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Parshas Bo - The Makkos a Dual Message        5 Shvat 5783     

01/26/2023 11:18:58 PM


Each city, no matter its location, carries  its own labels. Some cities are known for their beauty, others for great entertainment and tourist sites. I currently live in San Diego, known to be the city with the finest weather in the country. I also lived in Charleston, S.C., known for its cobblestone streets, antebellum homes, and Fort Sumter, location of the first shots of the Civil War. Many of you have visited Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world. As most of you reading this message are aware, I was born and raised in New York City, notorious for its rude citizens.  But I must tell you, in my opinion, That New York can no longer claim that prize. New Yorkers have been going through a rather dramatic transformation.  People are more outgoing, friendlier, and not  as self-centered as they once were. One qualification – being friendlier and more courteous doesn’t mean you’re going to be invited over for dinner.  That would be going too far. Rather, should you courageously ask someone for directions, or just for the time, you may receive a response…or perhaps a note of recognition that you’re standing there.

While this newfound attempt at kindness, may be a step in the right direction, there is still something lacking, not only in New York but all over the world. When someone asks for directions or simply greets someone with a ‘good morning’, and receives a response, this is typically internalized with “Wow! Friendly guy.”  In other words, the response is something other than the expected non-response. The questioner then just continues along with his own business.  I will illustrate this with a recent occurrence. I heard the following exchange between two acquaintances – they knew each other but were most likely not best friends.  One morning a man noticed his acquaintance and immediately greeted him, remarking,  ”How are you doing?” The man replied, ”Today is my birthday. Today I am one hundred twenty years old.” Without missing a beat, the first man responded,” Happy birthday. Have a great day,” and continued on his way.

I find myself at fault, guilty in a different but similar way. The only rational excuse I come up with is the overload of instant information we receive on a daily basis. When I read the Jewish news or receive a solicitation for a certain need, I tend to see it, maybe gasp momentarily, give a krechts (a moan or groan), and say Rachmana Litzlan - Hashem show mercy to this situation. After that, I go on with my day,  thinking this situation is far from me, almost shrugging it off with a silent ‘I have nothing to do with it’. There are dozens of charities, fund-raising campaigns, all addressing needs that are so great, but if I don’t know the people involved, sadly, these calls for help do not affect me in the least. When I do know a person is going through hardship, I often reach out,  asking how I can help, who should I call, and so forth. Even then, after a little while this, too, starts to be forgotten.    

One may ask, what can, or should I do? I do not have the perfect answer, but a good place to start is just to try a little harder, making an effort to do a little more, sincerely feel the pain of others, to demonstrate, at least within us, that we are an intimate part of that Bayis/house. I would suggest that everything that occurs in the Torah is meant to be a lesson for Jew and gentile alike. Not all scenarios are obvious or clear, but I believe the ten plagues not only served as a direct punishment and measure-for-measure against the Egyptians; they also served as a lifelong lesson for the young nation of Israel.

In this week’s parshas Bo, the Torah states in Shmos 12:30"ויקם פרעה לילה הוא וכל עבדיו וכל מצרים ותהי צעקה גדולה במצרים כי אין בית אשר אין שם מת" “Pharoah stayed up that night, along with all his officials and all the rest of Egypt. There was a great outcry since there was no house where there were no dead”.  Rashi explains: If a first born was there, he died. If there was not (actually) a first born (son), the oldest of the house is called ‘first-born’. We need to understand why Moshe didn’t warn the Egyptians that if there was no actual first born son, then the oldest of the house would be killed. The answer follows a pattern seen throughout the ten plagues regarding how the Egyptians either defied the existence of Hashem, rationalizing ways to explain how things occurred naturally, or they tried to manipulate the system and get around the exact directive of Moshe. By getting around the exact words of Moshe, they could claim that the Jewish God is not all powerful. The tenth plague was no different from the others, so the Egyptians removed their first-born sons from their homes, placing them  in Jewish homes in an attempt to be spared from certain death. Therefore, if Moshe had warned the Egyptians ahead of time, causing them to remove their first-born from their homes, someone else would have been killed.  They would have forced their actual first-born sons to remain in the house so that the rest of them would be saved. This is why Moshe was silent; he did not reveal all the follow-up details of the severity and length this plague would reach. As a result, there were far more Egyptians killed, the actual first born found in the Jewish homes and also every head of every Egyptian house. This is all good, regarding how   we explain these events during the seder, how Hashem paid back measure for measure in a ferocious manner.

The bigger lesson, however, is intended for us, the Jewish people, living in a generation where we also echo the words, ”There is no house where there is no dead.” The phrase ‘there is no dead’ is not meant to be taken literally - in the physical sense - but rather in the spiritual sense. Across the board, we find homes with children who are ‘spiritually dead’;  if those children aren’t the first born of the family, then it is another child or even a parent who is no longer connected. Mind you, ‘spiritually dead’ does not necessarily mean they don’t keep kosher or are no longer Shomer Shabbos. To the contrary, they may be talking the talk… but not walking the talk. The message needs to be clear to those who feel that their house is immune, or ‘we made it’; we all need to be mindful of our neighbor, the brethren who may not be directly related to me. It applies to all of us who received and witnessed this message during the Makkah that preceded our immediate redemption. When we hear and read stories of the tragedies – all tragedies, individual as well as collective - occurring  throughout the Jewish world, we need to be more sensitive, we need to feel the pain of others as if it were occurring in our own homes. We should find ways to support the many organizations which are assessing the loss in each home and working to heal and rebuild the many broken and torn homes in our midst.

In the merit of Klal Yisroel, feeling for one another in a deeper, more meaningful way, we will herald the redemption in our day just as our ancestors did upon leaving Egypt.  

Sat, May 18 2024 10 Iyyar 5784