In Parshat Bo, as the Jews prepare for the Exodus from Egypt, God designates Nissan as the first month of the Jewish calendar. This is difficult to understand, given that we commonly refer to Rosh Hashana – the first day of Tishrei – as the new year, marking the Creation of humanity.
The explanation is as follows: Often people accept the idea of God as Creator. But they figure that after Creation, God sat back to let nature run its course. The Exodus, however with all its open miracles – teaches us that God’s role as Director of History, is even greater than His role as Creator. And that’s why at the Exodus, the order of the months changed – to commemorate this new relationship between God and humanity.
Rabbi Shraga Simmons comments: ‘This helps explain another question: If Shabbat is a commemoration of the Six Days of Creation, then why are only Jews commanded to observe Shabbat? The answer is found in the text of the Friday night Kiddush, where we declare that the purpose of Shabbat is “to remember Creation and to remember the Exodus.” Because while God created the entire world, it was through the Jewish Exodus from Egypt that mankind came to appreciate God as the guiding hand of history. Let’s read the words of Prof. Nicholai Berdysev, writing in Moscow in 1935: “The survival of the Jews, their
endurance under absolutely peculiar conditions, and the fateful role played by them in history – this people is governed by a [mystical] predetermination, transcending the norms of history.” ‘
A warning is given to Pharoah that there will. Be a plague of locusts. What is this and why is it a plague? Rabbi Arnold Saltzman comments: ‘I remember as a young boy spending the summers in New York State and having the experience of seeing
grasshoppers. Usually, there was a solitary grasshopper in a vast field, not threatening, yet very special in the sense that this was something I did not encounter in Brooklyn. In reading the section on locusts, my first thought used to be, “How exciting! Grasshoppers!” It turns out that grasshoppers can be useful, and the Torah teaches us that some species are kosher, in
Leviticus 11:20-23. In the Mishnah of the Talmud of Kedoshim 59a, it states that grasshoppers may be eaten. The Hebrew
language has at least four words for locusts or grasshoppers, arbeh, chargol, chagav, and sal’am. Rabbi Joseph Hertz says that since we do not really know which of these locusts existed in biblical times, he declares them to be nonkosher. Jews in Djerba and Yemen had a legitimate custom, however, of eating kosher grasshoppers. The Egyptians also ate them as food for the poor. A midrash tells us that the Egyptians ate pickled grasshoppers. When they heard that there would be a plague of locusts, they were excited and they sought to capture the locusts for food. What a gift! Instead, God brought the western wind and none were left. Even those that were already pickled in jars, pots, and barrels disappeared. A commentary by Ramban indicates that the remarkable nature of this plague, which darkened the sky of Egypt, was not a natural occurrence; rather, it was a miracle. The locusts consumed everything that was growing that had been left by the hail, which had previously beaten down branches and vegetation. The locusts came and left nothing growing.’
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim