Bo 5777


Parshas Bo is a continuation of the recounting of the Makkos from the previous Parsha. It begins with the Makka of Arbeh, locusts. One may wonder why, when the Torah divides the Parshiyos containing the Makkos, it does so in a way that the second Parsha begins specifically with Makkas Arbeh.
In Midrash Rabba (Shemos, Parsha Alef), the Rabbanan ask why the Pasuk states ויקם מלך חדש (שמות א:ח), “A new king arose” (Shemos 1:9), if in fact, according to their opinion, this was the same Pharoah as before. They answer that originally the Egyptian people approached Pharoah and requested that he afflict the Jews. Pharoah refused on the grounds that they were indebted to Yosef Hatzadik for sustaining them during the famine, and it would therefore be disgraceful to mistreat Yosef’s people. The Egyptians responded by removing Pharoah from his throne. Only after three months, when Pharoah finally informed them that he was willing to go along with whatever they wanted, did they restore him to his position. The Rabbanan explain that since Pharoah was reinstated as king, the Pasuk refers to him as מלך חדש, “a new king.”
It seems apparent from this Midrash that originally Pharoah, out of gratitude towards Yosef Hatzadik, was so adamantly opposed in principle to afflicting the Jewish people that he allowed himself to be deposed from his position as king. Therefore, one might understand that although Pharoah’s mistreatment of the Jews was deserving of the Makkos, he might have felt justified by rationalizing that he had only acted under threat of being overthrown again. This would have been too difficult for him to bear. If it were up to him alone, Pharoah might have claimed, he would not have caused the Jews suffering.
In the beginning of Parshas Bo (Shemos 10:7), the Torah relates that immediately following Moshe Rabbeinu’s warning of the impending Makka of Arbeh, Pharoah’s subjects implored him to free the Jews to prevent further Makkos and the ultimate destruction of Mitzrayim. At this point, the Egyptian people made it very clear to Pharoah that they no longer wanted to keep the Jews enslaved; rather, they wanted Pharoah to send them out of the country to serve Hashem. Yet Pharoah stubbornly refused their wishes, and the Makkos continued.
This seemingly small exchange between Pharoah and his subjects reveals a turning point in Pharoah’s attitude. At that point, Pharoah declared that he himself wanted to keep the Jews enslaved, even while his people begged for them to be sent out.
Until now, Pharoah could have justified his actions by saying that he was bound by the will of his people and under threat of again losing his throne. However, from the time immediately leading up to Makkas Arbeh, Pharoah acted against the Jews strictly of his own accord, and was even willing to do so despite opposition from his very subjects whom he had been claiming to fear.
Therefore, the Torah began the new Parsha at this juncture to show that from that point forward, it was abundantly clear that in contrast to the previous seven Makkos, Pharoah’s continued affliction of the Jews was his decision alone.
For this reason, Makkas Arbeh was the Makka specifically chosen as the first in Parshas Bo. The Pasuk (Shemos 10:15) states that the Arbeh consumed all the crops in Mitzrayim. Perhaps the greatest injustice done by Pharoah in afflicting the Jews was that they were the people of Yosef Hatzadik, who had singlehandedly saved the entire nation of Mitzrayim during the famine. This was a flagrant display of ingratitude. As the aforementioned Midrash noted, Pharoah was fully cognizant of this; he himself had at first refused to enslave them on these grounds. Therefore, it was specifically when Pharoah showed that he had kept the Jews enslaved by his own volition that he received a Makka that wiped out Mitzrayim’s food supply. This punishment was Middah Ke’neged Middah, a Divine response to his mistreatment of the descendants of the person responsible for Mitzrayim’s sustenance and survival.


Mesechtos Eruvin and Sukkah begin with parallel Halachos. Eruvin begins by discussing a “Korah,” which is a beam used as a reminder not to carry into a public domain on Shabbos. In order to be effective, this “Korah” needs to be no higher than 20 Amos, which is about 40 feet. Similarly, Sukkah begins with the Halachic requirement that a Sukkah may be no higher than 20 Amos, again 40 feet.
There is, however, a difference in the language of the two Mishnayos. In Eruvin, the Tanna says that if the beam is too high, it must be lowered. In Sukkah, it simply states that the Sukkah is Pasul, or invalid, without giving instructions for rectifying it. The Gemara (at the beginning of both tractates) takes note of this and asks why.
One answer to this quandary (as stated in the Gemara, ibid) is that Sukkah is D’oraysa, whereas Korah is based on a D’Rabbanan. Why should this make a difference? Rashi explains that the word “Pasul” can only be used when there is a previously understood definition of what is “Kosher,” or valid. However, when the Tanna is teaching a new and previously unheard Rabbinic enactment, he will simply detail the way to rectify the situation.
In theory, Tosafos would have no problem learning the Gemara in this manner, were it not for a technicality. The introductory statement to the Gemara’s next plausible answer, that detailing the necessary corrections in the Mishna would be too cumbersome, implies that even concerning a D’oraysa it would be preferable to teach the rectification. In Rashi’s world, it seems just the opposite. According to Rashi, it would again be better to teach Pasul. In a vacuum, Rashi could be right, but Tosafos argues that it is impossible to reconcile Rashi’s explanation with the wording of the Gemara. Based on this, Tosafos is forced to understand the Gemara differently.
Tosafos learns that in teaching only the rectification, one might come to the conclusion that the Pesul is only Lechatchila. But Bedieved, after the fact, one would have fulfilled his obligation. Therefore, when discussing a Torah based Mitzvah, the Tanna uses the word “Pasul.” However, says Tosafos, in a Rabbinic enactment there is no need for concern. What does this mean?
Tosafos (Sukkah 2a) provides another, more compelling, reason for not using the term “Pasul.” That term is not an elevated form of speech. The Maharam (Eruvin 2a) explains this Tosafos along the same lines.
The Gemara (Pesachim 3a) points out that in Parshas Noach (Bereishis 7:8), the Torah itself reflects this value. When Hashem commands Noach to gather the impure animals, He tells Noach to collect those animals that are not “Tahor,” ritually pure. Hashem does not say to gather the animals that are “Tamei,” ritually impure. The Pasuk expends eight extra letters to teach that derogatory terminology is not used unnecessarily.
On this note, the Gemara (Bava Kamma 38b) points out that in Parshas Vayeira (Bereishis 19:31-38), when the daughters of Lot took it upon themselves to recreate humanity, they did so in a less than tasteful fashion. There was a difference, however, in the naming of the two sons that resulted from their incestuous relationships with their father. The younger daughter names her son Ammon, meaning, “He came from within one nation.” The older daughter names her son Moav, as if to say, “This child came from the relationship between the child’s mother and her father.” Later, the Torah (Devorim 2:19) says that it is forbidden to tax or wage war with the Ammonites, the descendants of Ammon. By contrast, the Torah (Devorim 2:9) says that it is also forbidden to wage war with the descendants of Moav, but taxing them heavily is permitted.
The Yom Shel Shlomo (Bava Kamma 4:11) explains from this Gemara that a person always needs to be careful to avoid uttering even one word that is degrading. The Yom Shel Shlomo adds that he has a tradition from the Rishonim that the word “Baytzim” in the Gemara should be read as the Aramaic equivalent, “Bayim”. Although the Magen Avraham (O.C. 156) cites this Yom Shel Shlomo, the Mishna Berura (ibid) simply says a person should never allow a degrading word to come out of his mouth.