Parashat Bo: The Greatest Miracle of the Exodus
arashat Bo tells of the events that transpired on the night of Yesi’at Misrayim – the Exodus from Egypt, when G-d delivered a plague against the Egyptians, killing every firstborn. Beneh Yisrael were protected from this plague by sacrificing the Korban Pesah (paschal offering) and placing the sacrificial blood on their doorposts. Indeed, on the night of the Exodus, no firstborn among Beneh Yisrael died.
The fact that none of Beneh Yisrael’s firstborn died on the night of Yesi’at Misrayim testifies to what is likely the greatest miracle of the Exodus, one which does not receive enough attention. Namely, there was no intermarriage or forbidden relations between Beneh Yisrael and the Egyptians. Beneh Yisrael lived in Egypt for 210 years, during which time they were oppressed and enslaved. We might have expected that under such conditions, large numbers of Jews would naturally begin to assimilate into Egyptian society. And yet, while Beneh Yisrael did undergo a process of drastic spiritual decline in Egypt, reaching the proverbial “forty-ninth gate of impurity,” they retained their biological separation from the Egyptians. This was proven on the night of Yesi’at Misrayim, when no firstborns in Beneh Yisrael’s homes died. If there had been those among Beneh Yisrael who engaged in relations with Egyptians, then there would have been Egyptians living as Jews among Beneh Yisrael, and they would have died during the plague of the firstborn. And thus the fact that no one among Beneh Yisrael died that night loudly testified to the great miracle of Beneh Yisrael’s separation from the Egyptians during their 210-year period of exile,
This was also proven by another plague – the plague of Deber (pestilence). The Torah tells (9:7) that when the plague of Deber struck, killing the Egyptians’ cattle, Pharaoh sent investigators to determine whether any of Beneh Yisrael’s cattle had died. They found that there was only one person among Beneh Yisrael who was affected by the plague (“Ad Ehad”), and our Rabbis teach that this was the son of a Jewish woman who was violated by an Egyptian taskmaster. And thus like the plague of the firstborn, the plague of pestilence, too, testified to Beneh Yisrael’s separation from the Egyptians, their miraculously avoiding assimilation.
This is why they were commanded to place blood – “Dam” – on their doorposts. The word “Dam” is spelled with the letters “Dalet” and “Mem,” which represent the plagues of “Deber” and “Makat Bechorot” – the two plagues which clearly demonstrated Beneh Yisrael’s separation from the Egyptians. The “Dam” was placed on the doorposts of the Jewish homes to show that Beneh Yisrael were rescued in the merit of this separation, because they avoided assimilation during their 210 years of exile.
In the Book of Bamidbar (chapter 26), the Torah lists the names of the families that left Egypt, and the letters “Yod” and “Heh” are added to each name. For example, the family of Palu is called “Ha’plau’i” – with the letter “Heh” added at the beginning and the letter “Yod” at the end. G-d added His Name – “Yod” and “Heh” – to the names of the families of Beneh Yisrael to testify that they remained pure and did not assimilate. Furthermore, the letter “Heh” has the numerical value of 5, and “Yod” has the numerical value of 10, and they thus allude to the fifth and tenth plagues – pestilence and the plague of the firstborn. These letters were added to the names of the families to emphasize that, as these two plagues clearly demonstrated, Beneh Yisrael remained pure and distinct despite living in a foreign country for over two centuries.
The Mezuzot on our doorposts, which commemorate the blood of the Korban Pesah on the doorposts of our ancestors in Egypt, have on them the Name “Sha-ddai,” which is spelled “Shin,” “Dalet,” “Yod.” The final letters of the names of these three letters (“Nun,” “Tav,” “Dalet”) have the combined numerical value of 454, which is the numerical value of the word “Hotam” (“seal”). This Name, then, signifies Beneh Yisrael’s having “sealed” themselves, staying among themselves and retaining their separateness in Egypt. Every time we leave our homes, we look up to the Mezuza, reflect on the experience of our ancestors in Egypt, and remember that even as we engage in general society, we must work to ensure to maintain our separate identity and avoid assimilation.
Additionally, the letters of “Sha-ddai” spell the names “Shelomo,” “David” and “Yishai” – the founders of the Davidic dynasty. The Mezuza reminds us that the arrival of Mashiah and the long-awaited restoration of the Jewish monarchy will occur in the merit of the Mezuza, of our separateness, our maintaining our distinct identity during our current exile just as our ancestors succeeded in doing during the period of Egyptian bondage.