Bo: Come to Pharaoh

Copyright 2023 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Dear Friends: It’s been too long since I’ve written my weekly Torah commentaries and I’m feeling inspired to start up again. There will definitely be one for this week and next week, but if when I miss a week, I wholeheartedly endorse my friend Rabbi Eli Garfinkel’s daily Torah Substack newsletter:

Eli is a master at drawing out great questions from the parsha! 

Now, back to Bo, this week’s portion

The portion begins with a command: God tells Moshe: בֹּ֖א אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה, come to Pharaoh, and tell him about the future plagues if he doesn’t release the people. 

The text says bo el Paro, “come to Pharoah,” but this is curious: shouldn’t it be “lech l’Paro,” or go to Pharaoh, not “come”? “Bo,” come, seems to imply that God is already where God wants Moshe to go, which is  Pharaoh’s palace. 

There are two ways to interpret this: 

  1. “Come to Pharaoh” means “come with me.” God is saying, I’m with you when you go to Pharaoh. 
  2. Bo el Paro means: I, the Holy One, am already there, even in Pharaoh’s palace. Going there, to that evil, arrogant, broken, delusional and doomed king, also means coming to Me. 

Both of these interpretations challenge us morally and spiritually. 

First, I found an image from the  Zohar that illustrates our first interpretation: Moshe was afraid of going to Pharaoh, because that inner chamber of the palace was a place of ultimate idolatry, an intensity of idolatry even greater than Moshe’s spiritual level. Because Moshe was afraid, The Merciful One said: Come, I’ll go with you. (The Zohar is, as always, more complicated than this, but this is enough for our purposes today. See here for more.) 

So here was Moshe, at the highest level of spirituality, according to our tradition, and even he was afraid to go into that dark space of human brokenness and pain and alienation. I’m a hospital chaplain, and that’s what we try to do too: go into the hardest, most complicated, most emotionally charged and painful situations, with some small faith that we don’t go alone. Yet this image isn’t just for chaplains: everybody is charged with being a person of hesed (great kindness) and rachamim (mercy), which often means pushing ourselves emotionally. It’s not easy to comfort the bereaved, or visit the sick, or help the poor, or be with people who are lonely or afraid, but perhaps if Moshe could go where he didn’t want to go, with faith that he doesn’t go alone, the rest of us can push ourselves a little harder too. 

Going back to our verse, the  second interpretation is also important. Bo el Paro, says the Holy One, I am already there, even in the most dangerous, evil, oppressive, idol-worshiping place on Earth- I’m already there. That’s a truly amazing idea: after all, Pharaoh earned himself a four thousand year old reputation for denying that there was any God but himself! His palace issued orders for murder and exploitation, but the Holy One was already there? 

Well, yes. 

So if Moshe was told, “I’m already there” in reference to the most terrible, idolatrous, morally corrupt place on Earth, I guess the rest of us should have some faith that we can find the Divine Presence in times and situations that aren’t quite that bad. It can be very uncomfortable to be with the dying or forlorn; it’s much easier to avoid conflicts and problems than confront them; some people have needs that can be overwhelming. Some people have done terrible things, and deserve the harshest rebuke. Yet: I am already there, so open up your mind and heart to find the spark of spirituality even in the most difficult situations. This is one of those truths that is simple, but never easy. Life often isn’t, but we go forward as best we can, and find the Divine in the most unexpected places. 

(Words adapted from a dvar Torah I gave at the annual meeting of Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains.) 

Addendum: for some grammatical/linguistic interpretations of this week’s verse, see here.  


  1. susan kornfeld said

    Hi Rabbi Neal,

       I was surprised to see your email. It has been a long time but I’m glad to read your commentary again.

       I hope you are well.


    div>    Joe and I are new grandparents. I don’t know it you remember our daughter, Melissa, a litt

    • rabbineal said

      Hi Susan of course I remember Melissa! Mazal tov on being new grandparents. I think your message got cut off.

      • susan kornfeld said

        I see it got cut off. 


        div>We have a granddaughter, Layla S

      • rabbineal said

        Mazal tov!

  2. Beth Tafler said

    This is a wonderful commentary filled with wisdom and ideas to further contemplate on. I am glad you are back doing this and thank you for including me.
    With warmest regards, Beth

  3. Rena Shapiro said

    Nice! May I share this with my congregation on Saturday, with attribution, of course? Rena

    Cantor Rena “We go where life takes us,” from the film Passengers Sent from my iPad


  4. Muriel W Horowitz said

    Thank you for this drash. So glad you”are back.” I look forward to reading more of your wisdom. The idea of God being with us when we enter difficult places and difficult conversations is indeed powerful.

  5. sheridan said

    Please to see again a d’rash from you.

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