FMT: Parashas Bo 5781 – Jewish Pride

Prior to the firstborn plague Moshe summoned all the elders of Israel and said, “Go, pick out lambs for your families, and slaughter the Passover offering. Take a bunch of hyssops, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts. None of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning.” [Shemos 12:21-22]. Rashi explains that Hashem told the Bnei Yisrael the time has arrived for Me to accomplish the oath I swore to Avraham to redeem his children. Though, they had no merit on which to base the redemption, as stated “You were still naked and bare.” Hence, Hashem asked them to perform two Mitzvos, to circumcise and to sacrifice openly a lamb despite being an Egyptian deity. Then, they had to mix both bloods and to apply them on the doorposts and the lintel, as referred in the following Verse: “When I passed over you and saw you wallowing in your bloods, I said to you: “Live despite your bloods.” Rashi’s statement raises several difficulties: If the purpose was to have them perform good deeds to deserve the salvation, then why the need to paint the doors with it. Though, if the purpose was to show the Egyptians that we have departed from Avoda Zara, why the requirement to mix the bloods? This is the only time the Torah requires such a strange act, why? The Maharal [Gur Arye, Shemos 12:6] explains; Hashem requested purposely these two bloods to be mixed, as so far, the Bnei Yisrael were slave to Pharaoh – and by circumcising they became slaves of Hashem. The circumcision is a sign that one registered to be a slave to Hashem. Until that day we were Pharaoh’s slaves, we were required to change status, and to enact a sign that proves that we came out of Pharaoh’s slavery to become servants of Hashem. Thus, enacting a sign is not sufficient, as the purpose of a slave is to perform work. Therefore Hashem requested that we accomplish the Mitzva of Korban Pesach. Also, doing the Korban Pesach alone would not suffice as that could be interpreted as a one-time commitment to Hashem. What was required in those last 5 days in Egypt to deserve the flamboyant exodus Hashem had promised to Avraham, was a pledge that would irrevocably advocates to the world that the Bnei Yisrael had definitely espoused the way of their forefathers. The Zohar informs us that as long as the Bris Mila is not performed on a person, his soul, Neshama, cannot inhabit his body. The Neshama is a celestial light as stated in the Proverbs [20:27]: “The soul of man is the lamp of Hashem revealing all his inmost parts.” As soon as it enters the body, the darkness fades, which the ability to do witchcraft. All these practices draw their strength from forces of darkness and impurity, and a pure body is much less efficient at sorcery. According to this, it is understandable why the mixing of the two bloods was required, just as the body and the soul together make up the human fabric, so too the Jewish fabric requires “actions and thoughts.” Missing one of them will jeopardize our proximity to Hashem. The Shlah Hakadosh also uses Rashi’s explanation to elucidate; since the Bris Mila and the Korban Pesach represent “action and thoughts” and in extension “body and soul”, the painting of the doorposts was a correction to Adam’s sin. He had sinned with “action and thoughts”, and the Jews by brazenly declare their total commitment to Hashem, were able to return the world to its original stage at the time of creation. When the spirit is enslaved to evil inclination, then there is a disconnect that leads to the loss of personality. Hence, when Hashem asked Adam after the sin “where are you?” it did not mean physically, as no one can hide from Hashem, but figuratively “what have you become?” The sin has made him the property of the evil angels who can now dispose of him at will. So, when the Jews took the lamb and attached it for 5 days to their bed, it was meant as an introspection, “how fool have we became to make a deity out of it”. It was also meant to inform the Egyptians that we were not only departing from their lands, but also from their way of life. The Egyptians obviously did not believe it, the probably thought it was because of the ambient influence due to the plagues. Thus, when they saw the blood of the doors they understood, it was serious. “Departing from evil” is only half the battle, “Doing good deeds” is the other half. Here’s a story to illustrate our message: In the town of Zhytomyr, where the venerable Rabbi Zev Volf led the community, things had gone wrong one too many times in the kosher slaughterhouse. Each time the