Third Temple Torah, True Teachings

Parashas Bo

From the Book of Shemos (Exodus)

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

In this week's Torah reading, Bo, it says "When your children ask you: `What is the nature of this service to you? Then you shall say: `It is the sacrifice of Hashem's Passover.'" (Ex. 12:26)

In the Passover Haggadah, we read about four sons, and we find that the wicked son asks this question from this week's Torah portion.

The Kli Yakar explains the real question of this wicked child. He is asking, "What is this service lachem (for you)?" In other words, the wicked son thinks that the whole reason we eat the Paschal offering is for our own sake. We are doing it because it tastes good, because we enjoy it!

We find a proof for this in Parshat Lech Lecha, when G-d tells Avraham "Lech lecha martezcha" (Gen. 12:1) which means "go for yourself from your land." Rashi explains this, based on the Midrash Rabba, to mean: "Go for your own pleasure." Hashem is promising Avraham wealth, fame, and power. We find that the word "lecha" means "for your benefit and pleasure."

So too, in our case, the word "lachem" (though it is in the plural) means the same thing. The wicked son it asking: "what is this service lachem?" It is for your own enjoyment. He says: "Stop kidding yourselves into thinking that you are doing the will of G-d. You are really just hiding behind your religiosity as you go about fulfilling your own desires." The wicked son simply cannot understand how it is possible to do things that are pleasurable completely for the sake of Heaven.

In these emails we often talk about how we can serve G-d better and how we can improve ourselves. However, how can we know if what we are doing is really for G-d or because of some ulterior motive? Maybe we do it all for our own sakes. Even when it comes to Torah and mitzvos, maybe we are thinking, "What's in it for us?"

This is a serious question which we have to ask ourselves. This is what bothers the wicked son.

The Ba'al Shem Tov gives us three pieces of advice in order to help us clarify whether we are really serving G-d or ourselves. First, we have to remove all pleasure; second, meditation; and third, the light of G-d.

The Ba'al Shem Tov in his sayings on Genesis (section 150), first recommends that we imagine that all pleasure has been removed from a mitzvah. In reality, it is a good thing to derive pleasure from mitzvos, but for the purposes of this exercise we should imagine that we have no taste buds and we're not getting anything out of doing this. Would we still spend the time, effort and money to do this mitzvah? We have to honestly ask ourselves this question. If the answer is yes, this is an indication that we are indeed doing it completely for Hashem.

Regarding this week parasha, the Ba'al Shem Tov gives the second piece of advice. He mentions tranquility, meditation and patience. We need these in order to ask ourselves whether what we are about to do is really a mitzvah. He adds, in his saying on Genesis (No. 152), that in your meditations you should consider that maybe the opposite of what you are about to do is the really the will of G-d. This is the patient meditation we should do before we jump to do a mitzvah. Are we really doing it for the sake of G-d, or for ourselves?

The Ba'al Shem Tov, in Parshat Bo, gives us the third piece of advice on how to check our motives. He calls it "the light of G-d." Sometimes after we have removed all pleasure, and we have done some deep meditation, we still find ourselves in the dark and can't decide what to do. At that time we need G-d to reveal Himself, and light the path for us. G-d hid His light in the Torah and that is where we can access it. We have to turn to the Torah, or to those who know the Torah, for guidance.

These are the Ba'al Shem Tov's three pieces of advice. We could suggest that they correspond to the three plagues mentioned in this week's parasha. The numerical value of the name "Bo" is also three. These three plagues are placed in this week's parasha, separate for the other seven, because they correspond to the three pieces of advice.

First came the Locusts, which removed all pleasure. They eat up everything, all the food in the land. Then came the Darkness, which was the perfect opportunity for meditation, for asking oneself, "Am I living my life by what I want to do, or by what G-d wants me to do?"

Then came the final plague, the Slaying of the Firstborn. This came in the middle of the night, and in that darkness G-d revealed himself. He passed over the homes where Jews were eating the Paschal lamb for the sake of Heaven. Those who perished were those who fooled themselves into thinking that they were really doing the will of G-d, but in reality they were basically serving themselves. The light of Hashem made the truth clear.

I pray for us all that we should have the clarity to know the true path so that we are not fooled by the yetzer hara, who sometimes tries to paint negativity as something spiritual. We should merit seeing the light in the darkness all the days of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom,
Aba Wagensberg

Photos and Data © Third Temple and/or Avrahom Dovid 1980 through 2005. Parsha Highlights © Rabbi Aba Wagensberg.