Parashat Bo, Exodus 10:1–13:16
by Rabbi Aaron Allsbrook
“Bo knows.” About 20 years ago, Bo Jackson was a superstar athlete who played both baseball and football, and played them well. Nike picked him up and marketed his talent and prestige with the slogan that he knew what was going on. And so, this parasha, Bo, knows what’s going on.
Parashat Bo informs us that God is going to finalize his wrath upon Pharaoh and bring his people out of the slavery and oppression of Egypt, so that they may go out to worship God. This is the foundational parasha to the Jewish people’s identity. The event of the exodus is mentioned throughout Scripture, and the month in which it occurred is to be the first of the months for this newly created nation. It is also going to be the time in which Israel’s Messiah pays the ultimate price for our freedom, thus bringing us into the first fruits of our final redemption.
Beginning in last week’s parasha, we saw that God does some awesome things against Pharaoh and Egypt. God makes it very clear to Moses that he is doing these things for all to know. Egyptian and Hebrew, alive and unborn, will know that he is supreme and no one ought to dare try to say otherwise (Exod 7:5; 9:14; 10:1–2; 12:12). He also illumines the fact that he is the God of the Hebrews, that he will protect his people, and that he will bless them by sending these plagues solely upon the Egyptians (e.g. Exod 9:4). Perhaps it is more fitting at this point to acknowledge that God knows.
The people of Israel are set free at the price of the death of the firstborn males of Egypt, of men and beast, from Pharaoh’s household to the imprisoned and the poor. The cost of Israel’s redemption was huge—such horrific death and loss for the sake of freedom for God’s people. God wants his people to remember this. He institutes that every firstborn male of man and beast of Israel is to be redeemed upon entering into the land of Canaan. God took no delight at the death of Egyptians’ firstborn (cf. Ezek 18:23; 33:11), however, it had to be done. God wants Israel to remember the price it cost to free them. Each male child of man and animal was to be redeemed and purchased.
Likewise, Israel is to “wear” his redemption on the hand and between the eyes, that is, on the forehead. This is commanded in Exodus 13:9, “And it shall be for a sign unto you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, so that the Torah of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand did the Lord bring you out of Egypt.” Exodus 13:16 uses the word טוטפות (totafot), frontlets, in place of זיכרון (zikaron), a memorial (see Targum Yonatan to 2 Sam 1:10 for an interpretation of totafot). This is the basis for the later injunction of tefillin, or phylacteries, which are worn today predominantly by Jewish men during morning prayers. There were some rabbis who didn’t believe the p’shat (simple, literal interpretation) of these texts meant physical boxes containing Scripture (see Rashbam on Exod 13:9 and his reference to Song of Songs 8:6), nonetheless a point can be drawn from this commandment.
Whether we put on leather boxes containing little pieces of Scripture or we take Exodus 13:9 as solely figurative, there is something greater to be learned. The reason for “wearing” such signs and memorial/frontlets upon ourselves is “so that the Torah of the Lord will be in [our] mouths” (Exod 13:9). We are to wear something to remind us to talk about something. Talk about it to whom? Each other, as a reminder, as a reason to celebrate and to build faith, and to the nations, that Hashem, the Lord, the God of Israel, is the one and only God. We are to be a people who talks, who shares, who proclaims what God has done for us and for his great Name’s sake.
Yeshua tells us that our mouth speaks from what is in our hearts (Luke 6:45). For us to speak the works of God to the fullest effect, it has to come from our hearts. This was made possible during a Passover many years after the first one, when another firstborn died for Israel. Instead of a disobedience being met with the punishment of God, it was obedience that took the vengeance of God willingly from upon us. While we may have worn signs and memorials as commanded in Exodus, they really never made their way to our hearts, thus the abundance of signs and warnings brought to us by the prophets. With this final price paid—and a greater cost this was than the first—the Torah of God would truly be in our mouths because it was now in our hearts (cf. Jer 31:33).
And what does Yeshua tell us to do with this? Proclaim the truth, let our light shine, set the captives free, heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons, raise the dead (Matt 5:13–16; 10:7–8)! We have a mission: to go out and tell the world, beginning with our own people, that God is supreme, Yeshua has been raised, the Spirit has been poured out, and the kingdom, the reign of God is at hand! We are a people who don’t just argue, we make the clear, plain truth of God and his kingdom known to Israel and the nations. We must wear redemption in what we do and how we are seen, and we must speak out the mighty acts of God. God knows, so we know, and we have to make others know.