Study Guide: What Does Telling Time Tell Us About the Teller?

Parashat Bo Study Guide: Time and the Teller

Text: Shemot 11:4-8

4 And Moshe said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; 5 and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die… 8…Then he went out from Pharaoh in great anger.

Text: Shemot 12:12-13

12 And I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt… I am the LORD. 13 Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

Text: Shemot 12:29

29 And it came to pass at midnight that the LORD struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…

  • Pay attention to who is addressed in each of these discussions of the event.
  • In Exodus 11 Moshe is speaking to Pharaoh. He does not reveal to him on which night the plague of smiting the first-born will take place. What might be the reason?
  • In Exodus 12:12 Moshe is speaking to the Israelites. They are told that it will take place while they are eating the [paschal] lamb that they were told to prepare. How does that impact their experience?
  • Compare the time of the plague according to the three sources. Why is the time, if given, not consistent? Who is told the time of night and who is not? Why?

Talmud Tractate Berachot 4a

Moshe knew, [so] why did he say: About midnight, [instead of: At midnight]? he maintained: Lest Pharaoh’s astrologers err [in telling the exact time] and they would say: Moshe is a liar.

  • According to the Talmud, why did Moshe not give the specific time when speaking to Pharaoh? (Especially considering that he is interested in demonstrating the LORD’s power to Pharaoh!). What would be the problem with Pharaoh’s people believing Moshe is lying?
  • How might the Talmud explain the discrepancy between what is said to Pharaoh and what is said to the Israelites?
  • What in the reality of the Israelite existence in Egypt would render exact telling of time worthless? What might the Egyptian preoccupation with telling time indicate about their social and economic reality?
  • The first mitzvah given to the Israelites, still in the land of Egypt, is time-oriented—how to establish a calendar (Exodus 12:1-2). What might be the reason for that?
  • Why do you think that when the plague takes place, the Torah records the exact time at which God strikes?

See more: Parashat Bo

Originally posted as part of the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center’s Torah Sparks. Support Torah learning from the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center/Conservative Yeshiva for leaders and seekers around the world here


  • Vered Hollander-Goldfarb teaches Tanach and Medieval Commentators at the Conservative Yeshiva and is a regular contributor to Torah Sparks, FJC’s weekly message on the weekly Torah portion. She received her M.A. in Judaic Studies and Tanach from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University and studied at Bar-Ilan University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Before making aliyah, Vered taught at Ramaz School and Stern College in New York.

  • The Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center (FJC) is a home in the heart of Jerusalem where leaders and seekers can find an authentic place in Jewish tradition to call their own. FJC offers opportunities to study, pray and explore within an egalitarian and inclusive setting, creating multiple pathways for finding personal and communal meaning.

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