Parshat Bo: Light at Night

Did the Exodus from Egypt take place during the day or night? Why is parshat Bo so ambiguous regarding the timing of this seminal event in the Torah? 

First, God promises to bring the plague against the first-born at around mid-night (“k’chatzot”) after which the people would leave Egypt. Then, God’s promise is fulfilled in the middle of the night (“b’chatzi halayla”). Pharaoh, in response to the suffering, commands Moshe to take the Israelites out in the night. However, Moshe had instructed the people not to leave their homes until the morning. It also states that God took them out of Egypt on “that very day,” understood by some commentaries to mean in full daylight. This tension in the verses – night or day – is also expressed in mishna Berakhot in discussing the mitzvah to remember yetziat mitzrayim. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya teaches that while there is a clear biblical source to remember the Exodus during the day, he was unsure of the source for remembering it at night, until Ben Zoma enlightened him. Hence, the Talmud teaches, the third paragraph of Shema, “Vayomer,” is said at night as well as in the morning, since it contains within it remembrance of the Exodus.

Ramban resolves the ambiguity of the timing of the Exodus as follows: B’nei Yisrael left Egypt in the daytime, so all could see, but the process of geula began at night. Mid-night then is a turning point, when the seeds of potential for redemption begin. This association of mid-night as beginning of the redemption process is reinforced in the midrash about King David, who would learn Torah until mid-night (for protection) and from then on sing songs of praise to God. 

Recounting the Exodus – specifically in tefilla of day as well as night – testifies to the Jewish people’s ability to flourish through periods of light and endure throughout times of darkness. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s