Bo 5761

Volume 15, Issue 15

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We read in this week’s parashah of the mitzvah to sacrifice a Korban Pesach and to observe certain laws while eating the meat of the sacrifice. We also read of the commandment that the Jews in Egypt place some of the blood of the Korban Pesach on the lintels and doorposts of their homes. Immediately following this, we read (12:28), “Bnei Yisrael went and did as Hashem commanded Moshe and Aharon, so did they do.”

Rashi comments that the phrase, “So did they do,” refers to Moshe and Aharon, i.e., Moshe and Aharon, too, did as Hashem had commanded. What is this teaching us? asks R’ Moshe Feinstein z”l (died 1986). Would I have thought that Moshe and Aharon did not fulfill Hashem’s command? He explains:

There are some who argue that more people can be attracted to believe in Hashem and to observe some of the mitzvot if we do not demand full observance, or if we rule leniently even when such a ruling is not halachically justified. This is wrong, says R’ Feinstein. Indeed, it is the desire of the yetzer hara that people not be meticulous in their mitzvah observance. This is what the verse is teaching: Moshe and Aharon did not attempt to modify Hashem’s command in order to influence the weaker members of their generation; they did exactly as Hashem commanded.

Or: There are those who argue that the mitzvot are only for those who need them, but if one can believe in Hashem without the mitzvot, he can modify or even disregard the law. This too is wrong, for certainly Moshe and Aharon did not “need” a Korban Pesach in order to remember the Exodus. Nevertheless, Moshe and Aharon did as Hashem commanded. (Darash Moshe)

“Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Egypt, saying, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of the months . . .’” (12:1)

Why, asks R’ Yisrael Dan Taub shlita (the “Modzitzer Rebbe”), was the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh / sanctifying the new moon given specifically in Egypt? And, why was it given specifically when the Jewish People were “naked and bare” (see Yechezkel 16:7), i.e., devoid of mitzvot? He explains:

The midrash (Devarim Rabbah 2:14) relates that when the ministering angels asked Hashem when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur would fall, Hashem answered: “You’re asking Me? You and I will go to the earthly bet din / court [and ask them when they will sanctify the new moon, which, in turn, will determine when the holidays will fall].” This teaches, says R’ Taub, that through the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh the Jewish People reach a level where even the ministering angels need them.

The Sages teach that Bnei Yisrael in Egypt fell to the 49th level of tumah / impurity. When Hashem wanted to elevate the Jewish People from that level to the 49th level of holiness (the highest that an ordinary mortal can reach), He gave them the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh through which they could rise to a level higher than the angels. This is why Hashem gave Bnei Yisrael this mitzvah in Egypt.

Rashi writes that when Hashem taught Moshe this mitzvah, He showed Moshe “the moon in its smallness.” This teaches, R’ Taub explains, that the way to rise to a lofty plane is through humility (i.e., smallness). Another matter hinted at in Rashi’s comment is that just as the moon is sanctified when it is at its smallest (i.e., at the new moon), so, even when the Jewish People have fallen to the lowest levels of tumah and are devoid of mitzvot, they can still sanctify themselves. Even at such a time, a Jew should fulfill the mitzvot; he should not wait until he has reached a lofty spiritual level. (Quoted at

“Hashem will pass through to smite Egypt, and He will see the blood that is on the lintel and the two doorposts . . . You shall observe this matter as a decree for yourself and for your children forever.” (12:23-24)

R’ Asher Anshel Katz z”l (Hungary; early 20th century) observes: We do not observe the ritual of placing blood on the lintel and the doorposts every year “forever.” To the contrary, that was done only once, in Egypt. Rather, the verse is teaching us about an attitude that we should have.

Chazal praise the courage displayed by Bnei Yisrael in slaughtering lambs for the Pesach sacrifice, and advertising their deeds by placing the blood on the lintel and doorposts. Lambs, after all, were sacred to the Egyptians. It is this courage and commitment which we are enjoined to observe “as a decree” for ourselves and for our children forever. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Chodesh Ha’aviv p.132)

“It was at midnight, that Hashem smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt . . .” (12:29)

R’ Menachem Mendel Schneerson z”l (1789-1866; the third “Lubavitcher Rebbe”; known as the “Tzemach Tzeddek”) writes: The Jews in Egypt had sunk to the 49th gate of impurity until, morally and spiritually, they were virtually indistinguishable from the Egyptians. Thus, when Hashem passed over the homes of the Jewish firstborn and killed only the Egyptian firstborn, the Divine attribute of justice argued: “How are these [the Jews] any different from these [the Egyptians]? These are idol- worshippers, and these are idol-worshippers!”

