This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Pnina Grossman
Parshat Bo is where the Jewish people are given their first commandments as a new nation. They are commanded about the קרבן פסח – the Passover Offering – that they must bring in Egypt for the first time. During this time, G-d will be carrying out the last of the 10 Plagues in Egypt, but the blood that was to be spread on the doorposts of Jewish houses would also serve as their protection:
וְעָבַ֣ר יְהוָה֮ לִנְגֹּ֣ף אֶת־מִצְרַיִם֒ וְרָאָ֤ה אֶת־הַדָּם֙ עַל־הַמַּשְׁק֔וֹף וְעַ֖ל שְׁתֵּ֣י הַמְּזוּזֹ֑ת וּפָסַ֤ח יְהוָה֙ עַל־הַפֶּ֔תַח וְלֹ֤א יִתֵּן֙ הַמַּשְׁחִ֔ית לָבֹ֥א אֶל־בָּתֵּיכֶ֖ם לִנְגֹּֽף׃
For when the LORD goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the LORD will PaSaCH the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home.
While the word פסח is often translated as “pass over”, its translation in this context is not clear to many of the commentators. Rashi explains the word as either “to have mercy on” or “to skip.” R. Amnon Bazak (as heard in a class in Machon Herzog) ties the two terms together with the observation that skipping involves not only the object that is passed over, but also an object that is landed on. Here also, the Jewish houses are not being passed over, they are being landed on. The Midrash in שמות רבה seems to support this idea. On the words “וראה את הדם,” it says “כביכול עמד בפתח ודוחה המשחית, שלא יגוף את ישראל” “If one could say such things, [G-d] will stand in the doorway and push out the Destroyer, so that it cannot strike Israel”.
This interpretation completely shifts the role G-d plays in this plague, as well as how He relates to the Jewish people. Instead of G-d’s main role being to go through Egypt as a destructive force, avoiding Jewish houses to not cause damage, He is, instead the protector of the Jewish people from the destructive force that is present throughout Egypt on this night. “To have mercy on” here is not a passive act of sparing Jewish households, it is an active stand on G-d’s part to choose and protect the Jewish people.
With the talk of skipping, it is unsurprising that מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל links this point with the פסוק in שיר השירים:
ק֣וֹל דּוֹדִ֔י הִנֵּה־זֶ֖ה בָּ֑א מְדַלֵּג֙ עַל־הֶ֣הָרִ֔ים מְקַפֵּ֖ץ עַל־הַגְּבָעֽוֹת׃
Hark! My beloved! There he comes, leaping over mountains, Bounding over hills.
(Song of Songs 2:8)
The Midrash comments here “שהקב”ה מדלג על בתי בני ישראל במצרים, שנאמר קול דודי הנה זה בא מדלג על ההרים…” “That G-d skipped on the houses of Israel in Egypt, as it says ‘Hark! My beloved! There he comes, leaping over mountains…’” In addition to bringing up the two ideas of G-d taking mercy on the Jews in Egypt and skipping on their houses, the Midrash ties the idea of חפזון, hurriedness, to this part of שיר השירים. This idea is mentioned in שמות as well, when it talks about how the Jews have to eat the קרבן פסח, but here, the verse is used to talk about the hurriedness of the שכינה. Once again, we see G-d’s investment in this new developing relationship as He tells us: בא.
Pnina Grossman (SBM 2012) is a Sharon native and a current student at the City College of New York studying Mechanical Engineering.