by Rabbi Jay Spero
Spero at 862-9546 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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The story line of this week’s portion is the last three of the ten plagues,
and the exodus from Egypt.
Before the last of the ten plagues, the plague of the first born, Hashem told
Moshe to command the Jews a seemingly strange commandment: "Speak to the
entire assembly of Israel saying: On the tenth of this month they shall take for
themselves, each man a lamb for a family." (This commandment is commonly
known as the "Korban Pesach", or the sacrifice of the paschal lamb;
Shemos 12:3). They were then told to slaughter the lamb, eat it, and put the
blood of the lamb on their doorposts, and this would be a protection for them
(from the angel of death; summary of 12:4-13).
What is the meaning of this commandment? How could the slaughtering of a lamb,
eating it, and placing the blood on the doorpost be a merit which would protect
them from the angel of death during the plague of the first born. And why was
this an important rite for the Jews to perform shortly before they were taken
out of Egypt?
In his work Shelah, Rabbi Isiah Horowitz writes an explanation. He writes that
the purpose of the slaughtering of the lamb is first and foremost to demonstrate
Hashem’s superiority over all powers, both in heaven and on earth. Hashem had
endowed many agents with powers that could lead some to the erroneous believe
that there was more than one Hashem. The Egyptians held the lamb to be the most
powerful amongst the gods. The discrediting of the lamb, which was held dear by
the most powerful and influential empire of its time, would shatter the belief
that the gods were an independent source of power. While in Egypt, the Jews had
unfortunately gotten involved with idol worship. In order for the Jews to be
worthy of the exodus they had to show that they repudiated the belief in the
power of the Egyptian god, and they understood that the source of all power lies
only with Hashem.
The Jews were not taken out of Egypt to be like the other nations. "And I
will take you to Me as a people (Hashem speaking to the Jews; Shemos 6:7). The
Jews were taken out to receive the Torah, thereby becoming a special nation: to
teach the world ethics and morality.
The slaughtering of the lamb would show the impotence of the Egyptian god, and
even more, the impotence of the Egyptian lifestyle.
This would be a sanctification of Hashem’s name, and would show the Jews were
ready to be a light unto the nations.
Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac
Synagogue in Buffalo.