-d did not tell him to go to Pharaoh (i.e., to go by himself). Rather, He told him "Come," i.e., come with Me, for G-d Himself had to negate Pharaoh's power.
Moshe was sent to confront Pharaoh "so that I will be able to demonstrate these miraculous signs in his midst." The intent of the confrontation was the nullification of Pharaoh and the negation of his power. In this context, we can understand why Moshe was forced to proceed room after room inside Pharaoh's palace. Since the intent was to break Pharaoh's power entirely, this had to be done in the inner rooms of his palace, the place where his power was manifest in the most open manner. When his power was broken there, its expression throughout his kingdom was also nullified.
Thus, the command to Moshe to "Come to Pharaoh" was not intended only as an intermediary phase in bringing the Jews out of Egypt. Instead, it had a purpose of its own, to break and nullify Pharaoh's power.
The importance of the destruction of Pharaoh's power can be understood within the context of the connection between the exile and redemption from Egypt and the acquisition of Eretz Yisrael. In the covenant Beyn HaBesarim, G-d promised Avraham that his descendants would inherit Eretz Yisrael. At the same time, however, He also told him that the Jews would undergo exile and slavery.
The rationale for the association between the two is that G-d desires the Jewish people to earn Eretz Yisrael through their own efforts, so that it will not be given to them as "bread of shame." The Jews are charged with the task of transforming a material land into Eretz Yisrael, making it "a land which desires to fulfill the will of its Creator," and which shares a unique connection to the Jewish people, who are "the pupil of G-d's eye," as it were. Therefore, "the eyes of G-d are always upon it from the beginning of the year until its end."
This generates the potential for Eretz Yisrael to "spread throughout the entire world," and for there to be an open revelation of G-dliness, "the glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see." In the Era of Redemption when these prophecies will be fulfilled, it will be openly manifest how our material existence is one with G-d's true existence.
This was made possible by the fulfillment of the decree, "Your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not their own;" i.e., forcing the Jews to confront a material existence that has no connection with them. Furthermore, this land, the land of Egypt, will oppose the Jewish people and cause them difficulty, for it is "the nakedness of the land," "the most depraved of all lands," the lowest possible level.
This descent, however, brought out the potential for: a) the Jewish people themselves to reach an elevated level. On the verse, "And Ya'akov lived in the land of Egypt," it is explained that it was in the land of Egypt that Ya'akov -- and his descendants, the Jewish people -- experienced true life. b) The Jews to elevate the Divine sparks enclothed in the material substance of the world. This is reflected in the Jews spoiling the Egyptians, taking from them, "golden and silver utensils and garments," and similarly, in the eruv rav, the multitude of gentiles who left Egypt with them. c) The destruction and nullification of those aspects of worldliness which cannot be elevated. Concerning these elements of existence, it is said, "their destruction represents their purification." Furthermore, their destruction adds power to the realm of holiness. This is reflected in our Sages' statement, "Tzur was built only through the destruction of Jerusalem." Conversely, the destruction of Tzur, and similarly, other centers which stand in opposition to holiness, lead to the strengthening and rebuilding of Jerusalem. This reveals the power of holiness in a manner where no opposition is possible for all opposing forces have been totally negated.
Only after these negative factors were nullified did the Jews leave Egypt. Indeed, the destruction of these forces which opposed to holiness made it possible -- had not other factors interfered -- for them to proceed directly to Eretz Yisrael, the land in which the service of establishing a dwelling for G-d in this lowly world is carried out.
Based on the above it is possible to explained why Bo was chosen as the name for the parshah which deals with the exodus from Egypt, including the ultimate stage of that exodus, the entry into Eretz Yisrael as explained in regard to the mitzvah of tefillin.
The most prominent dimension of the exodus from Egypt is, as the very name "exodus" implies, the departure from a situation that opposes holiness. This is reflected, in the most complete sense, not in the elevation of the sparks of holiness enclothed within Egypt, but in the nullification of Egypt's power. The elevation of the sparks of holiness reveals the good which was hidden within Egypt; it does not, however, effect the very nature of Egypt itself, that dimension which stands in opposition to holiness and "causes difficulty to Israel." For the exodus from Egypt to be complete, this negative dimension must be nullified and destroyed.
This is the intent of "Coming to Pharaoh," to enter the innermost rooms of his palace, to confront the source of evil at its very root and to nullify it utterly. As explained above, the nullification of these negative factors grants the potential to proceed into Eretz Yisrael. Furthermore, this leads to the possibility of a positive conception of Pharaoh, the source for "the revelation of all lights," an unbounded revelation which transcends even the limitations of holiness.
