Parashat Bo--Exodus 10:1-13:16
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Questions for Young Children

• What are locusts and why would they scare the Egyptians?
• How scary do you think it would be to have your entire country in the dark for three days? Would grown-ups feel scared, too?
• Do you think it was fair for the plagues to hurt all the Egyptians when it was the Pharaoh who wasn’t listening to God? Why didn’t God just send plagues on the Pharaoh and his family?
• What holiday does Moshe announce? What are the Israelites supposed to do to celebrate and why are they celebrating?


Questions for Older Children

• What are the last three plagues mentioned in this parasha?
• Clearly, the worst plague is the last. Do you think the other plagues are arranged in any particular order?
• When Pharaoh agrees to let the Israelites go to worship, he has a condition--only the men can go. According to Moshe and Aharon, who has to be part of the worship? What does that tell you about the difference between Egyptians and Israelites?
• What object(referred to as "it") does the last line in the parasha refer to? (And so it shall be as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead that with a mighty hand the Lord freed us from Egypt.)


Questions for Teens and Adults

• Scan Psalm 78:42-51 ( and Psalm 105:27-36 ( What do you notice about the account of the plagues in these psalms? What questions does it raise and how would you respond to the questions?
• Should God have brought plagues only upon the Pharaoh’s house rather than upon all the Egyptians? What do you think of collective punishment?
• The narrative underscores the hostility Pharaoh feels towards Moshe, but in Exodus 11:3 the narrative claims: “Moshe himself was much esteemed in the land of Egypt, among Pharaoh’s courtiers and among the people.” What danger lurks in this verse?

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Create an entire dinner of darkness. The plague of locusts is also said to have darkened the land.

• Black Bean Soup the easy way (buy a pareve container from Trader Joe’s and dress it up with lime juice, avocado slices, a dollop of rice and a sprinkling of green onions).
• Chicken Molé
• Black Rice
• Blackened vegetables
• Chocolate dessert.
• There’s even black sea salt or black sesame seeds for hallah if you want to take this to the nth degree.

Recreate B'nei Yisrael's last dinner in Egypt.

Make Lamb Roast. Chapter 12 of this parasha narrates laws of Pesah including the slaughter of a lamb. Its blood was painted on the doorframe and then the lamb was roasted and eaten. I’d skip the doorpost painting along with the matzah and bitter herbs that are mentioned in Exodus 12:8. You’ll see that verse again, by the way, in your haggadah in April.

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Through Moshe and Aharon, God continues to attack Pharaoh’s power and pride as God delivers the last three plagues. This parasha opens with locusts, continues with darkness, and culminates in the death of the first-born. Finally, it is the Egyptians who pressure their Pharaoh to send the Israelite slaves away from Egypt. Much of this parasha will be familiar because it is embedded in the seder. As B'nei Yisrael are finally leaving, we learn it has been 430 years to the day that Israelites have been in Egypt. This parasha also includes the laws concerning the Pesah offering and observing Pesah once the Israelites reach the Eretz Yisrael. That must have seemed very optimistic before they had even crossed the Red Sea! In addition, God tells the Israelites how they will remember the final plague—by redeeming the first-born and by wearing t’fillin (13:16). The historic event could have disappeared from memory without the accompanying rituals to commemorate it.

Find the Food Connection

.וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, נְטֵה יָדְךָ עַל-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וִיהִי חֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; וְיָמֵשׁ, חֹשֶׁךְ

"The Lord said to Moshe: ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness that may be felt.’"

--Exodus 10:21

Dark as night food!
In commemoration of the plague of darkness, try Black as Night Lentil Soup with a Mexican Flavor.


The Side Dish
Fear of the dark seems to transcend place and time. If you’ve ever negotiated bedtime with young children, you know they can fully participate in a discussion about fear of the dark.

In the parasha I imagine the Pharaoh and the adult Egyptians reduced to trembling toddlers when darkness covers Egypt. Why the fear? Is it the darkness itself that the people feared or the sense that the natural world had gone off-kilter?

How do children and adults at your table cope with their fears of the dark? Is it enough to simply provide a night light? Does talking about their fear cause it to evaporate? Do they imagine that people who lived without electricity were less or more fearful of the dark? How do we feel when a storm wipes out our electrical grid (usually when preparing a Shabbat or Yom Tov meal it seems)? Older children can probably recall a time when the lights went out in school or camp and everyone cried out. Mock panic or not? For toddlers there is a host of books about fear of the dark. One of our favorites is The Berenstain Bears In the Dark by Stan and Jan Berenstain.

