Rabbi David Walk
It's an old trick for entertainment series to end an episode with an exciting predicament unresolved. The enthralled audience will rush back for the resolution, usually only to be disappointed. This art form originated in literature. It was common for novels to be serialized in periodicals in the 1800's, and many readers keenly anticipated the next installment. The actual term cliffhanger seems to have originated with weekly silent film serials, the most famous of which was the Perils of Pauline, with Pearl White. People would crowd theaters every Saturday to see how she would be saved from imminent death at the hands of pirates, storms or onrushing locomotives. It's possible that the actual reference which spawned the term was Ms. White literally hanging from the cliffs we call the Palisades overlooking the Hudson River from the
Why did the Sages separate these readings in such a way that we have seven plagues one week and the remaining three a week later? We don't usually separate material in this way. There are commentaries who say that this planned arrangement is hinted at by the Hebrew name of this week's parsha, namely Bo. That word has the Gematria or numerical value of three, clearly referring to the three plagues described in its narrative. So, again why are these three separated from the other seven? Reb Moshe Lichtenstein describes a few differences between the plagues of Va'era and those of Bo. He explains that the plagues listed last week were to harass rather than destroy, they were removed only after a request from Pharaoh, and the magicians appear as Pharaoh's aides. This week the plagues are destructive and life threatening. The magicians are replaced by real advisors discussing not theology but matters of state. And, finally, the new negotiations with Pharaoh aren't about a three day weekend in the desert, but actually leaving
However, the biggest suspense in this week's parsha doesn't involve Pharaoh. It's about the Jews. Two weeks ago, when Moshe told the Jews that he was sent by God and that the redemption was at hand, the verse records: And the people believed, and they heard that the Lord had remembered the children of
Maybe I'm asking the wrong question. Perhaps, as I wrote last week, their inability to listen to Moshe wasn't about leaving
Yes, there is! The mitzvah is Tefillin. Amongst the mitzvoth given to the Jews during this short window of time immediately preceding the tenth plague is the following: And it shall be to you as a sign upon your hand and as a remembrance between your eyes, in order that the law of the Lord shall be in your mouth, for with a mighty hand the Lord took you out of Egypt (13:9). True slaves are expected to dedicate the work of their hands to their masters, but not the thoughts of their minds. God is telling the Jews that they must dedicate to God not only the sinews of their arms, but also the synapses of their brains. Our loyalty to God demands belief and reflection upon this relationship. The Jewish commitment is total, body, mind, soul. When the Jews bind these leather boxes, straps and texts upon our arms and foreheads then we'll know that they have listened to God and the Divine messenger, Moshe.
Unlike the cliffhangers at a Saturday matinee, this cliffhanger is never resolved. This damsel is eternally in distress. Every generation is challenged by this test: Will we hearken to the voice or will the distractions of the time equal the shortness of breath and the heavy work of so many centuries ago? We are in a constant state of staying tuned to find out next episode how this greatest of cliff hangers will turn out. Hang on tight!
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