source was the same: the carelessness of the shochet, who did not seem to appreciate the importance of his job and the weighty responsibility it entailed. Feeling he had no choice, Rabbi Zev Volf forbade the shochet to continue slaughtering animals in the city. At first, the deposed shochet accepted the ruling, but as time passed a thought crossed his mind: “The rabbi only revoked permission to slaughter in the city of Zhytomyr but never prohibited me from slaughtering in the countryside. I will travel there and offer my services wherever needed.” With a hopeful heart, he took his bag of slaughtering knives, some food and clothing, and began his trek. Upon arriving in a small village, he went to the local inn that was managed by a Jew. After praying, he turned to the wife of the innkeeper and offered his services. To his dismay, she said the regular shochet had already passed through earlier that morning and done the work. The deposed shochet sighed and continued on his way, trudging through the forest, feeling hopeless and downhearted. As the sun set, a band of robbers surrounded him. They tied him up and dragged him to their hideout. A thought popped into his mind, and he said to his captors, “Why would you treat one your own like this?” Seeing that they were caught by surprise, the shochet smiled and explained, “I am also in this business. I am certain I can be a useful member of the gang,” and he pointed to his bag of slaughtering knives. His captors’ eyes lit up when they saw the sharp weapons. They immediately untied him, accepted him into their ranks, and set him to work polishing their daggers. Initially, his conscience weighed on him and he constantly thought of escape, but the right opportunity never arose. With time, he began to mimic his newfound friends, and the former shochet morphed into a remorseless bandit, a full-fledged member of the team. Years passed. One morning at dawn he waited for prey at a crossroads leading to the city of Mezhyrichi. A small carriage passed by and he pounced on the passenger, dragged him deep into the forest, and demanded his money. The captive took out his torn pouch and handed over the few coins he had. The disappointed robber drew his sword to kill the poor soul. The captive looked at the bandit with pleading eyes and begged, “I am in your hands; do to me as you wish. But please grant me one final request. Allow me to wash my hands according to Jewish tradition, recite my morning blessings, read the Shema prayer, and recite the final confession.” The bandit agreed and the captive washed his hands and began to chant the morning Modeh Ani slowly and emotionally. “My G-d, the soul that You have placed within me is pure, You created it; You formed it; You have breathed it into me, and You preserve it within me. And You will take it from me in the future…” Engrossed in his prayer, he did not notice the change coming over his captor. The bandit was pale, sweat beaded on his face, and he began to shake uncontrollably. The thump of the bandit falling to the ground aroused the captive from his reverie. With the small amount of water he had, he managed to revive him from his faint. When the captor regained his composure, he managed to utter a few shaky words. “Rebbe, do you recognize me?” Tears flowed from his eyes. “I was once the shochet of Zhytomyr, whom you deposed many years ago.” Reb Zev Volf was astonished. “How did you get here? How did you fall so low?” The bandit recounted the events that had led him to this point, and a new wave of tears flowed down his face. “Rebbe,” he cried, “I want to return. Is there a way back for me?!” “The gates of teshuvah are never closed,” Reb Zev Volf replied. “The first step is to stop transgressing. Leave everything behind you. Leave this dark place and let’s travel together to my teacher, the Maggid of Mezritch. I am certain he will see the depth of your broken soul and will find a way to help you.” The bandit agreed and they continued to Mezritch together. After hearing the erstwhile shochet’s story from Reb Zev Volf, the Maggid summoned him and prescribed a path to spiritual healing. It was a difficult process, but he accepted it with love and joy. The time he spent in repentance was not very long, as he soon passed away. Very few people attended his funeral. Reb Zev Volf led the procession with a bowed head, and in his eulogy he noted how the man’s tragic trajectory had come about by his own doing, as he did not follow the Sages’ directive, “Be cautious in judgment.”

By Rabbi Fridmann * * 305.985.3461

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