B'nei Mitzvah of the Week
Cooper Berenblat & Nate Siegel
January 12, 2019
Parashat Bo - Exodus 10:1 - 13:16
God sends the plagues of locusts and darkness upon Egypt and forewarns Moses about the final plague, the death of every Egyptian firstborn. Pharaoh still does not let the Israelites leave Egypt. (10:1-11:10)
God commands Moses and Aaron regarding the Passover festival. (12:1-27)
God enacts the final plague, striking down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt except those of the House of Israel. Pharaoh now allows the Israelites to leave. (12:29-42)
Speaking to Moses and Aaron, God repeats the commandments about Passover. (12:43-13:16)
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This week we read from the Torah portion called Bo. Although Bo literally means “come”, in this Torah portion, it really means “go.” Bo begins after the end of the seventh plague, which is boils. After the seventh plague, G-d sends Moses to Pharaoh to ask for freedom for all the Israelites. Pharaoh has to think about this request and his advisors told him that he should allow only the men to leave Egypt. Pharaoh calls Moses back and denies Moses’ request despite the advice of his advisors. In response, G-d sends locusts to Egypt. The locusts cover the land and eat all of the crops and food. Pharaoh gets concerned and calls Moses back in to plea for forgiveness. G-d stops the plague. You would expect at this point that Pharaoh would let all the Israelites go. But instead Pharaoh has another change of heart and refuses to let them go. As a result, G-d sends darkness to the land of Egypt as the ninth plague. However, despite the darkness, the Israelites are able to see. After three days of darkness, Pharaoh calls Moses in and says all the Israelites can go, even the children, but the flocks and livestock must stay behind. Moses refuses - he insists that everyone and everything must be allowed to leave Egypt. G-d then sends the tenth and final plague to Egypt. Every first born son of human and cattle dies. After Pharaoh’s son dies, he finally lets all of the Israelites leave to worship their G-d. Before the Israelites leave, they are told to borrow gold and silver from the Egyptians, and they attempt to make bread. But since they were in such a rush, they can only take their dough before it was leavened. Then finally, after ten horrific plagues, the Israelites leave Egypt. Moses commands the Israelites to remember the exodus by celebrating Passover every year.
As I said, the ninth plague brings darkness to Egypt for three straight days. The Egyptians couldn't see anything that they looked at- even themselves or their peers. There was pitch blackness all around the land, but not for all of the people in Egypt. The Israelites were the only people who could see. I want to talk about this topic because I feel that there is a bigger meaning to the plague of darkness than most might see. This leads me to my key Koshi which is, what is so unique about the plague of darkness?
When I did some research about the plague of darkness, I found out that there was a deeper meaning behind it. I looked at many interpretations and found out many interesting theories and facts about the three days of darkness. According to Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, “There is always light in our dwelling-places, a light that is uniquely ours. The trick is to know that it is there to be illuminated…The darkness separates people from each other, for it is our inability to see one another, to establish connection, to feel a bond...To be a Jew is to carry light into that darkness.” To me this means that the Jews can survive in the darkest times and still behold light. When I say that the Jews still have light, I do not mean the sun. I mean a bond with one another. During the darkest of days, like the hard times when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, or even today with the terrible hatred we see, most recently in Pittsburgh, we don’t crumple apart and give up. We the Jews, come together in these difficult times. As Rabbi Abraham Twerski said, “The essence of Torah is consideration for others...If one lights a candle for oneself, the room becomes brighter for everyone else. And likewise, if one brings light to another, so one sees himself as a result by that light... “. This teaching relates to the world we live in today in many ways. For example, take the horrible incident in Pittsburgh. One person tried to bring down all of the Jews just because he didn't like us. That was a very dark time. That act of horror brought many people from all over the world together. It also made us stronger as a community. In this dark moment, the Jewish community and the interfaith community coming together brought light.
From my Torah portion I have learned a lot that affects the process of becoming a bar mitzvah. I have learned that you always need to have hope even in the darkest of times. The Israelites never gave up from trying to leave Egypt. They faced the hardest of times being slaves but still made it out alive from the dark. That shows that Jews work to find the light even in every dark situation.
