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Parashat Bo

General Overview: In this week’s reading, Bo, the last three plagues—Locust, Darkness, and Death of the Firstborn—are inflicted upon the Egyptians. Moses commands the Israelites concerning the Paschal offering and the laws of the Seder. After the final plague, Pharaoh unconditionally releases the Israelites from his land.

First Aliyah: Plague Eight: At G‑d’s behest, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and delivered a warning: “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, so that they can worship Me!” They informed Pharaoh that if he does not allow the Israelites to go, Egypt will be attacked by a plague of locusts. After Moses and Aaron left, Pharaoh’s servants begged him to allow the Israelites to leave. “Don’t you yet know that Egypt is lost?” they argued. Pharaoh called back Moses and Aaron, and offered to allow the Israelites to leave—provided that they leave behind their children as security. Moses and Aaron refused the offer, and Pharaoh stubbornly refused to allow the Israelites to go.

Second Aliyah: Moses stretched out his hands, and swarms of locusts swept down on Egypt. They consumed absolutely every blade of grass, and all the crops. Pharaoh beseeched Moses to pray to G‑d for the removal of the locusts, promising to then release the Israelites. Moses prayed, and no sooner had a wind carried the locusts back to the Red Sea than Pharaoh changed his mind yet again. Plague Nine: A frightful darkness descended upon Egypt. For days, the entire nation was incapacitated by the debilitating pitch darkness. “But for all the children of Israel, there was light in their dwellings.”

Third Aliyah: Pharaoh summoned Moses again, offering to release the Israelites if they leave behind their cattle. Moses refused the condition. Pharaoh sent Moses away, warning him to never appear in his presence again, “for on the day that you see my face, you shall die!” Moses agreed, but not before he delivered a final message that G‑d relayed to him at that moment. G‑d told Moses that he would visit one more plague upon Egypt, after which Pharaoh will actually drive the Israelites from his land. Parenthetically, at that time G‑d also instructed Moses to ask the Israelites to borrow from their Egyptian neighbors jewels, silver and gold. The Israelites complied, and the Egyptians readily lent out their valuables.

Fourth Aliyah: Moses delivered G‑d’s warning to Pharaoh: “At midnight, I will go out in the midst of Egypt. Every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the slave woman . . .” G‑d then gave the Israelites their first mitzvah, that of determining the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) each month and establishing a lunar calendar. G‑d also told Moses to instruct the Israelites to designate a lamb for the Paschal offering. The Israelites were to sacrifice this lamb and consume it, together with matzah and bitter herbs, on the eve of the fifteenth of Nissan. The blood of the lamb was to be smeared on the lintels and doorposts of the Israelite residences, and all inside those homes would be spared when G‑d descended to smite the Egyptian firstborn. G‑d also instructed that for all future generations this day would signal the beginning of the seven-day holiday of Passover, during which no leaven may be eaten or possessed.

Fifth Aliyah: Moses gathered the Israelite elders and conveyed to them G‑d’s instructions.

Sixth Aliyah: Plague Ten: At the stroke of midnight, G‑d slew all the Egyptian firstborn. No Egyptian home was spared, and Egypt erupted in a great outcry. Pharaoh awoke and raced to Moses, and begged him to take the Israelites and leave. The Egyptians pressured the Israelites to leave as soon as possible, and the Israelites complied. Equipped with all the valuables they had borrowed from the Egyptians, and provisions for the way—dough that was baked before having time to rise—the Israelites left Egypt at midday of the fifteenth of Nissan. This section concludes with some more rules that pertain to the Paschal offering.

Seventh Aliyah: G‑d gave the Israelites several mitzvot: 1) All male Israelite firstborn were henceforth sanctified to G‑d. 2) Eat matzah on Passover. 3) Recount the story of the Exodus at the Passover Seder. 4) Bring all male firstborn of kosher animals as sacrifices. 5) Redeem all male firstborn donkeys for a sheep—which is given to a kohen (priest). 6) Don tefillin on the head and arm.

Parashat Vaera

General Overview: In this week's reading, Vaera, Pharaoh refuses to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt, even after Aaron exhibits miraculous powers, transforming his staff into a serpent. The first seven plagues strike Egypt: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Beasts, Pestilence, Boils, and Fiery Hail.

First Aliyah: This week's portion opens with G‑d's response to Moses (continuation from the end of last week's reading). G‑d told Moses that He revealed Himself to the Patriarchs and established with them a covenant to give them the land of Canaan. And now the time has arrived to fulfill His promises. G‑d told Moses to tell the Israelites that He has heard their cries, and He will now deliver them from Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land. Moses relayed the message, but their unbearable workload prevented them from accepting his words. G‑d then told Moses to instruct Pharaoh to send the Israelites from his land. Moses protested: "If the children of Israel did not listen to me, how then will Pharaoh listen to me? I have a speech impediment?" (G‑d's answer below in the Third Aliyah.)

Second Aliyah: The Torah takes a brief interlude and traces the lineage of Moses and Aaron, listing their family trees.

