Parshas Bo: The First Mitzvah

This week’s Parsha, Bo, tells of the exodus from Mitzrayim. It begins with the tale of the final three plagues; locusts, darkness, and finally, the death of the firstborn. The firstborn child of every Egyptian family is killed, but the angel of death ‘passes over’ the  Israelites’ houses, which are marked with lamb’s blood. It is from here that we derive the English name for Peysekh- Passover. This Parsha also tells us about the observance of Peysekh. It contains the command to eat matzah- unleavened bread, also known as lechem oni (bread of the poor)- with bitter herbs (which represent the bitterness of slavery in Mitzrayim), and to remove all traces of leaven from our hoises for seven  days. This is a command which will endure throughout the generations, in what is known as preparing for  Peysekh, when we clean the entire house to remove all traces of leaven, and eat matzah for seven days.

This Parsha also gives us the very first mitzvah given to the people of Israel. G-d commands us to create a calendar, based on the birth and subsequent rebirth of the moon. This is the calendar which we are commanded to use to calculate the beginning of each month, and the festivals we celebrate. The lunar calendar will shape Jewish observance for generation after generation, as we mark the start of a new month with ‘Rosh Chodesh’, and calculate the festivals based on the luminaries. But the calendar isn’t purely practical. It contains a very important message for the Jewish people.

Collectively, as a people, we are best represented by the moon. While this may seem like a far fetched analogy, upon explanation, one begins to realise that the methodology of the Jewish calendar is no coincidence. The moon waxes and wanes. To our eyes, it shrinks and grows. It is born, it dies, and it is reborn. And this mirrors our own story. We are persecuted; attacked; murdered; we are discriminated against, and  hated. But we persevere. Sometimes, we appear to be on the edge of destruction. After the Holocaust, it came to light that six million of us had been killed simply because we were Jewish. But we built ourselves back up. Just like the moon, our existence travels through cycles. The fact is, the moon never actually shrinks, or grows. It simply looks like that, due to shadow. And the same message applies perfectly to us. It looks like we’re ready to disappear; it looks like we’ve all assimilated or been killed; but actually, we’re here. With Hashem watching over us.

This is incredibly inspirational. But what does it have to do with Peysekh?

The connection is right there, in this week’s Parsha. G-d commands each Jew to ‘tell his son’ of the exodus from Mitzrayim; of the slavery, of the plagues, and of the immense miracles. Telling our children of the redemption is as important as observing the laws of leaven. And this is how we will persevere; this is how, just like the moon in the sky, we will never disappear or be defeated. It’s through chinuch, the education of our children, and through an awareness of our own history, that we survive. When, at the Seder, we tell our children of the miracles which Hashem granted us, when we teach them of His everlasting love for us, and of our importance and strength as the Chosen People, we ensure our survival for future generations.

And this is truly the greatest miracle of all.




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