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Bo: A Slap in the Face

After Moses informed Pharaoh of the upcoming plague of the firstborn and the exodus from Egypt that would follow on its heels, the Torah says, “And he left Pharaoh’s presence in hot anger.”[1] In the Talmud,[2] Reish Lakish explains this verse in an extraordinary manner: “He slapped him and left.” Moses did not simply leave angrily. He drew near to Pharaoh, slapped him in the face, turned around, and left. Can you imagine that? Reish Lakish imagined it well enough, and apparently imagined himself doing it; otherwise, the source of his comment is not clear.

According to this explanation, Moses gradually gained more and more confidence and daring in the face of the evil Pharaoh until the grand finale—a stinging, categorical slap in the face. Now that Moses is free of the remnants of his apprehension of Pharaoh, Israel can leave Egypt.

In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan seems to disagree with Reish Lakish, saying that Moses should have shown “respect for the kingdom” from start to finish. But in our generation, a generation of ba’alei teshuvah, returnees to God, we can certainly identify with Reish Lakish, who was also a ba’al teshuvah. Reish Lakish understands that to defeat evil, we sometimes must give it a resounding slap in the face.

One of the most interesting and thought-provoking principles of gematria that we use is that in every Torah portion, there is a phrase whose numerical value is 913, the value of the Torah’s first word, “in the beginning” (בְּרֵאשִׁית). In parashat Bo, this phrase is “And he left Pharaoh’s presence in hot anger” (וַיֵּצֵא מֵעִם פַּרְעֹה בׇּחֳרִי אָף). We may surmise that the resounding slap to Pharaoh’s face signaled the beginning of the redemption.

(excerpted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s shiur of 21 Tevet 5772)

[1]. Exodus 11:8.

[2]. Zevachim 102a.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

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