This week’s Torah portion, Bo, recounts the last three plagues and the Exodus from Egypt, possibly the greatest of God’s acts in the Torah. As the eighth plague of locusts and ninth plague of darkness is still not enough to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go, the tenth and final plague is unleashed in all its horror and destructiveness. This plague incidentally is the only one of the ten in which the Hebrews have to physically identify themselves as being set apart from the Egyptians.
It is here alone that the Hebrews were required to put a mark upon their homes so that they would not also be afflicted when the firstborn Egyptian sons were killed. In so doing, the Hebrew families are to kill a lamb and to take its blood and physically place it on their doorposts (mezuzot). They are further warned to remain in their homes until morning so that all the Hebrew firstborns will be spared. It is this final plague God brings upon the Egyptian people that ultimately convinces Pharaoh that the Hebrews must be freed.
Our portion ends by establishing a continuous commemoration and observance of Pesach throughout the generations after entry into the Land of Israel. We are commanded to sanctify and redeem firstborn males both human and kosher farm animals. Chametz (leavened bread) may not be eaten or owned on Passover and we are given the mitzvah to tell the story of Passover each year at our Seders.
The question most often asked when we get to this parasha is: why do we read this portion in the middle of Winter? The real answer is that we read the Torah chronologically–from Genesis to Deuteronomy–in the order the stories actually appear. Furthermore, we will return to these stories once again when the holiday of Pesach does arrive with the onset of Spring.
But on a deeper level, reading the story of Passover now does remind us that it is never too early to begin to prepare our hearts and minds for Pesach. After all, Passover is only a little over 2 months away and there are only about 64 shopping days left. At the same time, the primary theme of Passover–pursuing freedom and liberation from that which limits and plagues us–is an appropriate lesson to keep in mind 365 days a year!
– Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff