Shalom! This week’s reading is both packed with stories and mitzvot. Arguably one of the most detailed readings in the Torah.
This weeks Parshah actually starts off with the eighth of the ten plagues, the plague of Locusts (Shemot 10:4). Pharaoh still didn’t learn his lesson and allow the Jewish people to go by this point and Hashem in retribution brought swarms of Locusts all over the land of Egypt, which destroyed nearly all the rest of the natural food supply which was not destroyed in the previous plague, the plague of Hail.
Moshe was instructed by Hashem, to request off Pharaoh to let all the people go for three days so they could make sacrifices to Hashem, taking along with them all the children, possessions and animals that they possessed. However, when Moshe requested this off Pharaoh, he agreed to let them go, however only on the condition that they leave the children and wives behind (Shemot 10:11). Moshe could not agree, as when the Jews are serving Hashem, we believe in the religion that all activities, especially prayers, meals and lectures, should include people of all ages. Part of the point of Judaism is to include the children and all family members. In fact the whole point of the ‘Seder night’ during Pesach is for the children to ask questions on the topic of leaving the land of Egypt.
Pharaoh requested then off Moshe to stop the plague, Moshe prayed and the plague terminated (Shemot 10:19).
The plague of Darkness then befell in the land of Egypt which had serious ramifications. In fact, unlike all other plagues, the Jews were also affected badly in this plague. The Darkness was so thick that during the second half period of the plague, no Egyptians could even move, many of the Egyptians perished. However all the ‘non believing’ Jews also perished, those that denied G-d, obsessed with idolatry and that had assimilated totally into Egyptian culture. They died an instantaneous death and were buried almost immediately so that none of the Egyptians would realize that Jews perished during this plague, which would then lead the Egyptians to further deny Hashem’s ways (Gur Aryeh). None of the other Jews were affected directly by the plague, in fact, the rest of the Jews were commanded by Hashem to visit the Egyptian houses and see what possessions they owned, so that when later leaving the land, later on, they could claim some possessions due to the strenuous unpaid labour work the Egyptians had tortured them to do (Shemot Rabba 14:3). This plague lasted 6 days in total and wiped out a very large part of the countries population. Pharaoh this time, in a temper, arrived to Moshe requesting that the plague be terminated (Shemot 10:24), Moshe prayed for it to end and then instantaneously warned Pharaoh about the coming ‘tenth plague,’ the plague of the killing of the first born – which in turn could kill Pharaoh as he was a first born.
On the night of 14th Nissan in the year 2448, the plague of the slaying of the first born commenced, killing all the Egyptian first born males at exactly midnight, in fact, all first born Egyptian’s born to different fathers also perished. The Egyptian women were so immoral, that they had shared children with many different bachelors even while being married to another man (Rashi Shemot 12:30), which shows the level of adultery taking place in the country at that time!!
Pharaoh, with his life at serious threat (as he was a first born) screamed out load to the whole Hebrew nation ‘YOU ARE ALL FREE, PLEASE LEAVE THE COUNTRY NOW!’ (Yerushalmi Pesachim 85) however, Moshe, under Hashem’s instruction, said that they would leave the following morning, as it is dangerous to set out on a journey at night. In fact while all the Egyptian firstborns were being killed, The Jews were instructed to eat from the Korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice) in a luxurious banquet like aristocrats.
It was the next morning when the Jews took off to start the Exodus out of Egypt (Shemot 12:37/42), leaving Egypt with a huge abundance of Gold and Silver (Shemot 12:35/36).
We are introduced to the laws of Rosh Chodesh in this parshah (Shemot 12:2). The Jewish calendar comprises of 354 days, which follows a lunar calendar, unlike the calendar we follow in various countries outside of Israel which comprises of a calendar of 365 days. Every Rosh Chodesh is accompanied with Hallel and reading portions of the Torah. At the times of the Mishkan and the Beit Hamikdash (Temple), various sacrifices would be given to Hashem. It is a time to look for renewal and try and always improve one’s ways and look for a better month. The Jewish New Year is always on Rosh Hashanah, which falls in the month of Tishrei. However in this weeks reading, as the ‘leaving of Egypt’ took place in the month of Nissan, we name this month as the first and head of all months (Ramban Shemot 12:2), because, the purpose of being released from slavery in the land of Egypt was that we would now solely have only one master, Hashem.
In the Hebrew calendar, to compensate for the lost days we have in comparison to the Solar Calendar, we have a leap year to the ratio of seven times every nineteen years. This leap year takes place after the month of Adar, which is known as ‘Adar Sheini.’
We are then introduced to the laws of the Korban Pesach (Pesach Sacrifice) (Shemot 12:3/11); the Korban Pesach is very unique and very different from all other sacrifices. First of all it must be roasted over a fire (Shemot 12:8). It also has to be eaten only by a group that has joined together beforehand. One is also not permitted to break any bones in order to eat the marrow within them.
Also in order to partake in a feast of the Pesach sacrifice, one has to be circumcised (Shemot 12:48). Interestingly enough, during the forty years that the Jews spent in the wilderness, they could not partake in the Korban Pesach as they were in a constant state of traveling, and if a Jew had a child that was born in the wilderness and was not circumcised (due to the danger threat of circumcision while traveling (Gemara Yevamot 71b)), the family was not at all allowed to part take in it.
In the night of the slaying of the Egyptian first born, the Jews roasted the Lamb (which was an Egyptian deity) over the fire, the aroma of the lamb was so strong, it added to the fury of the Egyptians, as there ‘G-d’ was being destroyed, which in turn, sanctified Hashem's name and admonished their idols.
We are also introduced to the mitzvah of the ‘redemption of the first born,’ it states in this weeks reading, "Every first born of the mother of the children of Israel and of the beast shall be mine. (Shemot 13:12)"
Originally Hashem had in mind that the first born would be sanctified to serve in the Temple, however after the atrocity of the sin of the golden calf (Shemot 31:1), the service was taken away from the first born of every tribe (as the first born had a part to play in the sin) and it was given to the tribe of Levi (as they protested against the golden calf), and to the descendants of Aaron the high priest (known as Kohanim). Therefore all the first born sons of Kohanim and Levites, or whose mothers' father is a Kohan or Levite are exempt from this obligation, as the Temple work was incumbent upon them.
The custom is to gather together friends and relatives for a festive meal. This may not take place during the first thirty days after birth. In the middle of the meal, the father must bring five silver shekels or objects that have the intrinsic value of five silver shekels; the father then redeems the son by giving the Kohan the five silver shekels.
We are also introduced to the mitzvah of Tefillin at the end of the Parshah (Shemot 13:16); the Tefillin are two small square black boxes made of the leather of a kosher hide, with black leather straps stuck to them. The straps and boxes must be dyed black with a special dye. They have to be worn on the head and the weaker arm, this is to testify that ones thoughts should always be done correctly and actions done well with their arms and that they fear and love Hashem at all times.
This Dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of Hezkiah Ben Nuriel, who passed away 4 years ago last week, may we always do good deeds in his merit.
Hope you all have a fantastic Shabbat. SHABBAT SHALOM!