The exile in Egypt is the source of all exiles and the redemption from Egypt, the source of all redemptions. In particular, the exodus is related to the future redemption as reflected in the verse, "As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders."
Indeed, the parallel between the two is further emphasized by our Sages' explanation that, ideally, the redemption from Egypt should have been the ultimate redemption. Directly after leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah, the Jews should have entered Eretz Yisrael, never to be exiled again. For certain reasons, however, G-d brought about a series of events that led to further exiles beginning with the exile in Babylon and concluding with the fourth and present exile, the exile of Edom, so that the Jews' inheritance of Eretz Yisrael will come about as a result of their own efforts.
As explained above, the emergence from exile is associated with two factors: a) the elevation of the sparks of holiness that have fallen into exile. This is accomplished through our observance of Torah and mitzvos and our service of "May all your deeds be for the sake of heaven" in which we use the material substance of the world for a spiritual intent. b) The destruction and nullification of those negative factors which cannot be elevated to holiness. For this reason, we find many prophecies describing the fall of the nations which ruled over the Jews, e.g., "Babylon has fallen and she will be broken," "There will be a slaughter for G-d in Batzra," "And saviors will ascend on Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esav." The only nations which will remain will be those which help and support the Jewish people, as it is written, "I will send refugees from them... and they shall bring their brethren from among the nations an offering to G-d... upon My holy mountain Jerusalem." At that time, "I will transform all the nations to a pure tongue, so that they will all call upon the name of G-d, to form a single block."
Then, after the ultimate redemption, the service of the Jewish people will be fulfilled in a complete manner, "as the mitzvos of Your will." Indeed, the observance of the mitzvos will be on such a high level that our present observance will be considered merely as "signs" for those mitzvos.
For this reason, the Torah associates the mitzvah of tefillin with the entry into Eretz Yisrael. Here, the intent is on the ultimate fulfillment of the mitzvah, its fulfillment in the Era of Redemption, therefore, it is associated with the entry into Eretz Yisrael, i.e., the ultimate entry into Eretz Yisrael. There, in "the palace of the king," the Jews will establish a complete connection with G-d through the observance of the mitzvos.
It is written, "He placed the world in their hearts;" i.e., everything that transpires in the world at large depends on, and has its source, in the service performed by a Jew in his heart. A person is called "a world in microcosm" and is instructed by our Sages to realize that the world at large was created "for him."
Thus, the above concepts relating to the redemption from exile, the destruction of the forces of exile, and the entry into Eretz Yisrael, all have parallels within our personal service of G-d. Eretz Yisrael refers to the realm of holiness, the observance of Torah and mitzvos where G-dliness is openly revealed. In contrast, the Diaspora refers to mundane affairs, activities which share no intrinsic connection to holiness. On the contrary, they cause difficulty (maitzirim in Hebrew which relates to Mitzrayim, Egypt) and confusion (bilbul in Hebrew which relates to Bavel, Babylon).
Ultimately, "Eretz Yisrael will spread out to all other lands;" i.e., our service of holiness will permeate even our mundane activities and they will be performed in a manner of "May all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven" and "Know Him in all your ways."
For this to be possible, however, there are certain aspects regarding our involvement in the world at large, e.g. the aspects of Egypt and Babylon mentioned above, that cannot be elevated and which must be broken and destroyed.
In Chassidic thought, a similar concept is described in regard to our power of desire and the selfish and materialistic orientation which characterizes it. The power of desire itself is positive and can be directed toward holiness. In contrast, its selfish and materialistic orientation is bad and must be destroyed entirely.
We can learn how to carry out the service of nullifying evil from the command, "Come to Pharaoh." It is necessary to confront and break the evil in its place of power. Once this process is completed, it is possible to nullify all its peripheral expressions.
Since confronting evil in its place of power may cause a Jew to become afraid, G-d tells the spark of Moshe that exists within every Jew, not to be afraid, to come with Him to Pharaoh, that He Himself will wage war against him and negate the power of evil.
Each person has a different conception of Egypt and Babylon, i.e., the aspects of material existence which cause him difficulty and confuse him. There are some who are disturbed and confused because of a deficiency in their service of G-d, while others are disturbed and confused because of a lack in their material affairs.
We can be assured that these hindrances will also be nullified. The Jews are considered as G-d's children as it is written, "My son, My firstborn, Israel." Parents eagerly try to fulfill their children's desires although they recognize that what their children want is really unimportant and the child desires it only because of his limited understanding. Although he knows this to be true, a parent does not make such calculations. As soon as he sees that his child wants something, he does not try to teach him that it is not worth wanting, he tries to obtain it for his child.
