Bo (Exodus 10:1 – 13:16)

This week, the Hebrews finally leave Egypt.  First, three last plagues: locusts, darkness, and the slaying of the first born.  Now Pharaoh is actually bargaining: Only the men can go, but leave the children and livestock; OK, the children can go too, but leave the livestock; and finally, all right, go, serve the Lord and bless me too!  And we read about the first Passover, the blood on the doorposts, the paschal lamb, and the rules for all the Passovers to come, both rituals and what to teach the children of the future generations.  We learn about eating matzah, and sanctifying the first born, and tefillin.

When I wrote about this portion last year, I focused on the plague of darkness as a mass depression, darkness of the soul ( ).  In 2010, I commented on birth imagery as suggested by R. Michael Hattin, that the bloody on the door is a symbol of birth – the home as womb, the door as a birth portal ( ).  This year, I’m too chipper to write about darkness, too sanguine for a discourse on blood (pun intended).  So let’s take a closer look at what is probably the least exciting but, long term, most significant part of the portion: the laws expounded right after the mass exodus (12:43-13:16).

Rituals?!  Laws?! Generally dull and honored more in the breach than in the observance (except for eating matzah).  This section, the first of many we will read with a lot of legal details.  But what really matters is that the Hebrews are being asked to perform, to act, to do.  The focus on the detailed actions will facilitate their divorce from the idolatrous ways of Egypt (Shemot Rabbah, 16, 2); in particular, the animal sacrifices involve sacrificing that which is sacred to Egypt (Rambam).  They, we, are forced to stop and think when performing these acts, which will increase our awareness of the workings of the Lord (Ramban).  Religious training in Judaism is not meant to flow from reason to action; on the contrary, character is cultivated by repeated actions (Rambam) (sources are all as cited in Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Shemot).  As we will read in a few weeks, the order is “Na’aseh v’nishma” we will (first) do and (then) listen.

Shabbat shalom,


What do you call a group of… [those animals more-or-less related to the Exodus story]


A herd or drove of cattle


A quiver of cobras


A rag of colts


A kine of cows (twelve cows are A flink)


A float of crocodiles


A herd or pace of asses


A swarm of flies


An army or colony of frogs


A flock, gaggle or skein (in flight) of geese


A cloud or horde of gnats


A herd, tribe or trip goats


A team, pair or harras of horses


A plague of locusts [Really!]


A stud of mares


A yoke, drove, team or herd of oxen


A string of ponies


A rhumba of rattlesnakes


A drove or flock of sheep


A nest of snakes


A knot of toads

——————————- *
Most of our readers are not God, but those who like to play God will love the Swarm of Locusts snow dome. Give it a shake and watch the holy anger rain down again and again on its plastic victim. Because they happen not to be divine beings themselves, the good folks at Vermont-based Products of the Apocalypse, Inc., are still working on making nine of the 10 Biblical plagues commercially available to the masses, but the hand-crafted Locusts dome is currently in stock and Three Days of Darkness is purportedly coming soon.

* is a dead link.  The Three Days of Darkness one was made at some point.  Both are shown at

tph plaguedomes

but Products of the Apocalypse, Inc. seems to have vanished.


Darkness Quotes

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

People are like stained – glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.
Helen Keller

… I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.

[The full text of “The Raven” is at ]

Edgar Allan Poe


After the Tenth Plague

After the tenth plague, the slaying of all the Egyptian first born,
Pharaoh told Moses the Jews were free to leave Egypt. So the Jews packed
their carts with their belongings and tried to leave. The problem was,
with all the dead Egyptians, the funeral homes could not handle the
demand. The end result was streets littered with coffins. With the
streets impassable, the Jews couldn’t get their carts out of their
driveways. They complained to Moses. “We can’t get out of Egypt unless you
do something about these blocked streets”. Moses in turn, called out to
G-d. “Lord, please do something about this coffin problem.” Understand
with all the commotion it was hard for G-d to hear what Moses was saying.
He thought Moses said ‘Coughin” and responded by turning all the wine into
cough syrup. And that is why, to this day, we drink Passover wine that
resembles cough syrup. [OK, that’s rather lame, but, not surprisingly, it’s really unusual to find any joke about the tenth plague.]
Tefillin Barbie and Me    Posted on July 16, 2012 [abridged]

The other day I was in my rabbi’s office for what she and I like to call my 10,000-mile tune-up. And there she was on a bookshelf in a plexi-glass frame—a super hero ready to wrap and unwrap at a moment’s notice to redeem the world—my old friend Tefillin Barbie.

tph tefillin barbie

Tefillin Barbie is modest and learned and devout. She wears a long denim skirt. Her sleeves are below her elbow. She wears a head covering and is draped in a tallit—a prayer shawl. And, of course, the most notable thing about her is that she wears tefillin. Prominently, proudly and naturally.

I know all the feminist arguments against Barbie, but I can’t help myself, I’ve always loved Barbie. She came into my life when I was six-years-old and bedridden for three months. I spent hours dressing Barbie in ball gowns, tennis skirts and my favorite—a bridal gown. Through it all it never fazed me that Barbie was blonde and tall and I was not. She measured an impossible 36-18-38, but I attributed that to the fact that she was a doll.

Barbie has had over eighty careers ranging from a rock star to a presidential candidate who focused on educational excellence and animal rights. She has served in every branch of the military and was a medic in Operation Desert Storm. In addition to being a devout Jew, Barbie is also black and Hispanic. Forty-five nationalities claim her as their own. She has been present at diplomatic summits and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. And now she is a woman who reads Torah.

I’m not surprised that Tefillin Barbie’s inventor is a soferet—a woman scribe who is trained and certified to write holy texts by hand. According to the Jewish Women’s Archive Jen Taylor Friedman is one of six soferot (plural of soferet) in the world. She has a workshop in her native Southampton, England handwriting an entire Torah for a congregation in St. Louis.

So where does this newest incarnation of Barbie fit in with our own mothers and sisters and foremothers? For one thing she’s an all-American girl who is at ease with every aspect of Jewish ritual.  And here’s a wish inspired by Barbie’s sales numbers. Every time that a Jewish girl comes of age, may she be comfortable in her own body and wrapping her own tefillin.




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