This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Bo (5770)
This week we read of the last three of the ten Plagues with which G-d smote Egypt; locusts, darkness and death of the firstborn.
This last plague was very different from the rest; in this plague the Jews had to put a sign (blood from the Paschal lamb and from their circumcisions) on the inside of their doors so G-d would "Pass over" their houses.
At first glance this doesn't make sense. This plague was done by G-d Himself, not by an angel etc.
If G-d could discern between a firstborn and a second- born Egyptian, certainly He knew the difference between an Egyptian and a Jew. Why did they need the sign on their doors?
To understand this, here is a story.
The city of Lezinsk in Poland was part of a massive province owned by an evil landowner by the name of count Stilanski. He didn't like people in general but especially he hated the Jews, which was certainly nothing unusual for the time, or any time for that matter.
To him the Jews were no more than livestock to be used for his profit. So it puzzled him why it was that every time he tried to raise their taxes or make other decrees to squeeze money from them they always got out of it by pleading with him and softening him up.
Each time he would hate himself for giving in but something inside of him simply couldn't see the Jews suffer. At first he thought that perhaps he had some Jewish blood in his veins but after extensive searching he discovered to his great relief that it wasn't so.
So he went to ask the local Bishop.
"It's simple!" the Bishop said. "The Jews have this holy man in the city of Lezinsk they call Rebbe Elimelech. He has very great powers in certain fields and one of them is protecting them. Get rid of him and your problems will be over."
The Count knew what he had to do. He rushed home, wrote a letter ordering this Rebbe Elimelech to leave his domain within the month or he would be evicted by force. He gave it to his henchmen to deliver it personally, took off his boots, lit his pipe, poured himself a drink, leaned back on his plush chair in front of his massive fireplace and sighed a deep sigh of contentment.
The next morning life went on as usual for the count; he woke late, poured himself a drink and looked out his massive window at the beautiful scenery surrounding his castle. He stepped outside on his porch, the sun was shining brightly, his servant brought him another drink and said merrily, "Good morning my lord! Beautiful, warm day my lord, perfect for a swim! "Suddenly the count got a great idea; it was a warm day! Why not take a swim in one of his rivers.
He, together with his trusted servant, rode their horses for an hour or so till they reached the secluded banks of a picturesque, placid river. In a flash the count dismounted, removed his clothes and dived into the cool water. Being an excellent swimmer he swam back and forth for over an hour until he decided he would lay down to rest for a few minutes on the opposite side of the river and bask in the sun.
He lay down thinking how great and successful he was and wondering if, perhaps he shouldn't try to become king some day as the sun warmed his body and he closed his eyes in bliss.
Two hours later he awoke, stood, stretched in the sun and looked for his servant on the other side. But there was no one there.
He called out the servant's name, but only the birds in the forest answered. So he swam to the other side; perhaps he could find some clue… perhaps his servant had been robbed, attacked, kidnapped? But there was no evidence of a scuffle, his horse was also no where near and also didn't come when called.
Night was beginning to fall and the temperature was dropping rapidly. He had to find somewhere to take shelter… but where? The forest was out of question. With no clothes he would freeze and without a weapon he was helpless. Wolves began to howl and the wind began to enter his bones. He had no choice but to try to make it to the nearest village before nightfall.
The poor count's ego was so inflated that he didn't dream that he would be treated with anything but awe as always. He was shocked to his soul when the villagers began to howl in glee and double up in laughter when they saw him, a completely naked man, exiting he woods. And those that didn't laugh at first lost complete control when the 'wild man' actually got angry, insisted he was the count and began screaming orders at them!
Finally someone threw him an old blanket and a few pieces of bread, the children threw stones and sticks and everyone told him to keep moving.
The count learned fast. When he reached the next town he kept a low profile. He sought out the beggars, joined their ranks and was thankful to receive a place to sleep, some warm soup and a pair of pants.
A few days later after he had begged a shirt and shoes as well, he decided to go to his castle and set things straight. But it was no use. The guards around his place didn't recognize him and told him to leave or they would beat him. He hung his head in sorrow and left.
But as he turned for one more glance back he saw from afar his 'trusted' servant leaving his palace arm in arm with the Bishop surrounded by what used to be his own special guard.
Now it was all clear. His servant had stolen his things, convinced everyone he had drowned and made himself count! At first he though it was just a terrible nightmare, but this was too long...several days… much too long and too many details! He pinched himself a hundred times but it was no nightmare...it was really happening!
What could he do? All avenues of salvation were closed. No one believed him, no one was loyal to him, no one even recognized him and it was getting worse every day! He already had lost twenty pounds and had a wild beard. There was no way he could get back his status or even get enough money to live normally. In Poland peasants remained peasants. He was lost!
Suddenly the idea popped into his mind. After all, he never really did carry out his evil decrees against the Jews. Maybe that Rebbe Elimelech could help him.
It was a long shot; for sure the Rebbe would be glad to be rid of him and he was only for the Jews. But it was his only chance.
He dragged his feet to Lezinsk and several days later entered the town like a thief at night, hoping no one would recognize him.
And his wish came true, no one even noticed him as he sat in the Rebbe's Shul (Synagogue) with his hood over his head among the other paupers. But when the Rebbe came out of his room to pray the Morning Prayer with his Chassidim and passed out coins to the poor people there, he looked the count in the eyes and said, "Come to my room after the prayers."
Two hours later the count was sitting opposite the Rebbe pouring out his heart about what had happened. "It's hopeless!" He wrung his hands and said "I have no friends! My servant has stolen everything from me!"
The Rebbe calmed him down. "Listen, G-d is everyone's friend; yours too. That's why you never were able to harm the Jews; because G-d protected not only them but you as well. If you would have harmed them you would have been punished. So now, take my advice."
The Rebbe gave him money and told him to go to a local tailor and have royal garments made like the ones he lost. Then he should buy a horse and carriage like he used to have, ride to the house of the Bishop, tell him what happened and have his servant punished.
But the Rebbe begged him to remember what he said about G-d protecting the Jews.
The count did as the Rebbe told him and it worked just as he said it would. The Bishop was convinced, the servant punished and the count reinstated. Until the count's passing many years later the Jews had no problems in the province of Lezinsk.
This answers our questions.
The plague of the firstborn was the only one that The Angel of Destruction (Mashchis (12:23)) was given permission to kill whomever and however he so desired. Not only that but, while the other plagues came to teach the Egyptians to 'know' G-d, therefore only they were punished, this last plague came with the sole purpose of destroying the sinners.
If so, because most of the Jews worshipped idolatry in Egypt, the Jews also deserved punishment! But G-d did not punish them because He loves them above reason.
And that exactly is the reason for the blood on the door; As we said, G-d did not smite the Jews (even Jews that spent the last night in with the Egyptians in Egyptian houses! 12:13))
But G-d wanted the Jews to remind themselves why G-d was passing over them: Because deep down each and every Jew is willing to sacrifice his life for G-d.
And that was signified by the two types of blood.
For Jews to risk their lives by taking the Egyptian G-d (Sheep) and killing it and then do it again by circumcising themselves before the arduous and uncertain Exodus from Egypt was nothing short of insanity.
But this insanity is the essence of Judaism. The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose Yahrzeit (commemoration of day of passing)we celebrate on the Hebrew date of Yud Shvat this coming week, called it 'Shtus d'Kedusha' and said that without it Judaism is without a goal or meaning.
Just as G-d loves us above reason (as we saw in our story) so He hopes we will love Him above reason. And we will put this insane love of Him on our doorposts.
And do everything we can in thought speech and deed to bring...
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