Similarly, when G-d sees that a Jew -- His small child, as it were -- wants something, even though the matter is of petty concern, merely a material lack, He tries to provide His child with it. Before the Jew feels a real need, G-d "satisfies the desire of every living being."
Furthermore, if the above applies when a child wants something of no real consequence, surely it holds true when the child, the Jews, want something of genuine worth, indeed, of the most ultimate importance, that the Jews and the Divine Presence leave exile. Even if the Jews are still lacking in their service, G-d "will redeem Israel from all his afflictions," including the greatest affliction, the exile, and only afterwards, will "He redeem Israel from all His sins."
The above concepts are particularly relevant in our generation because Parshas Bo, is always read in connection with the Previous Rebbe's yahrzeit.
The Previous Rebbe's service was, as his name Yosef implies, associated with the verse, "May G-d add on to me another son;" transforming one who is "another," estranged from his Jewish roots, into a "son." Thus, the Previous Rebbe was involved in spreading Yiddishkeit and Chassidus to those Jews who (through no fault of their own, merely because they were tinokos shenishbu) were distant from Jewish practice. These efforts included the translation of Jewish texts (including works of P'nimiyus HaTorah) into other languages for those who could not understand Lashon HaKodesh ("the holy tongue").
Furthermore, the Previous Rebbe was also involved with gentiles -- those who are "another" in a real sense -- and sought to spread justice and righteousness in the world at large, strengthening peoples faith in the Creator, and thus motivating them to fulfill the seven universal commandments given to Noach and his descendants.
These efforts -- both among the Jews and among the gentiles -- were enhanced when the Previous Rebbe came to America. This gave a greater potential to elevate even the lowest aspects of existence and for these efforts to spread.
Significantly, the Previous Rebbe's activities were carried out with the emphasis that they were preparations for the ultimate redemption. His drawing close those Jews far from Jewish practice was a preparation for the fulfillment of the prophecy, "And the L-rd will stretch forth His hand... to His people.. [in] the islands of the sea... and gather the dispersed of Israel." Similarly, his efforts with the gentiles were a preparation for the fulfillment of the prophecy, "Then I will transform the nations to a clear speech..."
Thus, it is appropriate to prepare for the commemoration of the Previous Rebbe's yahrzeit by: a) increasing the study of his teachings; b) giving tzedakah to those institutions which carry out his directives and those which are named after him; c) holding farbrengens at which resolutions will be made to continue following in the path of service he outlined.
In particular, an emphasis should be made on the closeness of the ultimate redemption. To quote the Previous Rebbe, "All of you, stand prepared to greet Mashiach." This is particularly in the present year, a year when "I will show you wonders," and indeed, in the last weeks, we have seen open signs of the coming of the redemption.
The Yalkut Shimoni states that in the year when Mashiach will come:
Nations will challenge each other.... The King of Persia will challenge an Arab king.... All the nations of the world will panic and be seized by consternation.... [G-d will tell the Jews:] "My children. Do not fear. Everything which I have wrought, I have performed only for your sake. The time for your redemption has come."
Surely, these events will bring no harm to the Jewish people, particularly those living in Eretz Yisrael, "the land where the eyes of G-d, your L-rd, are always upon it, from the beginning of the year until its end." On the contrary, Eretz Yisrael is the safest place in the world.
The gentiles will not be able to harm the Jews. Those who have suffered harm will surely be healed immediately. And even before the imminent coming of the redemption, "All the children of Israel will enjoy light in their dwellings."
The knowledge of the imminence of Mashiach's coming should inspire an increase in our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos for, as the Rambam writes, "one mitzvah can tip one's individual balance... and that of the world at large and bring deliverance and salvation."
May we soon no longer need any signs for Mashiach's coming because, in the closest and most immediate future -- he will come.
- (Back to text) The connection between the exodus from Egypt and the entry into Eretz Yisrael is reflected in the verse, "These are the journeys of the children of Israel who departed from the land of Egypt." Although they had left Egypt after the first journey, since they had not entered Eretz Yisrael as of yet, all 42 journeys are considered to be phases in the process of departing from the land of Egypt.
- (Back to text) Although Parshas Vaeira also records that G-d told Moshe to come to Pharaoh, the Zohar makes its statements in connection with Parshas Bo. This can be explained as follows: Parshas Vaeira relates how G-d told Moshe: "Come to Pharaoh and speak to him." In contrast, in Parshas Bo, the confrontation with Pharaoh was not merely for the purpose of communication, but was itself a phase in the process of breaking his power.