Third Aliyah: G‑d tells Moses to go speak to Pharaoh, and Aaron should serve as his spokesman. G‑d informed him that He will harden Pharaoh's heart and he will refuse to release the Israelites. At that point G‑d will "multiply His wonders" in Egypt, until the Egyptians will recognize that G‑d is the L-rd.

Fourth Aliyah: Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh. As per G‑d's instructions, Aaron cast his staff on the ground, and it turned into a serpent. When Pharaoh's magicians did the same with their staffs, Aaron's staff swallowed theirs. Pharaoh remained unimpressed—and so the plagues commenced. Plague One: Aaron smote the Nile with his staff. The river and all the waters in Egypt turned into blood, and all the fish perished. Plague Two: Aaron stretched his staff upon the Nile and droves of frogs emerged. They covered the land, entered all the houses, even the ovens and kneading bowls. Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and begged them to pray to G‑d to remove the plague, after which he would release the Israelites.

Fifth Aliyah: Moses prayed to G‑d, and the frogs all died. Egypt reeked from the odor of rotting frogs, and Pharaoh reneged on his promise. Plague Three: Aaron smote the earth with his staff, and swarms of lice attacked Egypt, covering man and beast. Even Pharaoh's magicians were amazed by this, and informed Pharaoh that this is the "finger of G‑d." Plague Four: G‑d dispatched Moses to warn Pharaoh that his land will be infested by a mixture of noxious animals. Only the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived, would be spared.

Sixth Aliyah: The mixture of wild beasts descended upon Egypt, destroying the entire land with the exception of Goshen. Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and offered to allow the Israelites freedom to serve G‑d whilst still in Egypt. When Moses rejected this offer, Pharaoh capitulated and offered to release the Israelites if only the plague came to an end. Moses prayed, the plague ended, and Pharaoh reneged on his promise again. Plague Five: all the Egyptians' cattle suddenly died; none of the Israelites' animals were affected. Plague Six: Moses and Aaron took handfuls of furnace soot and threw them heavenward. The soot descended, covered the entire Egypt, infecting all its inhabitants with painful boils. G‑d sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message: Just as G‑d wiped out all the Egyptian cattle, He could have easily slain Pharaoh and all his people too. "But, for this [reason] I have allowed you to survive, in order to show you My strength and to declare My name all over the earth!"

Seventh Aliyah: Plague Seven: Moses warned Pharaoh that a catastrophic hail would descend upon the land. Man or beast that would remain in the field would be killed by the hailstones. Moses stretched his rod toward heaven and hail poured down—with fire blazing inside the icy hail. Aside for damage to humans and animal, the hail destroyed all vegetation and trees. Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. "I have sinned this time," he declared. "The Lord is the righteous One, and I and my people are the guilty ones. Entreat the Lord, and let it be enough of God's thunder and hail, and I will let you go..." Moses prayed. The hail stopped. And Pharaoh changed his mind yet again.

Parashat Shemot

General Overview: This week's Torah reading, Shemot, begins the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh issues harsh decrees against the Israelites, beginning decades of Jewish suffering and slavery. Moses is born and raised in the Egyptian royal palace. After killing an Egyptian, Moses escapes to Midian and marries. G‑d appears to him in a burning bush and demands that he return to Egypt to redeem the Israelites. Moses returns to Egypt with the intention of freeing the Jewish people.

First Aliyah: Jacob's sons all died. Jacob's descendants in Egypt, however, were "fruitful and swarmed and increased and became very very strong." A new Pharaoh arose, and he resolved to find a solution to the "Israelite problem." He proposed to afflict the Israelites and impose slave labor upon them, thus preventing them from multiplying. He implemented the plan, and the Israelites were forced to construct storage cities for Pharaoh. "But as much as they would afflict them, so did they multiply and so did they gain strength." Pharaoh then summoned the Hebrew midwives and instructed them to kill all the Hebrew sons that they delivered. The righteous midwives feared G‑d, however, and defied Pharaoh's order.

Second Aliyah: Pharaoh called the midwives to task for not following orders. They answered that the Hebrew women were skilled in midwifery and delivered their babies before they even arrived. G‑d rewarded the midwives for their bravery. Pharaoh then commanded the Egyptians to cast all newborn males into the Nile. Moses was born. His mother, who feared for her baby's life, put him into a waterproofed basket and set him afloat in the Nile. Pharaoh's daughter came to bathe, and took the child as her own. Moses' sister Miriam, who observed the entire episode, offered to bring a Hebrew nursemaid for the child, and when Pharaoh's daughter agreed to the suggestion, Miriam called the child's mother. Moses' mother nursed the child and after he was weaned brought him back to Pharaoh's daughter.

Third Aliyah: Moses was raised in Pharaoh's palace. When he matured, he went out one day and saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew. Moses slew the Egyptian. Word of his deed reached Pharaoh, and Moses was compelled to flee. He escaped to Midian where he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro. They gave birth to a son, Gershom. Back in Egypt, meanwhile, the plight of the Israelite slaves was worsening. They cried out to G‑d, and He remembered the covenant He had made with their forefathers.

