This week’s parasha is Bo (Come) Exodus 10:1 – 13:16[i] begins with the final three plagues; locusts (10.12-14), darkness (10.21-22), and the warning of the death of the first born (11.1-10). Next are the instructions and observance of the first Pesach (Passover) with the accompanying seven-day festival of Matzot or Unleavened Bread (12.1-28). This was followed by the LORD fulfilling His decree concerning the death of the first born (12.29-30) after which Pharaoh immediately called for Moshe and Aharon demanding that they and all of B’nei Yisrael leave Egypt at once (12.31-32). The parasha ends with the commandment for Israel to observe pidyon haben, the redemption of the firstborn males of both humanity and domesticated animals as a memorial of the final plague in Egypt and that the LORD brought us out from the house of bondage with His strong hand (13.1-16).
Returning to the beginning there is a somewhat interesting occurrence. The parasha begins, in English, “Then Adonai said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh…’.” But the command “go” would be לֵךְ. But that is not what the Hebrew says, it says בֹּא, “come” to Pharaoh. These are obviously two different words, come and go. Virtually every English translation says go, because that would be the normal way of saying it. Rashi struggled with this dilemma, and determined that “come to Pharaoh” actually meant “come to Pharaoh and warn him” that from this point on, I, the LORD, will harden Pharaoh’s heart in response to the hardening that he, himself, had done to this point. In five of the first seven plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart (7.22; 8.11; 8.15; 8.28; 9.7; 9.35). In the first plague, the Nile turned to blood (7.20-25) and nothing is mentioned about Pharaoh’s heart. After the boils (9.12) the text states that “ADONAI hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” Then in Bo, after the locusts (10.20) and the darkness (10.27) again it is stated that ADONAI hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The last plague finally broke Pharaoh’s heart and his resolve to stand against the God of Israel – at least temporarily (12.31-32). So maybe Rashi was right. The last three plagues were the worst and most destructive. It is possibly that even though the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s hear, in continuance with Pharaoh’s own pattern, there was still a bit of a warning to listen to the message of Moshe and Aharon. The prophet Ezekiel would one day write this by the prompting of the Ruach HaKodesh,
“Do I delight at all in the death of the wicked?” It is a declaration of Adonai. “Rather, should he not return from his ways, and live?” … “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies” — it is a declaration of Adonai — “so return, and live!” (Ezekiel 18.23 & 32)
Some would call this a paradox. If the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, how could he be punished? In Pirkei Avot 3.15 there is a suggested answer to this dilemma. “Everything is foreseen, and free will is given, and with goodness the world is judged. And all is in accordance to the majority of the deed.” [ii] Rabbi Ovadiah ben Abraham of Bartenura, a 15th-century Italian rabbi and commentator on the Mishnah, taught that concerning “all is in accordance to the majority of the deed” means “according to what a person repeats and is constant in doing.” While Bartenura looked to the consistency of doing good and thus reaping the reward of such behavior, the opposite is equally true. If a person continually does evil, he or she will reap the reward of doing evil. Thus, Moshe encouraged Israel to choose life, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life so that you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30.19).
The Haftarah, Jeremiah 46:13-28, continues with the LORD’s judgment on Egypt at the hands of Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar. However, there is biting remark of condemnation of Pharaoh as well as a warning for each of us.
“Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise! He let the opportune time pass.” (Jeremiah 46.17)
While this fulfillment at the hands of Babylon, it could equally be said about the time leading up to the Exodus. The LORD gave Pharaoh numerous opportune times, and Pharaoh let each of them pass. As a result “… the day of their calamity has come upon them, the time of their visitation” (Jeremiah 46.21). Had Pharaoh only heeded the words of the Psalmist,
Turn from evil and do good, so you may live forever. For Adonai loves justice and does not abandon His godly ones. They will be preserved forever, but the seed of the wicked will be cut off. (Psalm 37.27-28)
This is the same challenge we face every day. We can choose to do good or we can choose to do evil – the choice is in our hands. After the roll call of the faithful in Hebrews 11 the writer encourages each of us with these words,
“Therefore, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also get rid of every weight and entangling sin” (Hebrews 12.1) and thereby choose life!
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.