Just before the last plague, as the Bnei Yisrael get ready to be redeemed from Egypt, the Pasuk [Shemos 12:2] details the first commandment of the Torah: “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you”. It is the commandment to sanctify every new month. The next Pasuk declares: “Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month; each of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household.” As the Talmud [Pesachim 96a] explains; this verse only refers to the paschal lamb [Korban Pesach] sacrificed in Egypt, that it had to be taken from the flock on the tenth of the first month, but this did not apply to the paschal-lamb offered by future generations.
The Ramban raises a difficulty with the above verses: Prior to ordering the Mitzva of sanctifying the new month the Pasuk should have stated; “Speak to the whole community of Israel”, as that Mitzva concerns all Bnei Yisrael. The Ramban answers: That as stated in the Talmud [Rosh Hashana 25b], the sanctification of the new month can only occur if experts such as Moshe and Aaron sanctify it, therefore the Pasuk addresses specifically Moshe and Aaron to teach us that only the Beth Din could sanctify the new moon.
The Ramban goes on to explain: that’s the reason for, Bnei Yisrael were ordered “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months” so that the 12 months of the year will refer to the incredible miracles of the exodus from Egypt. This will serve as a reminder to the Jewish Nation that it had lived an exceptional era where the miracles were performed openly, for all to see. Similarly, the Sabbath Day is remembered by counting the first day from the Sabbath, the second day from the Sabbath, so each day serves as a reminder of the Sabbath. So too, the exodus of Egypt, is to constantly be remembered as it’s the cornerstone of Am Yisrael. They all openly witnessed Hashem’s Glory and accepted to serve him.
Thus, we could contest that a major part of the Pasuk remains unexplained. Indeed, what’s the reason for ordering the Mitzva of sanctifying the new moon in Egypt, while all the other Mitzvos were given on Mount Sinai? It could be argued that it was done so in order to provide the date when to draw the lamb and when to sacrifice it. This reasoning is hardly true, as verse [12:3] above, also ordered the Mitzva of Korban Pesach, but it was only for that specific one, which was performed in Egypt, and the Mitzva was commanded anew on Mount Sinai, so why not do so for the Mitzva of sanctifying the month? Let’s analyze the underlying message. The Midrash [Shemos Rabbah 16:2] explains the words of the Pasuk: “Draw and take for yourselves” – draw your hands away from idolatry and take for yourselves a sheep for the mitzvah [of Korban Pesach]. This facet of the Mitzva is obviously fundamental – it enabled klal Yisrael to separate from their associations with the idolatry of Egypt [the object of which was the sheep] and to worship Hashem instead. But there is something puzzling here: this aspect of korban pesach is not mentioned before this point in the text; it is entirely absent from Hashem’s speech to Moshe. It appears that Moshe himself added this facet of the offering without being instructed to do so by Hashem! Bnei Yisrael had reached the deepest level of spiritual calamity in their Egyptian exile – that stage is called the forty-ninth level of spiritual impurity. Had they sunk any lower, they would have been so imbued with alien culture and depravity that they could never have been redeemed, and for this reason the Exodus took place earlier than originally intended. The word tumah [impurity] is etymologically related to the word timtum, which means “spiritual blockage.” A person under the influence of tumah becomes unreceptive and closed to any positive spiritual forces; he loses his ability to change and develop in response to perception of the Divine. One aspect of Klal Yisrael’s spiritual depravity in Egypt was their inability to correctly use their power of speech. Indeed, the Arizal notes that the word Pesach can is composed by two words – peh sach, “the mouth speaks.” The inability of klal Yisrael to express themselves in their oppression was relieved when the Exodus came, enabling them to speak freely and to praise Hashem once again. This is the deeper meaning behind the halachah which demands that Hallel be sung while offering and eating the Korban Pesach. Every aspect of the offering [which is itself called “Pesach”] had to reflect the joy and elation at the Exodus and
the miraculous redemption of Am Yisrael while the Egyptian lost all their firstborn. This was the peh sach – the mouths of klal Yisrael singing praises to Hashem for the miracles He had wrought. Thus, a difficulty arises: Since klal Yisrael were in a state of spiritual poverty, trapped and silenced by their exile, how were they suddenly able to burst into praises? We have just learned that a person under the influence of impurity becomes immune to the perception of the Divine. Indeed, the Talmud [Yerushalmi Sukkah 3:1] states: The reason that a dried-up Lulav cannot be used is; as the Pasuk says: “The dead cannot praise God.” [Tehilim 115:17]. This teaches us that objects, and people, who are considered dead, either physically or spiritually, cannot praise Hashem; they are immune to the sensitivity and the need to do so. klal Yisrael in Egypt were in a spiritually dead state, they were therefore incapable of bursting forth with praise and thanks to Hashem. Moshe realized that problem, Klal Yisrael were so spiritually desensitized that they could not succeed in offering the Korban Pesach in the proper manner. He had therefore to order a corrective action prior, which is to “Draw and take for yourselves a sheep,” so they would first renege the idols.
