I have written several times here that any unusual textual detail in Scripture is an invitation to delve more deeply. What is unusual about the beginning of this portion – something that we don’t see in translations, but see very clearly in Hebrew?
Those of my readers who know some Hebrew might be surprised when they read the first verse of this portion in Hebrew. The words “Go to Pharaoh” – the first verse of Exodus 10 and of our parashah – would normally translate the Hebrew words: lech leparo. “Go” in Hebrew is “lech” (you remember, of course, lech-lecha that God says to Abram in Genesis 12), while “bo” means “come”, not “go”. However, here, instead of lech, we have bo. God is sending Moshe on a very challenging and difficult task, but instead of saying: “Go”, He says: “Come”! Why?
I believe there is a very profound message here: God never sends us away from Himself, especially when He sends us on a difficult task! With God, it’s never “Go there,” it’s always “Come Here”. One has to come closer to God, in order to be able to go where one is sent. It’s never Lech, it’s always – Bo! And this is the name and the call of one of the most important Torah Portions of the year: our people are defined by what happened in Exodus 12! Not only by Exodus itself – but by God’s call to His people: Bo! Come Here!
Covid-19 and Exodus
This Torah Portion is also crucial for Christians, and there are many details and nuances here that should be discussed in the light of the New Testament. Surprisingly, however, some of them should be discussed in the light of our current reality as well. I’ll try to explain.
We live in the time of a Pandemic—the time of the corona virus. Coronavirus in Hebrew is Negif Korona – negif (נגיף) meaning “virus”. Those who have studied Biblical Hebrew would recognize a very frightening root in this word: negef, or magefa – words that, according to the dictionary, mean “plague, pestilence (divine judgment)”. I don’t think there is another language where the word “virus” is derived from the word “plague”, so why do these words have the same root in Hebrew?
Hebrew, as I’ve said many times, is an essentially different and deeply prophetic language. You probably know that, when the Hebrew language was being restored and updated, many new words (words that did not exist in biblical times) had to be derived from the existing roots. For some reason (prophetically, I would say), the word “virus” was derived from the word “plague”. This is exactly what we see today: the frightening reality of a biblical “negef” (plague) shows clearly through the contemporary meaning of the word “negif” (virus).
Prompted by the word,“negif”, I decided to study all the cases of “negef”, or “magefa”, in the Tanach. It’s not difficult to guess where we first meet the word “negef” in the Bible: of course, it’s in Exodus, in our current portion, which details the story of the Exodus from Egypt: “… when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you when I smite the land of Egypt.” The Hebrew word which is rendered by “the plague” here is, “negef”.
The slain lamb, with whose blood the doorposts were stained, was the symbol, the promise and the basis, for Israel’s salvation from slavery. The Lamb looking as though it had been slain, with whose blood the heart of the one who accepts His sacrifice is anointed, is the symbol, promise, and basis for the salvation Jesus brought to the earth. Everything that happened to Jesus, slain during the time of Passover two thousand years ago, precisely fulfilled the role God assigned to the sacrificial lamb during the time of the Exodus. However, the question arises: have those saved by the blood of the Lamb fulfilled their role? If the slain lamb of Exodus foreshadowed the Lamb of God, then the people of Israel foreshadowed those who are saved by His blood—Jews and Gentiles alike—all those who believe in Jesus. Have they done everything that the children of Israel were commanded to do? Have they missed anything?
“And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it.” Once sheltered under the blood of the slain lamb, Israel was commanded to feed on this lamb. Likewise, Christians do have the Holy Communion, or Eucharist – the Christian ceremony established by Jesus Himself; is there anything missing in this “eating the Lamb”?
Today, it is especially important for us to understand how this lamb was eaten, because it’s exactly during this meal—this prophetic Messianic meal—that the plague passed over their homes. “…with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. …” Much has been said about unleavened bread and what it symbolizes in the New Testament; but what about bitter herbs?
The expression “bitter herbs” renders the word “bitter”, or “bitterness” (“maror”). We have only a few more occasions in Scripture where this root “mar” – “bitter”, occurs. One of them is in the book of Ruth: after her return to Bethlehem, Naomi adopted the name Mara (“bitter”), as an expression of her bitter and grievous life. You probably know that the book of Ruth is the story of a righteous gentile girl choosing Israel and her God, and you probably remember the famous words of Ruth: “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth says these words in the very first chapter of the book, when she decided to keep going with Naomi; when she chooses Israel and her God, even though this choice seemed absolutely hopeless and “mar”, bitter, at that point, while Naomi’s second daughter in law, Orpah, turned back. What was the difference between these two women – between the one who went and the one who did not? In English, Ruth 1:18 reads: “When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.” This “steadfastly minded” (sometimes translated as “determined”) translates a Hebrew word מִתְאַמֶּ֥צֶת – to make an effort. In the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as in some English versions, it is the same word that we hear from Jesus in Luke 13:24: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” To join God’s people, to walk God’s path, requires an effort, and Ruth made this effort – while Orpah, with all her good intentions, didn’t make that effort. That’s why we have the book of Ruth – and not the book of Orpah – in our Bibles.
We all know that there is no better commentary on the Scripture than Scripture itself. That’s why, having this allusion to the book of Ruth, I really believe that spiritually, maror can mean only one thing: Israel. Every Jewish child knows how bitter and unpleasant the taste of maror can be – especially when you are hungry, enduring the long Seder ceremony, and can’t wait to eat some real food. It is undoubtedly an effort, to eat maror, when all you want is to eat lamb. In the same way, bitter and unpleasant can be a taste of standing with Israel; it is a real effort to remember Israel when all you want is to partake of the Lamb – but I do believe that it’s what God commanded us in Exodus 12:8. As Ruth made this effort and went with Mara; as Jesus called His followers to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door”; as every Jewish wedding, Hupa, at the top of the joyful ceremony commemorates the destruction of the Temple by breaking a glass – in the same way, God wants us to make an effort and to eat the lamb “with maror”.
 You can find this study in my book “Corona and the plagues: lessons from the Bible”
 Ex. 12:13
 Rev. 5:6
 Ruth 1:16
I would like to remind you, dear friends, that eTeacher offers a wonderful course, where you can learn from Parashot Shavua commentaries along with their New Testament interpretation. As always, you are welcome to contact me for more information! Also, if you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books, you can get them here .