Cooper's Mitzvah Project
For my Bar Mitzvah project, I donated my time to an organization called Feeding Westchester. Feeding Westchester is a non-profit organization that helps out with people who are not fortunate enough to always be able to put food on their table for their families. To help out with this important problem, I am donating my time as a volunteer to this organization. I handed out flyers to people food shopping and asked for donations to support this group. I also went to the headquarters of the organization and packed food to be distributed to the hungry. My bar mitzvah project relates to my Torah portion. Just as Moses wanted to free all of the Israelites from Egypt, I want to free our community from hunger. Moses wanted his people to be free, and I want my community to have food. We both want certain things for our people. That brings me to why I wanted to do this kind of project. I want everyone to be healthy and when I found out that many people in our community suffer from being hungry, I wanted to volunteer and make a change to the situation.
In this week's reading of Bo, it talks about how God had reached his last three plagues which were locusts, darkness, and finally death of the first born. God instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh to free the Israelites or else the plagues would come. Pharaoh did not listen and the plagues came. After the tenth and final plague, Pharaoh let the Israelites go. The main reason Pharaoh let them go was because his son died from this plague. During all of this chaos, the Israelites were able to celebrate their first Passover which we still celebrate today.
After studying about all of the plagues, I was most intrigued about the plague of darkness. It really got me thinking about the Jews and how we all came to be today. What appealed to me was that during a period of darkness, only the Israelites had light during this time. I decided to focus my drash on this topic because the meaning of it is more than just physical like the plague of locusts and that makes it have a deeper meaning to me. I came up with the key koshi of why is the plague of darkness so unique compared to the other plagues.
I found two commentaries about my portion from K’tav Sofer and Sforno. Sforno stated that “Generally, darkness is merely the absence of light and can be dispelled by lighting a fire. But this darkness was so thick it could be touched. It was a darkness of a deeper nature.” I generally agree with his commentary because there are many other types of darkness. The part that you really have to think about is what Sforno said about how darkness could be touched. Sforno made me think about what kind of darkness could be touched. When people aren’t happy or satisfied with life, I think this can cause a darkness you can feel or touch because it feels strong and heavy. My other commentary is from K’tav Sofer which teaches: “When a person does not see others or want to see them, there is darkness in the world.” This commentary is somewhat related to Sforno’s but a bit different. This commentary is more about how we interact with others and work together. Without communication, life could become a dark and lonely place. Many popular inventions like the iPhone and video games like Fortnite were made by groups of people working together. Even with my favorite sport of baseball, the team is a group who is working together. My current team, the Sound Shore Hawks always performs better when we all communicate, work together and pick each other up. Without communication, society would definitely be a very dark place similar with the teachings of K’tav Sofer.
These two commentaries both relate to us as Jews because we work together and try hard to survive. When we were in Egypt we worked together to get out. During WWII and the Holocaust, we all worked hard and formed the resistance which saved many Jews. Even for Bar (Bat) Mitzvah projects we all help each other. When I thought about how there is darkness in our world today I came up with the idea of mental darkness like depression or a physical darkness like being homeless or not having enough food to eat. The Egyptians were the only ones who had darkness, while to Jews had light.
What does this teach us about light? People who have light need to share it with those who live in their own darkness. To share light with those in darkness, you have to include them into your group. The Israelites always had light because they continued to work together and communicate with each other.
What I have learned from my torah portion is that no matter what darkness someone may have, you can still provide them with light. You can give them light by bringing them in as family or working together in a group. What I would like you all to take away from this is that no matter what darkness someone may be going through, light can overpower the darkness. When people are brought together and included, they can be given light and that light can be spread among us so that no one stays in darkness.
Nate's Mitzvah Project
When I chose my mitzvah project, I decided on an idea that might provide some light for those going through a period of darkness. Coincidentally, both Cooper and I both chose the same company called Feeding Westchester. Feeding Westchester is a non profit organization that provides food for Westchester county residents in the hope of eventually ending hunger. Every year they provide approximately 7 million of meals for kids, adults, and families. Three million pounds of food are needed each year to generate those 7 million meals. This ranges from snacks and soup to fresh produce from stores like Stop and Shop and Target. My role within the organization has been to make many different types of food bags. This included bags containing breakfast items, produce, and other meal staples. This work was rewarding and I hope to continue my volunteering in the future. This connects to my Torah portion because at the moment the people without food are in darkness. But when we make the bags of food we give them light. They now get food which means they can now live a better life with the food. Without food, the threat of malnutrition could occur and that is very dangerous. Giving them light by giving them food makes everyone happy. That is why I am doing this.