- (Back to text) In fact, after Pharaoh's power was broken through the plague of the slaying of the firstborn, his entire structure of authority broke down. He rose in the middle of the night, before his servants, and went out to the Jews' homes, running from place to place, calling "Where does Moshe live? Where does Aharon live?" He realized that his very existence depended on his leaving his palace and searching to and fro for Moshe and Aharon.
- (Back to text) Similarly, the land is used as a metaphor for the Jewish people themselves as it is written, "You shall be a cherished land for Me."
- (Back to text) This expression also implies that, in Eretz Yisrael, there is a potential to see G-dliness as it is manifest in mundane, worldly matters.
- (Back to text) Our Sages note the connection between the word matziros, "cause difficulty," and the name Mitzrayim, "Egypt."
- (Back to text) A parallel to the latter two levels can be seen within the ten plagues which can be divided into two categories: a) plagues which were sent to influence Pharaoh to let the Jews leave Egypt (i.e., a parallel to the elevation of material things); b) plagues which were instituted "because I have hardened his heart... so that I will be able to demonstrate these miraculous signs in his midst and so that you will relate to your children and grandchildren what I wrought in Egypt" (i.e., to nullify the power of Egypt and, in doing so, increase the power of holiness and lead to, as the latter verse continues, "you will know that I am G-d").
- (Back to text) Enduring the exile in Egypt also endowed the Jews with the virtue of service through their own efforts. Nevertheless, the exile in Egypt was general in nature. In contrast, the four subsequent exiles reflected four particular levels in our service. Because they sustained their commitment through these different phases, the Jews' virtue of service through their own efforts is more complete.
- (Back to text) The nullification of the gentile powers and the positive transformation of those who remain is reflected in the Zohar's statements at the conclusion of Parshas Vaeira:
There will come a time when the descendants of Yishmael will stir up great battles in the world.... At that time, a nation from the ends of the world will be aroused... and will wage war with them ... and at that time, "I will transform all the nations to a pure tongue, so that they will all call upon the name of G-d, to form a single block."
- (Back to text) The concept of connection to G-d is the core of our observance of the mitzvos. Indeed, the very word mitzvah is related to the word tzavsa which means "connection."
In the most complete sense, this connection will be established in Eretz Yisrael in the Era of Redemption. In contrast, while in exile, the Jews are compared to "children who have been sent away from their Father's table." As such, a complete connection is impossible (and for that reason, the mitzvos fulfilled in the time of exile are merely "signs" as stated above).
- (Back to text) We see a parallel to this in the parah adumah (the red cow). The cow must be burnt entirely. After this process is completed, its ashes -- i.e., the fundamental matter -- may then be used for a holy purpose. (Note the Pesikta D'Rabbi Kahana which associates the burning of the parah adumah with the nullification of the gentile powers who have exiled the Jews and its slaughter with "the slaughter for G-d in Batzra.")
- (Back to text) Were their material needs to be met in a full sense, they would be able to devote themselves to the study of Torah as the Rambam writes in regard to the Torah's promises of material blessing.
- (Back to text) The Hebrew for "living being," chai, also means "animal." This implies that even if a person's desires reflect those of an animal rather than a human, G-d will fulfill them.
- (Back to text) For He has promised us, "I am with you in distress" and "In all of their difficulties, He feels distress."
- (Back to text) A similar pattern can be seen in regard to the exodus from Egypt. Although the Jews were still underdeveloped, so much so that G-d could not lead them through the land of the Philistines, "lest the people change their mind... and return to Egypt," nevertheless, G-d did not hesitate to redeem them.
- (Back to text) Indeed, the Previous Rebbe passed away on Shabbos Parshas Bo, itself.
- (Back to text) The Previous Rebbe began these efforts under the direction of his father, translating Chassidic texts into Yiddish. Afterwards, he expanded these efforts into other languages. (Significantly, from the Baal Shem Tov on, the Rebbeim had verbally communicated their teachings in Yiddish.)
- (Back to text) The transfer of the center of Chassidic activity to America, "the lower half of the world," was itself characteristic of this thrust to elevate even the lowest dimensions of material existence.
- (Back to text) Trans. Note: Persia can be identified with Iraq. See the sichos of the second night of Sukkos, 5751.
- (Back to text) Our Sages said that one who strikes a Jew is like one who strikes G-d in the eye, as it were. The eye is a very sensitive organ and even a slight blow is significant.