Page 2 of 44

Inner Spark

parashas Bo 5782

“All the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”

– Exodus 10:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Three days of darkness fell upon Egypt, as the ninth plague was enacted. Yet, there was light in the dwellings of the Children of Israel, who lived apart from the Egyptians in the land of Goshen. This is in accord with the declaration made several times, in regard to the plagues, that the L-RD would differentiate between the Egyptians and Israel. Perhaps, this is the most striking example, whereof somehow B’nei Yisrael had light in Goshen; yet, the rest of Egypt experienced utter darkness for three days. How can this be explained?

The Targum infers that the light served the purpose of enabling the righteous to be occupied with good deeds within their dwellings (Targum Yonatan, Exodus 10:23, sefaria.org). Or HaChayim alludes to the origin of this light as having to do with the righteousness of the Children of Israel. By this allusion, he may have been referring to the notion of the pintele yid – the inner spark.

Despite a person’s best efforts, we often fail to even live up to our own standards of righteousness, let alone G-d’s standard; yet, there is flame within that may always call us to return to Him. This is the pintele yid, the inner essence, wherein the flickering flame of divinity, yearns to be kindled by acts of righteousness (mitzvoth).

“For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light.”

– Proverbs 6:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

parashas Bo 5782

“And the L-RD said unto Moses: Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these My signs in the midst of them.’” – Exodus 10:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to the Zohar, when Moses entered Pharaohs inner chamber, considered to be the abode of evil, HShems Presence was with him. This is drawn from the translation of the word, bo, as meaning “come” to Pharaoh, instead of “go” to Pharaoh. Because H’Shem said to Moses, in a manner of speaking, come with me, into the abode of the serpent, and My Presence will be with you when you confront Pharaoh. To some degree, what is written in the Zohar seems to imply that this inner chamber was actually a spiritual abode of darkness, as if Moses was brought face to face with the power of the serpent that sustained Pharaoh and all of Egypt. The only reason that this would be necessary is to break that power through G-d’s might.

Moshe may have also felt some trepidation about confronting Pharaoh within the court this time. Having grown up in the previous Pharaoh’s court, he knew full well the level of darkness in the form of idolatry, present within Pharaoh’s inner chambers. The servants of Pharaoh were well skilled in the ways of darkness associated with these deities. Their so-called powers were not from G-d; rather, their strength was dependent upon the sitra achrah, literally, “the other side.” This is why the Zohar refers to Pharaoh’s inner chamber as the abode of evil; for in the absence of G-d, there is only evil.

Yet, H’Shem reassured Moshe, that He would be present with Him, even in this darkest of abodes. At this point, Moses, accompanied by Aaron, delivered the warning for the eighth plague – the plague of locusts. The description of the plague was severe enough that “Pharaoh’s servants said unto him: ‘How long shall this man be a snare to us? let the men go, that they may serve the L-RD their G-d, knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?” (Exodus 10:7, JPS 1917 Tanach). It is the nature of evil, that when it lifts up its ugly head, it does so in insolent pride against G-d – for Pharaoh did not relent.

Search Within the Darkness

“And the L-RD said unto Moses: ‘Stretch out thy hand toward the heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.’ And Moses stretched forth his hand toward the heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days; but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”– Exodus 10:21-23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Or HaChayim explains that, according to certain rabbinic commentators, the darkness that originated in a heavenly place, may be likened to the description, found in psalms, “He made darkness His hiding-place, His pavilion round about Him; darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies” (Psalms 18:12, JPS; Shemot Rabbah 14). This verse conveys the understanding, that, H’Shem, who is surrounded by atmospheric darkness, is hidden within those phenomena. This may explain why Moshe raised his hand to the sky, instead of his staff. “Inasmuch as the darkness was of a supernatural kind, Moses did not consider it appropriate to raise his staff against supernatural phenomena” (Ohr HaChayim on Exodus 10:23, sefaria.org).

Another view likens the darkness that encompassed Egypt for three days, to the darkness of purgatory (Or HaChayim on Exodus 10:23; sefaria.org). Or HaChayim comments that both views may be feasible, within the context of the plague’s duration. According to Rashi’s rendering, there were two sets of three-day periods of darkness, since each plague always lasted for a week. So, during the first three days, no person could see another; and, during the second three days, “no one could get up from where he was.” (The third day of darkness occurred at the encampment of the Egyptians, who had pursued B’nei Yisrael to the edge of the Sea of Reeds).

How might these considerations be understood, in a manner of rendering some significance to the comments, beyond their face value? If we consider that H’Shem, Who is surrounded by dark clouds, refers as well to our inability to draw close to Him, unless we enter a place of unknowing, wherein we cannot fully rely on our intellectual understanding of Him, we are gaining understanding of the nature of His essence, as well as our relationship to Him.