It’s not much of a leap from literal to metaphorical darkness. The purpose of the plagues was not to demonstrate God’s wizardry but to teach the Egyptians and the Israelites a lesson--that “you will know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 10:2b) The Pharaoh’s magicians see the light before their master saying to him during the plague of locusts, “Don’t you know yet that Egypt is destroyed?” (Exodus 10:7b).

May the lights of your Shabbat candles shine together with the light of knowledge and understanding this week in your home.



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A Dash of Halakha--Pidyon ha-Ben
There are plenty of laws to discuss in this parasha but I’ll sidestep Pesah laws for now and focus on pidyon ha-ben (redemption of the firstborn son). In the Torah we are taught that a first-born male is supposed to be dedicated to God. Today that's still commemorated in a ceremony held thirty-one days after the birth of a first-born son. A parent pays a kohen five shekalim to redeem their son. Because the Levites were assigned the task of officiating at the Temple, first-born sons of Levite and Kohen mothers are not redeemed. If you experienced this ceremony for your eldest son, you might want to talk about how you felt. There are many more laws about who is obligated and who is not--resources are abundant on the internet and your rabbi can also answer questions about this ceremony. Not all Jews continue the practice of pidyon ha-ben.  In a responsa the CCAR of the Reform Movement wrote: "Our [the CCAR] Rabbi’s Manual ...declares that, precisely because we do not recognize a hereditary priesthood, the ceremony of pidyon haben, the redemption of the first-born son (Exodus 13:1, 11-15), is 'incongruous for Reform Jews.'"

A Dash of Music
Although I claimed I’d avoid Pesah in early February, it might be interesting to revisit the seder song Dayyenu and talk about the grammar of the song. “If He had only taken us out of Egypt, it would have been enough.” Would it have been enough to just get out of Egypt? What is the song really saying and why is it phrased in such a convoluted way? Why fifteen stanzas?

A Dash of Hebrew
In today’s Hebrew if you’re looking for an idiom to describe complete darkness, you might say "hoshekh mitzrayim" (darkness of Egypt). There are many Hebrew idioms used by all Israelis that have their roots in Biblical Hebrew and recall a Biblical event. If you email me more examples, I'll share them with readers next week.

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Black as Night Lentil Soup with a Mexican Flavor
Pareve and vegan

Serves 6 generously rsz 03 shmot black lentils copy


• 1 whole head of garlic
• 2 Tbsp. olive oil
• 2 c. chopped onion
• 1½ c. chopped carrots
• 1 c. chopped celery
• 8 c. pareve chicken broth
• 2 c. black lentils, rinsed
• ½ c. chopped cilantro or parsley
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 tsp. ground cumin
• ½ tsp. ground coriander
• 1½ tsp. hot pepper sauce (use less if you have guests with an aversion to spicy and hot)
• 1 tsp. salt
• ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
• 1 tsp. sherry vinegar


Prepping the garlic (75-80 min.) Prep the garlic first. Then prep the vegetables and cook the soup while the garlic roasts.
• Preheat oven to 325º.
• Remove the skin from the garlic head, but don’t separate the cloves or peel them.
• Rub about 1 tsp. olive oil (or spray with olive oil spray) on garlic head, wrap in foil and bake for 1 hr.
• Cool for 10 min.
• Separate cloves and squeeze to extract the pulp.
• Reserve in a small bowl.

Cooking the Soup (45 min.)
1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat.
2. Add onion, carrot, and celery and sauté 5 min. or until softened.
3. Stir in broth, lentils, parsley or cilantro, bay leaves and bring to a boil.
4. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25-30 min. until lentils are tender.
5. Remove and discard bay leaves.
6. Add garlic and spices to the soup.
7. Purée in a blender or with an immersion blender.
8. Stir in sherry vinegar before serving.

Shopping for black lentils
Black lentils have not disappeared into a black hole of yesterday’s trendy foods, but they can be hard to find. If you can’t find them at your local grocery (Bob’s Red Mill and Whole Foods 365 brands do package them), try a Mexican grocery. And, of course, sells black lentils.

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