Parshat Bo, this week’s Torah portion, records the final dialogues between Moshe and Pharaoh. The ensuing last three plagues of destruction, brought on the Egyptian nation as a consequence to Pharaoh’s stubbornness, resulted in the liberation of the Jewish people. What is remarkable, and almost unnoticed, in the parsha, is the reaction the Jewish people had toward their tormentors. Equally attention grabbing is the reaction the Egyptian populace had toward the Jews.
This coming Monday, January 20, is designated as Dr. Martin Luther King Day across the United States. It has been officially observed in all 50 States since 2000. Dr. King’s life focus revolved around the commands of the Torah that we refer to as mitzvot between individuals and other people, מצות בין אדם לחברו. This is not to say that the mitzvot between humanity and God, מצות בין אדם למקום, were not important to him but how we treat our fellow human beings reflected to him a person’s true inner core.
We are all familiar with the practice that after we read the verse שמע ישראל we immediately say ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד before reciting the rest of the שמע. Where did this practice come from? This intervening statement is not found any where in the Torah. The answer comes from this week’s Torah portion, ויחי, Vayechi.
How did the sages and rabbis at that time know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Maccabee’s victory was divinely assisted? What allowed them to create an annual eight-day commemoration with Rabbinic mitzvot? A close look at the על הנסים”,” “For the miracles,” the special insert into our daily prayers during Chanukah, will shed some light on this question.
We have all seen movies or read novels where the hero or heroine saves the day by cracking the secret code or message. Today, protecting the free world from the tyranny of ruthless leaders and terrorists is perhaps more dependent on excellent intelligence than ever before. At other times a coded message may serve as a preemptive measure. It is a way to communicate, in a subtle yet very diplomatic way, that the perceived adversary has nothing to fear. Just such a case is presented at the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, פרשת וישלח, Parashat Yishlach.