Rabbi Reuven Mann
This Shabbat, which is Rosh Chodesh Nissan, we read the last of the four Special Torah readings, Parshat HaChodesh. This reading, contains the specific preparations the Jews in Egypt had to make, in anticipation of the forthcoming redemption from the land of their enslavement.
Up to this point, Moshe’s directives were primarily to Pharoh and his ministers; but the focus now turned back to the Jews. They were the victims of Pharoh’s oppressiveness, and the one’s whom Moshe, at the behest of Hashem, had come to rescue.
But they were unlike any other enslaved people, who had powerful adversaries. If this were an ordinary man-made story, the emphasis would be solely on the measures taken to coerce Pharoh, to “do the right thing”. That is clearly a prominent feature of the narrative, but the victims here were also expected to play a major role in the drama of redemption.
For at that point in time, the Jews were not on the level where they were deserving of Hashem’s miraculous intervention. And the fact that they were the aggrieved party, was, by itself, not enough. They had to be transformed to a new level of existence.
At Hashem’s behest, Moshe commanded them to set aside a sheep on the tenth day of the month of Nissan, in preparation for its sacrificial slaughter, which would take place on the fourteenth. The night of Makkat Bechrot (slaying of the firstborn), was one in which the Jews performed–in conjunction with their families and others, who had arranged to be partners in the Passover lamb–the Mitzvah which Hashem had commanded them.
Thus, they were not permitted to exult over the suffering which the Egyptians were experiencing, but had to spend their time absorbed in the service of Hashem. The lesson, was thereby made clear; it was not because of any innate superiority that they were being spared, but only because of their commitment to the Mitzvot of Hashem.
The sheep, of course, was the animal that the Egyptians established as their deity; in the course of their lengthy sojourn there, the Jews had also worshiped this animal. They were commanded to break away from their association with Egyptian culture and religion and assume a new identity, that of Avdei Hashem (Servants of Hashem). For on this night, G-d would “pass over” the homes in which the Jews lived, and which had the Paschal blood sprinkled on its doorpost.
This was the night of the formation of Klal Yisrael, when Hashem distinguished us from the nations. This required commitment, as all males had to undergo circumcision, which is the sign that one joins the covenant with Hashem. One thereby proclaimed, that he embraced a lifestyle based on obedience to Hashem’s Will, and obtainment of personal holiness.
The lesson of the Korban Pesach is very relevant today. For more than three thousand years, the Jews were tortured and oppressed, by all the Peoples with whom we have interacted; and only recently have we begun to recover, from the decree of annihilation at the hands of the Nazis Y”S.
In the wake of the devastation of the Holocaust, a new determination to prevent a repeat of the extermination took hold, expressed in the words, “Never Again!” This spirit found fulfillment in support of Israel and the development of its formidable military prowess.
Israel and the Jews, have every right and, indeed the obligation, to oppose their lethal enemies, with all the resources at their disposal. But the lesson of Parshat HaChodesh, is that the even though redemption does require the destruction of our enemies, it also demands that we become worthy of Hashem’s protection, by dedicating ourselves to His service.
In this season of Geula (Redemption)–let us be inspired to rededicate ourselves to fulfilling our spiritual ideals and adopting intelligent policies–to counter the insidious schemes of our numerous enemies. May we merit to experience the complete Geula speedily and in our times.
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—Rabbi Reuven Mann