Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Parashas Bo

V’haya lachem l’mishmeres ad arba’ah asar yom ... And it shall be for safekeeping until the fourteenth day (Shemos 12:6).

Rashi poses a question: Why was it necessary to select the animal used for the first korban Pesach on the 10th of Nisan and watch it until the fourteenth, a requirement that was never repeated? He answers by citing a Mechilta. R. Masya ben Cheresh said: Scripture (Yechezkel 16:8) teaches, And I [G-d] passed over you and I saw you and behold, the time was a time of love - i.e., the time had come to fulfill the vow that I made to Avraham that I would redeem his sons. But they did not have mitzvos in which they were absorbed which would have brought them redemption, as the verse (ibid.) states: and you [Israel] were naked and bare. He [G-d] therefore provided them with two mitzvos - the blood of the Pesach and the blood of circumcision.

Rashi noted that there is a clear difference between the offering of the original korban Pesach and those offered subsequently, a discrepancy that has obvious significance. If we interpret the word l’mishmeres at the beginning of the pasuk as indicating that one had to select the animal a number of days beforehand so as to be sure that the animal was free of any blemishes that would disqualify its use as a korban, why was there no such command in later years when a blemish would also disqualify the animal? That clarified, we might also ask how does the citation from the Mechilta answer the question?

The Mechilta also seems to be somewhat unclear. The first part of the verse suggests that Hakadosh Baruch Hu figuratively looked at His calendar and saw that the time to fulfill His promise to Avraham had arrived. If this was the reason for the redemption, what difference would it make if the nation was naked and bare? Secondly, how do the mitzvos of circumcision and korban Pesach serve to rectify this deficiency anymore than any other mitzvah. If Am Yisrael required something to prove their readiness for redemption, why these two mitzvos? One might suggest that these two were chosen, for they have special import in that they are the only mitzvos aseh for which the punishment for failure to fulfill them is kares. This is somewhat disingenuous, however, for G-d could have chosen to make any of the 246 other mitzvos aseh punishable by kares!

These questions belie a more common one often posed by our children and students. If G-d knows what is going on in my head, if He is truly a yodeia machshavos, why do I need to enunciate my tefillos or even do mitzvos? Interestingly, Rashi [12:13, c.v. v’ra’isi es ha-dam] writes in regard to the commandment that they paint their door posts with blood: Everything is revealed to Him. However G-d says, I use My eyes to see that you are absorbed in My mitzvos and then I pass over you. Clearly, as far as G-d is concerned, actions speak louder than words or thoughts.

One might recognize G-d’s power and even acknowledge His dominion. However, if man is not “absorbed” in the performance of His mitzvos, they are but a fleeting thought that does not bear witness to his essence. The redemption from Egypt was not only time bound in the sense of being dependent upon reaching the appropriate time in history for Israel to begin its Divine mission. It was also bound by the people having reached a level of commitment that takes a demonstration of absorption in mitzvos to prove. Perhaps the mishmeres called for before the offering of the original korban Pesach was not simply to determine whether or not there was a blemish in the animal chosen. It was also a period of time called for to determine that there was no blemish in Am Yisrael - that she was absorbed in mitzvos and thus truly ready for redemption.

Two mitzvos - korban Pesach and circumcision - bear witness to Am Yisrael’s perfection, for they are the two acts that symbolize the special covenant between G-d and man; circumcision on the personal level and Pesach on the national level. It is thus fitting that they are the only mitzvos aseh for which the punishment is kares, for failure to fulfill them is a declaration that I have no connection - either privately or publicly - with the Covenant with G-d. And that Covenant has to be backed by actions, for words by nature cannot create an eternal bond. Just as the bond between man and woman is not accomplished by verbalization but rather, through actual kinyan, so too does the relationship between G-d and man demand action and absorption in His mitzvos.

1 comment:

Garnel Ironheart said...

Excellent post. One can stretch the question even further: Since God is omniscient and omnipresent, why do any rituals or institutions exist in Judaism at all? What, if I offer a sacrific at the Beis HaMikdash God gets the "sweet savour" but if I do it in outer Khazakstan he doesn't?
But it all revolves around us. God gave us the Torah for our benefit, not His since He is already perfect. The activities we go through are for our perfection and that is what makes them important.