Mishnah Insights: Berachos 4:6-7

One who was traveling in a ship or on a raft [asda] and is unable to turn and face in the direction of Jerusalem, should focus his heart opposite the Holy of Holies.” – Mishnah Berachot 4:6, sefaria.org

Commentary includes the addition of travelling by “wagon,” as well as the aforementioned ship or raft. Needless to say, since these passages were recorded in the third century, I imagine that the inclusion of other modes of travel such as motorized vehicles like cars, and trucks, as well as trains and planes could be added to the list. The original mishnah should serve as a guideline; additionally, it is important to keep in mind, focusing the heart on the Holy of Holies, wherever one is praying.

4:7 – Regarding the musaf (additional) Shemonah Esrei prayer on Shabbos and Yom Tov, the issue is raised, whether a person praying alone is required to recite the additional prayer. There are several different rulings. 1). The additional prayer may only be recited with a congregation when there is a minyan (quorum of ten). 2). The additional prayer may be recited with or without a congregation. 3). Only to be recited if there is not local congregation reciting them; in other words, if there is a local community reciting the prayers, then there is no obligation for someone praying alone to recite the musaf, since the community musaf is said on behalf of all, including the person davening (praying) alone. Otherwise, if there is no local congregation nearby where the person is praying alone, there is an obligation to pray the musaf prayer by the individual.

Mishnah Insights: Berachos 4:5

Mishnah Insights: Proper Concentration for Prayer

While riding on a donkey, what is appropriate in regard to prayer? Specifically, for the Shemonah Esrei prayer? Anyone riding on a donkey would find prayer challenging, especially the type of prayer alluded to in the Mishnah, namely the Shemonah Esrei that is recited while standing. Yet, the Mishnah covers this, noting several options:

If someone else can hold the donkey while one is praying, this is acceptable. Although, a more authoritative ruling explains that because one is traveling, even if another person holds the donkey, the person praying will be distracted, worrying about the journey, so as to not have proper concentration; for this reason, one should continue riding on the donkey, and pray while doing so.

The gist of the Mishnah actually has to do with the requirement to pray the Shemonah Esrei, while facing Jerusalem, if living in Israel; or, facing in the direction of Israel, for those living outside of Israel. Thus, one should turn his head towards Jerusalem, while riding on a donkey.  If one can not turn towards Jerusalem while riding on a donkey, for the sake of prayer, he should focus his heart energy towards the Temple mount. (Keep in mind that these rulings were recorded in the third century; however, the oral tradition predates the written accounts by at least several hundred years).  

Mishnah Insights: Berachos 4:4 – prayer & travel

“Redeem, L-rd, Your people, the remnant of Israel, at every transition. May their needs be before You. Blessed are You, L-rd, Who listens to prayer.”

– Mishnah Berachos 4:4, sefaria.org

The Mishnah discusses fixed payer; and, the inability to pray a complete prayer, while walking in a place of danger. Fixed prayer, that is to say, prayer viewed as an obligation, whereof prayer may seem like a burden, and done only to fulfill an obligation is discouraged. For that type of prayer will not be sincere, as the person praying only seeks to relieve himself of what is considered a burdensome obligation.

In regard to prayer while traveling through an area that might be dangerous, it is assumed that the person’s mind is unsettled, hence, an inability to foster proper concentration. In this situation, a person is not required to say a complete prayer (e.g., the Shemonah Esrei). Moroever, there is not even a requirement to say Havineinu, a shortened version of the Shemonah Esrei; rather, an even briefer prayer may be recited (see above-mentioned prayer). Incidentally, I imagine that the reason the prayer is in the plural is because, prayers including oneself with others are more likely to be answered.

These considerations are made, for the sake of the safety of the traveler. Consider Moshe, who at the Sea of Reeds began to pray to H’Shem, when Pharaoh’s army posed a significant threat to B’nei Yisrael. To paraphrase the passage, H’Shem told Moses, now is not the time to pray; rather, I will deliver the people now. Certainly, in any given situation wherein imminent harm is at hand, the time would appear to be a time to act, rather than pray.

However, a brief prayer for deliverance is in total accord with what is right in the eyes of G-d, who would like us to put our trust completely in Him. At times like those, a brief prayer, like, “H’Shem, guard me against evil,” would be appropriate. The Mishnah, in discussing prayer here, Is only referring to traditional prayers recited on a daily basis, as opposed to impromptu heartfelt prayers that may be said at any time, in any situation.

Mishnah Insights: Berachos 4:2-3 – study & prayer

Mishnah Berachos 4:2-3

4:2 – One of the sages “would recite a brief prayer upon his entrance into the study hall and upon his exit” (sefaria.org), for the sake of the sanctification of his study time. He would say a prayer, before studying that he would not negatively influence others, by way of sharing a wrong understanding (G-d forbid), having the adverse impact of causing someone to err in his ways. After studying, his prayer encompassed an appreciation of having the opportunity to study, and his gratitude towards G-d for that opportunity.

