A warm welcome from Mosaic
Mosaic Liberal
Mosaic Reform
Catch up with our monthly magazine
Meet the Rabbis

Shabbat Commentary

7/8 Jan : Bo : Shabbat comes in 3:54 pm, ends 5:04pm

Parashat Bo – Come to Pharaoh

This week’s Torah portion opens partway through the narrative of the plagues. The opening lines, from which the parashah gets its title, are from God telling Moses to approach Pharaoh to bring about the plague of locusts. Here is how that opening phrase is usually translated (Exodus 10:1):

‘And God said to Moses: “Go to Pharaoh…”’

The word translated ‘go’ is the title of the Torah portion: ‘Bo’. However, ‘bo’ does not easily translate to ‘go’. ‘Bo’ more precisely means ‘come’. The opening phrase should read: ‘And God said to Moses: “Come to Pharaoh…”’ This may seem to be a small change in the language, but it shifts the meaning significantly. For if God tells Moses to ‘come’ to Pharaoh, it implies that God is there with Pharaoh – perhaps even in Pharaoh.

There is a Jewish concept that the spark of the Divine exists in all human beings. We were all made ‘b’tzelem Elokim’, in the image of God. How easy it is to see the Divine in the smiling faces of someone we love. How much more difficult it is to be reminded that the Divine also dwells in a man like Pharaoh.

I wonder what Moses thought when he heard God say ‘come to Pharaoh’. What difference might it have made to Moses’s mission, to know that he was also approaching God when he approached Pharaoh? What might change for us all, if when we were faced by someone we might despise, we reminded ourselves that it is possible to see the spark of the Divine in them?

‘Come to Pharaoh’ does not imply that Pharaoh is good, or that Pharaoh’s actions should be tolerated. But it should have implications for the way in which we approach Pharaoh. In this one small word, the Torah reminds us that we are charged to see the face of God in the places it is least comfortable for us to do so.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Natasha 

January 4, 2022