The New Calendar
This week's parsha contains one of my favorite comments in Chief Rabbi Hertz's classical Torah commentary. He argues that the plague of darkness was a total solar eclipse and therefore, using a calculation of when ancient Egypt experienced a total solar eclipse, he says that the plague of darkness occurred on March 13, 1335 BCE. He goes on to say that since Jewish tradition states that the darkness was on Nissan 1, he concludes that the Exodus from Egypt took place on March 27, 1335 BCE!!!
Nevertheless, it is interesting that the Torah does not give us any dates whatsoever, when it comes to plotting the course of the exodus. We have no idea when the plagues began and how long the whole process took. Was it a few months or even a year, o perhapd more? We have no idea.
There are some hints. For example, when Moshe tells Pharaoh about the havoc the hailstones caused he says: "though the flax and the barley have been broken, for the barley is in the ear, and the flax is in the stalk. The wheat and the spelt, however, have not been broken because they ripen late" (Shemot 9:31-32). From here we can see that the hailstones must have occurred in sometime in Jany/February, after the ripening of the flax, but before the ripening of the wheat.
Nevertheless, it is still hard to chart a timeline for the whole process. Yet, on the verge of the Exodus, God states: "This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year" (ibid 12:2). From this point onwards, Israel has calendar and the Torah begins to chart events, for example, "In the third month of the children of Israel's departure from Egypt, on this day they arrived in the desert of Sinai" (ibid 19:1) and "The Lord spoke to Moses…on the first day of the second month, in the second year after the exodus from the land of Egypt" (Bemidbar 1:1).
We must therefore ask the question, why events prior to the Exodus are not dated, or better, what message is the Torah teaching us by only instituting the calendar at this juncture?
In order to answer to this question, we must understand that in this week's parsha, Israel is about to undergo a fundamental change. Israel is going from slavery to freedom.
Slaves do not have any free time. Their time is not their own, they must be constantly available for their master at all times. Time is not a concept they have. It is not a concept that Israel had. How long did the whole process take? It's possible that Israel did not know!
Yet, this would change at the tenth plague. Israel would then be free. One of the symbols that God gave them, to help them internalize this factor, is the institution of a calendar. Israel is now given human dignity, they are now in control of their time.
Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Bo, entitled: " The Exodus" appears at http://parshablog.blogspot.com/2008/01/parshat-bo-exodus-towards-end-of-this.html.
Another Sedra Short on Parshat Bo, entitled: "They will Go Forth with Great Possessions" appears at http://parshablog.blogspot.com/2007/01/parshat-bo-they-will-go-forth-with.html.
A further Sedra Short on Parshat Bo, entitled: "The Humiliation of Ra" appears at http://parshablog.blogspot.com/2006/01/parshat-bo-humiliation-of-ra-10.html