Nevertheless, Hashem chose to extract the Bnei Yisrael from Egypt and acquire them as His people. This is why the plague of the firstborn occurred precisely at midnight. Kabbalists teach that the first half of the night relates to the Divine attribute of gevurah / strictness or justice, while the second half relates to the Divine attribute of chessed / benevolence. Midnight is the point that joins and supersedes both attributes, since the power to join two opposites can only come from something which transcends their differences. “Midnight” is thus an expression of a divine involvement in creation that transcends all standard criteria for punishment or reward. (Ohr Ha’Torah Quoted at

“And it shall be a sign upon your arm, and an ornament between your eyes . . .” (13:16)

The gemara (Menachot 43b) teaches: Bnei Yisrael are beloved [to Hashem], for Hashem has surrounded them with mitzvot: tefilin on their heads, tefilin on their arms, tzitzit on their garments, and mezuzot on their doors. Regarding this, King David said (Tehilim 119:164), “Seven times a day I have praised You for Your righteous ordinances.” [Rashi explains: The head tefilin and the arm tefilin plus the four corners of tzitzit plus one mezuzah equal seven.] The sage Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov adds, “If one has tefilin on his head, tefilin on his arm, tzitzit on his garment, and a mezuzah on his door, there is a presumption that he will not sin.”

R’ Yitzchak Yaakov Reines z”l (1841-1915; rosh yeshiva in Lida, Belarus and Founder of the Mizrachi) asks: What is it about tefilin, tzitzit and mezuzah that make the Jew especially beloved to Hashem? And, how does the fact that a person performs these mitzvot create a presumption that he will not sin? He explains:

A person’s tefilin, tzitzit and mezuzah advertise him as a proud Jew, for one who belongs to a group, a society or a club does not show off the uniform of that group if he is not proud to belong to it. And, one who is proud of his affiliation and his uniform does not betray the other members of his group for that embarrasses both the uniform and its wearer. This is why the very fact that a person performs these mitzvot creates a presumption that he will not sin.

A general does not allow a soldier to wear his uniform in public if he has reason to be ashamed of the soldier. Thus, the fact that Hashem has surrounded us with mitzvot - tefilin, tzitzit and mezuzot - demonstrates His love for us. (Ohr Chadash Al Zion, Part VI, Ch. 7, p. 168)

Introductions . . .

In this feature, we present excerpts from the introductions to famous (and not so famous) works. This week, we present the third installment of Rambam’s introduction to his halachic code, Mishneh Torah.

From Rav Ashi [the author of the Babylonian Talmud] back to Moshe Rabbenu was forty generations: 1) Rav Ashi; 2) Rava; 3) Rabbah; 4) Rav Huna; 5) Rabbi Yochanan, Rav and Shmuel; 6) Rabbenu Hakadosh; 7) his father, Rabban Shimon; 8) his father, Rabban Gamliel; 9) his father, Rabban Shimon; 10) his father, Rabban Gamliel the Elder; 11) his father, Rabban Shimon; 12) his father, Hillel, together with Shammai; 13) Shemayah and Avtalyon; 14) Yehuda [ben Tabai] and Shimon [ben Shetach]; 15) Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nitai of Arbel; 16) Yose ben Yo’ezer and Yosef ben Yochanan; 17) Antignos [of Socho]; 18) Shimon Ha’tzaddik; 19) Ezra; 20) Baruch [ben Neriah]; 21) Yirmiyah; 22) Tzefaniah; 23) Chabakuk; 24) Nachum; 25) Yoel; 26) Michah; 27) Yishayah; 28) Amos; 29) Hoshea; 30) Zechariah; [Ed. note: Numbers 21 through 29 are the prophets mentioned in the books of Tanach by the same name. Number 30 is not the same prophet Zechariah as in the book by that name.] 31) Yehoyada; 32) Elisha; 33) Eliyahu; 34) Achiyah; 35) [King] David; 36) Shmuel; 37) Eli; 38) Pinchas; 39) Yehoshua; 40) Moshe, who received the Torah from Hashem. Thus, all can trace their Torah back to Hashem. [Rambam notes that Number 34, Achiyah, was a member of the generation of the Exodus and lived hundreds of years. Although he actually heard the Torah being taught by Moshe, he did not attain prominence as a teacher until after King David’s reign.]

All the sages listed here are simply the greatest ones of their generations. Some were heads of yeshivot, some were [political] heads of their generations, and some were members of the Sanhedrin. With them in each generation were thousands or tens of thousands of sages.

Ravina and Rav Ashi [#1, above] are the last sages of the gemara. Rav Ashi was the one who composed the gemara in the land of Shinar approximately 100 years after Rabbi Yochanan composed the Talmud Yerushalmi. The nature of the two Talmuds is to explain the words of the Mishnah and its depths, and the matters which arose in every court from the days of Rabbenu Hakadosh [who wrote the Mishnah] until the gemara was written.