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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Bo

What the Word Bo Really Means

Since every word of our holy Torah carries with it many layers of significance, it is incumbent upon us to understand why this particular word, Bo, is employed by the Torah to describe a certain situation.
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Since every word of our holy Torah carries with it many layers of significance and importance, it is incumbent upon us to understand why this particular word, Bo, is employed by the Torah to describe a certain situation.

In the opinion of the commentators to the Torah, the word Bo, which appears at the beginning of this week's reading, contains a deeper meaning than the simple translation meaning ‘to come.’ The fact that the word is then followed by the Hebrew word ‘el’ meaning not only ‘to’ but perhaps more literally ‘into,’ gives us insight into what the word Bo in this context really means.

It was not sufficient for Moshe merely to visit or come to the Pharaoh of Egypt to deliver the warnings from God regarding the plagues that were going to descend upon the Egyptian nation, because of their refusal to free the Jewish people from bondage.
Moshe could have delivered this information by proxy, by messenger, by letter or any of the other means that human beings used then to communicate one with another.

Rather, it was necessary for Moshe to enter into the brain and feelings of Pharaoh, so to speak, that propels the entire narrative of this week's reading and will lead to the great moment of freedom and emancipation for the Jewish people.

It is as though the Lord, so to speak, wants Moshe to really understand the stubbornness and almost suicidal behavior of the Pharaoh, and to appreciate that it is this intransigence itself that will be his undoing and the destruction of Egypt.

It is as though the Torah is teaching us that if one is unable to comprehend the depths of the personality of evil, one can never really combat evil in a practical and strong fashion. It is this recognition of the evil lurking originally, though only in the background of events, that is the beginning of the process of preventing it from triumphing.

The Jewish people were fooled by the Pharaoh into volunteering for their own forced labor and eventual slavery. They did not recognize his call for patriotism as the true evil that lay behind his national plan for them. The Jewish people were so willing to be recognized as good Egyptians that they volunteered to become their own worst enemy and submit themselves to centuries of slavery and servitude.

Jewish people, for centuries, have often been unable to perceive that they themselves create the seeds of their own destruction. In the rush for acceptance and approbation by others, Jews are often blinded, willfully overlooking the evil arising around them.

It is insufficient to come to the Pharaoh to argue one’s case. One must be able to come ‘into’ Pharaoh and to see the true motivation that created this situation of sadness and servitude. This lesson, recorded for us in the Torah, forms a message that applies to all ages of Jewish existence and to all circumstances of political, social, and national life.
Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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