Parshat Bo: Let My People Go! Pharaoh Eventually Acquiesces


Pharaoh still refuses to let the Jews leave Egypt, so G-d brings more plagues on Egypt. In the eighth plague, a very strong wind brings in great swarms of locusts, which are like grasshoppers. There are so many of them that they darken the earth and eat all the greenery, plants and fruits from the trees, and there is no more food in the land of Egypt.

Darkness,” circa 1490, hand-colored
woodcut, Spain (Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art)

Pharaoh refuses to let the Jews go, so in the ninth plague, G-d brings a very thick darkness upon Egypt. For seven full days, all of Egypt (except for the homes of the Jews) is covered in complete and total darkness. The Egyptians can’t see anything at all, and for the last three days of the plague, the darkness is so thick that they can’t even move!

Yet Pharaoh still remains stubborn, so G-d will bring one final plague upon him and his people.

But before that, G-d gives the Jews some important things to do. In fact, the Jews get their very first mitzvah: a special commandment from G-d.

Eventually, the Jews receive many mitzvot, but this first one establishes that special connection. In it, the Jews are commanded to set up a calendar based on the cycle of the moon. This is the same Jewish calendar that we use today, more than 3,000 years later.

Next the Jews must each bring a sacrifice of a goat or a lamb and brush the blood onto their doorposts. This way, when the final plague comes, G-d will know which houses to pass over. (All of these miracles are celebrated as part of a special Jewish holiday called Passover because G-d “passed over ” those Jewish homes.)

The Jews must then eat the roasted meat with matzah and bitter herbs.

Now, for the 10th and final plague: On the 14th of the month of Nissan, at exactly midnight, every Egyptian firstborn dies. Pharaoh is terrified for he himself is a firstborn; he jumps out of bed and rushes to find Moses and Aaron. When he does, he simply shouts frantically: “Go! Go! Leave this land, you and all the Jews. Take your sheep and your cattle and whatever you want. JUST GO!”

And with that, after 210 years of slavery, Pharaoh practically chases the Jews out of Egypt. So they leave quickly — so quickly, in fact, that their dough does not have time to rise and becomes matzah, the very same flat bread that we eat during Passover. But they do have time to ask the Egyptians for their gold and silver, emptying Egypt of all its wealth.

Now that the Jews are free, G-d tells Moses about the holiday that they will be celebrating each year to remember the occasion — Passover (Pesach) — by eating matzah and telling the story to their children. The Jews also receive the mitzvah of tefillin, special boxes that are put on the head and arm to remind us of our exodus from Egypt, as well as the connection we feel to G-d since then.

Copyright and reprinted with permission from For more insights on the Torah portion, visit:

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