The Verse states: “One who offers to the gods will be excommunicated [Cheirem],” [Shemos 22:19]. The Midrash [Shemos Rabbah 16:2] derives from it; even if someone is sick and the only way to save his life is to make an offering to an idol, he‘s not allowed to do so. Since anyone who offers to idols is excommunicated, it is better for him to die of his illness than to be excommunicated in this world… it is important to note that the word cheirem numerical value is 248 – the number of limbs in the human body. This informs us that idolatry completely pollutes every aspect of the person. However, someone who achieves the opposite and distances himself from idol worshipping merits that every aspect of his person returns to life.
The Mitzva of sanctifying the new moon teaches us something even more unique and profound. The person’s life resembles the moon gravitation. When it’s in direct axle with the Sun it receives more rays of light and therefore shines more. However, life hurdles are designed to challenge the person’s position and to move him around, so often time he will be in darkness with a very small portion of light. This is exactly the time to seek Hashem, despite the darkness and the difficulty the person will have to reconnect. Thus, this effort is key to his renewal and growth.
This is the only road to elevate himself closer to Hashem. There are only circular ways in life and no direct road, just like the moon. The Yetzer Hara uses those times of low levels to influence the person to resort to abandon to seek closeness to Hashem, as it seems he never succeeds. He’s only going in circles and is unable to remain in the same position, just as a person lost in the desert who all his efforts are in vain. However, in spirituality it’s not the case, the very effort not to listen to the Yetzer Hara and to anyway seek again closeness to Hashem is the cornerstone of the Jewish philosophy. We may be at the same spot we were a month ago, just like the moon, but we’re not at the same elevation, we’re on a much higher level.
Therefore, this Mitzva was given first and in Egypt, as it defines the only path to serve Hashem the correct way. Definitely, the Tzadik who managed to remain in direct axle with Hashem is commendable. However, Hashem gains greater comfort from a person capable of renewing himself. This is a true Tzadik! This is the reason this Mitzva was instructed with a seemingly superfluous word “ לָ כָם ” [for you]. All commentators had difficulties explaining it.
Thus, last week I merited to comprehend a fundamental point that the Zohar stresses, and said it over in a Shiur on the Parasha last week in Yerushalayim. Despite that generally it is required to crown the mind over the body in order to tame the bodily temptations, which is referred as “ ” מָ לָך which is an acronym for מוֹ חָ, לֵָָב, כָּבֵד , [mind, heart, liver which are the 3 places where the soul is attached]. Though sometimes it is required to change the order, as Bnei Yisrael did before accepting the Torah, the said “ ” נָ עָ שָה וָ נָ שָ מָע first we will accomplish then we will understand. In other words, they put forth the trust which relies exclusively on the heart. Sometimes it is required to change the acronym’s order, which will become “ לָ כָם ” meaning; Heart, Liver then Mind.
This fundamental is illustrated in the following Psukim “Bear in your heart that the Hashem alone is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other” [Devarim 4:39] and again “Bear in your heart that the Hashem your God disciplines you just as a man disciplines his son.” [Devarim 8:5]. There are limitations to the mind, it’s then required to function with the trust in Hashem. The possibility for a person to constantly renew himself despite falling is above the mind comprehension. Only with the trust in Hashem a person will not despair!
By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann – Din Torah Of North Miami Beach
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