Fourth Aliyah: Moses was shepherding Jethro's flocks in the wilderness when he arrived at the "mountain of G‑d." There he saw a bush burning, yet it was not being consumed by the fire. When he approached to investigate the phenomenon, G‑d called out to him. G‑d declared that He has seen the Israelites' afflictions, and has decided to deliver them from their Egyptian masters.

Fifth Aliyah: G‑d gave Moses specific instructions: He was to gather the Israelite elders and inform them that G‑d had remembered them and would now rescue them from Egypt and bring them to a Land of Milk and Honey. Then he was to approach Pharaoh and request permission to leave along with the Israelites. G‑d informed Moses that Pharaoh would not accede to this request – but the redemption would come nonetheless, after G‑d will smite Egypt with a strong arm. At that point the Israelites would leave with much riches. G‑d gave Moses three miracles to perform before the Israelites to prove that he was sent by G‑d. When Moses protested that he was not suited to be G‑d's messenger due to his speech impediment, G‑d assigned his brother Aaron to be his spokesperson.

Sixth Aliyah: Moses took his wife and two sons and headed for Egypt. G‑d charged Moses to warn Pharaoh: "So said G‑d, 'My firstborn son is Israel. So I say to you, send out My son so that he will worship Me. And if you refuse to send him out, behold, I will slay your firstborn son.'" En route to Egypt, Moses' wife rescued her husband from divine wrath by performing a circumcision on their son. Moses met Aaron, who had come from Egypt to greet him, and together they went to Egypt, gathered the elders and performed the wondrous signs that G‑d had given Moses.

Seventh Aliyah: Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and presented G‑d's demand. Pharaoh mocked the request and instructed the Egyptian taskmasters to increase the Israelite slaves' workload. The Israelites were unable to meet Pharaoh's new demands, and were viciously beaten as a result. Moses addressed G‑d: "Why have You mistreated this people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has mistreated this people, and You have not saved Your people." G‑d responded: "Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a mighty hand he will send them out..."

Parashat Vayechi

General Overview: This week's Torah reading, Vayechi, discusses Jacob's final years. Shortly before his passing, Jacob blesses Joseph's children as well as his own. A massive funeral procession escorts Jacob's body to Canaan. The reading, and the Book of Genesis, concludes with Joseph's death.

First Aliyah: Jacob lived his last seventeen years in Egypt. When Jacob sensed that his days were numbered he summoned Joseph and asked him to promise that he would bury him in Israel. Joseph acceded to the request. When Jacob then fell ill, Joseph visited him, accompanied by his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob conferred upon Ephraim and Manasseh the status of tribal progenitors, a status hitherto enjoyed only by Jacob's sons. Joseph asked his father to bless Ephraim and Manasseh.

Second Aliyah: Joseph presents his two sons, placing Manasseh, the firstborn, to Jacob's right, and Ephraim to Jacob's left. Jacob, who was nearly blind at this point, crossed his hands, placing his right – more prestigious – hand on Ephraim's head. He blessed them: "May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land."

Third Aliyah: Joseph was disturbed that Jacob placed his right hand on Ephraim, and he attempted to adjust his father's hands. "I know, my son, I know," Jacob responded, explaining that the "younger brother will be greater, and his children['s fame] will fill the nations." Jacob blessed the two boys further, saying that all of Israel will bless each other by saying: "May G‑d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh."

Fourth Aliyah: Jacob summoned all his sons, and delivered to each a poetic, and sometimes cryptic, parting personal message. Reuben was chastised for his impetuousness and for "ascending upon his father's bed." Shimon and Levi were rebuked for their anger, which expressed itself in the killing of the Shechemites and the attempted execution of Joseph. Judah was blessed with monarchy, success in waging battle, and an abundance of wine and milk in his portion. Zebulon was blessed with success in his sea-trade endeavors. Jacob likened Issachar to a thick-boned donkey who finds both rest and ample work. Dan was blessed with the tenacity of a serpent and the ability to judge.

Fifth Aliyah: Gad was blessed with bravery in battle. Asher's blessing: an abundance of olive oil. Naphtali was blessed with the speed of a deer. Joseph was recognized for his charm, suffering, and righteousness, and was showered with a variety of blessings.

Sixth Aliyah: Benjamin was likened to a devouring wolf. Jacob then repeated his request to be buried in Israel, in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, and he passed away at the age of 147. After an extended national mourning period, Joseph received Pharaoh's permission to carry Jacob's body up to Israel. A huge funeral procession consisting of all the elders of Egypt as well as Jacob's family went and buried Jacob. After returning to Egypt, Joseph's brothers feared that now, after Jacob had passed away, Joseph would exact revenge from them for selling him into slavery. Joseph reassured them that he harbored no ill feelings towards them.

Seventh Aliyah: Joseph lived until the age of 110. Before passing away he told his brothers that G‑d would eventually take them out of Egypt and return them to the Promised Land. Joseph asked his brothers to promise that when that time arrived they would carry his remains with them, and inter him in Israel.

Wed, January 29 2020 3 Shevat 5780