Parashat Bo begins with God telling Moshe that He was performing miracles in Egypt “in order that you tell in the ears of your child and your child’s child about how I made a mockery of Egypt, and My wonders…” (10:2). The plagues were brought upon Egypt not simply as a way of forcing the kingdom to release Benei Yisrael, but also in order for these miracles to live in the nation’s collective memory for all time, serving as an everlasting source of faith in God.
A number of commentators noted that God speaks here of the people telling about these miracles “be-oznei binkha” – “in the ears of your child.” Rather than state simply that Benei Yisrael should tell their children about these miracles, God emphasizes that this should be spoken “in the ears of your child.” Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the expression “be-oznei binkha” indicates that parents are to not simply speak of the miracles of the Exodus, but rather “impress it so deeply that through the ears it penetrates the heart.” According to Rav Hirsch, then, the Torah here requires parents to tell of the miracles in a manner that leaves a deep impression upon their children’s hearts, rather than simply relay the information.
Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman (the “Ponevezher Rav”) is cited as suggesting that “be-oznei binkha” refers to speaking directly into the listener’s ear. Normally, when a person speaks to another person, they are close enough for the sound to reach the listener, but the speaker’s mouth does not need to be positioned directly next to the listener’s ear. This becomes necessary, the Ponevezher Rav explained, when there is a lot of background noise that would interfere with the sound which the speaker wants to reach the listener. Under such conditions, the speaker must speak directly into the listener’s ear to ensure that his words are heard. The Ponevezher Rav thus suggested that in Egypt, there was a good deal of “background noise” that made it very difficult for the message of faith to reach the youngsters’ ears. In a society and environment opposed to the principles and tenets of Jewish faith, special effort is needed to reach the “ears” of the youth, to teach them and inspire them with our beliefs. The phrase “be-oznei binkha” thus refers to the hard work and creativity that is needed to impart our values and our faith to the next generation when we compete against the “background noise,” competing values and ideas. When youngsters are regularly lured and distracted by ideas that conflict with our tradition, it does not suffice to merely relay information; we must communicate our tradition “be-oznei binkha,” in a manner that can draw their attention and arouse their interest.
We might add that this image, of a speaker talking directly into the listener’s ear, symbolizes the special close bond that must be forged between teacher and student for the messages to be “heard” over the “background noise.” In the face of competing, alluring messages and values, we must teach our tradition “be-oznei binkha” – with warmth and closeness. The closer the students feel to those relaying to them the information, the more likely they are to lend their ears and pay attention to what they are taught instead of to the “background noise” all around them.