Reflecting on this, I think about how much I take for granted, in regard to my ability to study with concentration, and the time allotment that I have for doing so. I have taken these studies upon myself, and though at times they feel like an arduous chore, at other times, I find an almost instantaneous reward, for having learned something of unique value.

Yet, I am too preoccupied, most of the time, to thank G-d for these opportunities. Furthermore, when I take creative license for my explanations, instead of going strictly “by the book,” I wonder if I have permitted myself too much of an interpretive rendering of my own. I should offer more thanks to G-d, and always pray for guidance in my words.

4:3 – Regarding a shortened version of the Shemonah Esrei prayer, this version may be said when one is lacking in concentration. The point is that it is better to recite less with kavannah (intentional focus) than to recite the full prayer without doing so in a meaningful way. Thus, as a side note, I would add that another way to put this would be to focus on “quality, rather than quantity.” Much consideration is given elsewhere, such as in the Mesillas Yesharim (Way of the Upright), concerning the importance of kavannah. This is something that I should always try to emphasize.

Mishnah Insights: Berachos 3:6 – 4:1 – Prayer Times

The Mishnah continues with details, in regard to removing spiritual impurity through immersion in water, before praying or studying. Then, chapter four begins with laws in regard to the shemonah esrei. Prayers must be recited in a timely fashion, corresponding to the hours of the day, specifically, the position of the sun in the sky. This harkens back to Biblical passages concerning prayer in the Torah and the Book of Daniel (see Genesis 19:27, 24:63, 28:11; and, Daniel 6:10).

The prayer times generally correspond to the times that offerings were made during the day, based upon passages in the Torah. However, unlike morning and afternoon prayers, that are akin to the offerings, the evening prayer is not fixed to a specific time. Even though the ideal time is at twilight, when three stars appear in the sky, as mentioned previously in Berachos, the prayer can be said throughout the night.

Of course, G-d will listen to prayer of the heart at any time throughout the day and night. Rather, the above-mentioned prayer times have to do with the liturgical prayers found within the pages of the traditional Jewish siddur (prayerbook).

Mishnah Insights: Spiritual Cleanliness

Mishnah Daily Study: Berachos 3:4-5


In regard to prayer and study, in that order, to what extent is spiritual purity required? The Mishnah addresses this question in specific terms, while I will attempt to draw a broader perspective. Various views range from distancing oneself from prayer and study, until one has become spiritually cleansed (through immersion in water), thus freeing his conscience from guilt, versus permitting oneself to engage in prayer and study in a less direct manner, such as forming the words of prayer in one’s mind, and studying without reading aloud, even before immersion.

I ask myself, what is the concern at hand, in regard to engaging in prayer or study, with unclean hands (see Psalm 24:4)? Perhaps, because G-d is a consuming fire, as is mentioned elsewhere, so that if we approach Him in a condition less than pure, or a state of mind that is not reconciled to Him, we risk the occurrence of having our soul singed. Thus, approaching G-d in an unworthy manner, could have the effect of bringing judgment upon ourselves (G-d forbid).

Moreover, both prayer and study require concentration; so, so the soul needs to be recollected, in order to engage in these meaningful spiritual activities. This is not to say, that we can not approach G-d in our unworthiness, and ask Him to cleanse us. Rather, the traditional times of prayer and study that we are accustomed to would be diminished in their effectiveness, if we are still wallowing in the dirt of our aveiros (transgressions).

In the time of King Solomon, a large vessel made of brass, described as a “molten sea” was placed on twelve oxen, also cast of brass, placed in proximity to the entrance of the Beis HaMikdash or Temple. The waters contained therein were for purification. Before we enter into dialogue with G-d, we need to cleanse our hearts through teshuvah (repentance).

My Mishnah Project

The study of the Mishnah encompasses a vast amount of detail, intricate discussions, and seemingly endless, yet finite possibilities in regard to halacha (Judaic law). Having finally begun this journey, after many years of intending to do so, I find my first endeavors intriguing, rewarding, and, fulfilling. I am already enriched by the experience. Thus, I am looking forward to continuing with this project.


What I realized is that there is an actual feeling of fulfillment for myself, in studying the Mishnah. My first impression was that the claim is true; in other words, that study of the Mishnah for the sake of honoring a loved one who has passed away is significant. If studying the Mishnah benefits the soul of the deceased, then, perhaps, there is also an affect on the soul of the one who studies. I find this to be true for myself, according to my own initial experience.


For, I feel a tangible sense of relief and renewal, now, after three years to the month after my father passed away. Up until this point, it is as if I had still been grieving for an extended period of mourning. Baruch H’Shem. Praise G-d for the light that may enter the soul through this effort. The letters that make up the word MiShNaH may be re-arranged to spell the word NeShaMaH. This is why the connection is made, in regard to the benefit of studying the Mishnah.