The next time we read this Torah portion is February 01, 2020
God unleashes the last three plagues: locusts, darkness, and the death of the firstborns. Only after the last plague does Pharoah relent and tell Moses to leave Egypt.
Bo Torah Portion: Exodus 10:1–13:16
Parshat Bo continues the story of the Ten Plagues. Remember, we read about the first seven in the prior
But before we proceed with the story of the remaining three plagues, we want to invite you to step back and ask a bigger question: Why did God need ten plagues in the first place? If God is all-powerful, couldn't He have freed the slaves with a single plague? How about flying them out of Egypt on magic carpets? Done! Why plagues, why these particular plagues, and why ten? These are the most pressing questions at the core of the plagues narrative, and arguably one can't understand the story here without reckoning with them. Rabbi Fohrman poses these questions and offers his own theories: if you've got the time, we highly recommend that you check out the long version of his answers in our Passover course, What Does It Mean To Be God's Chosen People? But we also have this shorter, if somewhat less comprehensive, introduction to the meaning of the Ten Plagues, a two-part video series on Parshat Va'era and Bo — which focuses in particular on the question: What does it mean that God hardened Pharaoh's heart?
Now, back to the action. Pharaoh has withstood each plague until now, following a fairly predictable pattern: at times seeming to weaken in his resolve, to desperately call for Moses and Aaron and plead with them to put an end to the plague... only to go back to his old ways and refuse to free the slaves. But now, by Parshat Bo, we start to see evidence in the text that Pharaoh's servants are seeing things differently.
After Moses and Aaron threaten the coming of Plague #8 (locusts,
Even as Pharaoh ostensibly prepares to bemoan his own firstborn, the text tells us, shockingly: "but the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the children of Israel out of his land." (Are you wondering right now about why in the world God keeps hardening Pharaoh's heart? That is the other crucial question that needs to be asked about this story of the Ten Plagues, and the aforementioned video series — the long one on Passover and this shorter two-parter on Parshat Va'era and Parshat Bo — address it.)
Midway through the
And in the wake of the plague of the firstborn, with Egypt consumed by mourning, Pharaoh's resolve finally breaks. (For a frightening take on the Tenth Plague, see our video here.) He calls Moses and Aaron before him and urges the people to leave, and fast. And the people do: with unleavened dough in their hands (that will later be baked into matzah) and with their arms grasping the bounty of Egypt, jewelry