Parashat Va’era Exodus 6:2–9:35
G‑d reveals Himself to Moses. Employing the “four expressions of redemption,” take out the Children of Israel from Egypt, deliver them from their enslavement, redeem them, and acquire them as His own chosen people at “Mount Sinai”; He will then bring them to the land He promised to the Patriarchs as their eternal heritage.
Moses and Aaron repeatedly come before Pharaoh to demand in the name of G‑d, “Let My people go, so that they may serve Me in the wilderness.” Pharaoh repeatedly refuses. Aaron’s staff turns into a snake and swallows the magic sticks of the Egyptian sorcerers. G‑d then sends a series of plagues upon the Egyptians.
The waters of the Nile turn to blood; swarms of frogs overrun the land; lice infest all men and beasts. Hordes of wild animals invade the cities; a pestilence kills the domestic animals; painful boils afflict the Egyptians. For the seventh plague, fire and ice combine to descend from the skies as a devastating hail. Still, “the heart of Pharaoh was hardened and he would not let the children of Israel go, as G‑d had said to Moses.”
Parashat Bo Exodus 10:1–13:16
The last three of the Ten Plagues are visited on Egypt: a swarm of locusts devours all the crops and greenery; a thick, palpable darkness envelops the land; and all the firstborn of Egypt are killed at the stroke of midnight of the 15th of the month of Nissan.
G‑d commands the first mitzvah to be given to the people of Israel: to establish a calendar based on the monthly rebirth of the moon. The Israelites are also instructed to bring a “Passover offering” to G‑d: a lamb or kid goat is to be slaughtered, and its blood sprinkled on the doorposts and lintel of every Israelite home, so that G‑d should pass over these homes when He comes to kill the Egyptian firstborn. The roasted meat of the offering is to be eaten that night together with matzah (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs. The death of the firstborn finally breaks Pharaoh’s resistance, and he literally drives the children of Israel from his land. So hastily do they depart that there is no time for their dough to rise, and the only provisions they take along are unleavened. Before they go, they ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold, silver and garments—fulfilling the promise made to Abraham that his descendants would leave Egypt with great wealth.
The children of Israel are commanded to consecrate all firstborn, and to observe the anniversary of the Exodus each year by removing all leaven from their possession for seven days, eating matzah, and telling the story of their redemption to their children. They are also commanded to wear tefillin on the arm and head as a reminder of the Exodus and their resultant commitment to G‑d.
Parashat Beshalach Exodus 13:17–17:16
Soon after allowing the children of Israel to depart from Egypt, Pharaoh chases after them to force their return, and the Israelites find themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s armies and the sea. G‑d tells Moses to raise his staff over the water; the sea splits to allow the Israelites to pass through, and then closes over the pursuing Egyptians. Moses and the children of Israel sing a song of praise and gratitude to G‑d. In the desert the people suffer thirst and hunger, and repeatedly complain to Moses and Aaron. G‑d miraculously sweetens the bitter waters of Marah, and later has Moses bring forth water from a rock by striking it with his staff. He causes manna to rain down from the heavens before dawn each morning, and quails to appear in the Israelite camp each evening.
The children of Israel are instructed to gather a double portion of manna on Friday, as none will descend on Shabbat, the divinely decreed day of rest. Some disobey and go to gather manna on the seventh day, but find nothing. Aaron preserves a small quantity of manna in a jar, as a testimony for future generations. In Rephidim, the people are attacked by the Amalekites, who are defeated by Moses’ prayers and an army raised by Joshua.
Parashat Yitro Exodus 18:1–20:23
Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, hears of the great miracles which G‑d performed for the people of Israel, and comes from Midian to the Israelite camp, bringing with him Moses’ wife and two sons. Jethro advises Moses to appoint a hierarchy of magistrates and judges to assist him in the task of governing and administering justice to the people.
The children of Israel camp opposite Mount Sinai, where they are told that G‑d has chosen them to be His “kingdom of priests” and “holy nation.” The people respond by proclaiming, “All that G‑d has spoken, we shall do.” On the sixth day of the third month (Sivan), seven weeks after the Exodus, the entire nation of Israel assembles at the foot of Mount Sinai for the Giving of the Torah . G‑d descends on the mountain amidst thunder, lightning, billows of smoke and the blast of the shofar, and summons Moses to ascend.
G‑d proclaims the Ten Commandments, commanding the people of Israel to believe in G‑d, not to worship idols or take G‑d’s name in vain, to keep the Shabbat, honor their parents, not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, and not to bear false witness or covet another’s property. The people cry out to Moses that the revelation is too intense for them to bear, begging him to receive the Torah from G‑d and convey it to them.
Edited by Rabbi David Schonblum from the teachings of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson zt”l /Rebbe.org