Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman[1] related that in years past, while walking home from shul on Friday Night with his sons, occasionally a passerby would shout an anti-Semitic epithet from his car window as he sped away. Afterwards, Rabbi Finkelman would always make a point of telling his sons, “Boruch Hashem, it is apparent that we are Jews. We are supposed to stand out, and it is supposed to be apparent that we are different. We should be proud of who we are and that we have done our job.”

The holiday of “Pesach” received its name from the final plague that struck Egypt. G-d told the Jews, “ופסחתי עליכם – And I will skip over you.” This was G-d’s pledge that the Jewish homes would be impervious to the plague that would consume Egypt. Precisely at midnight the oldest member of every household in Egypt was afflicted with a devastating disease which caused them to writhe and thrash in sheer agony. Their families could do nothing but watch their leader die a slow horrible death.
What is the particular greatness of that miracle that it becomes central to the entire exodus? None of the ten plagues affected the Jews. If so, why is our salvation from the Plague of the Firstborn so much greater than any of the other plagues?
Prior to the final plague, Moshe instructed the Jews about the Korbon Pesach[2]. Four days prior to the actual offering, they were to bring a lamb – the Egyptian god - into their homes and tie it to their bedposts. Throughout those four days they were to carefully scrutinize the lamb to ensure that it had no blemishes. Then on the afternoon of the fourteenth of Nissan they were to slaughter the lamb in full view. They had to catch the blood and dip reeds into the blood so they could smear the blood on their doorposts. This ‘sign’ marked their house as a ‘Jewish home’. The lamb was to be roasted on an open fire and eaten that night. During that night, the Jews remained barricaded in their homes while the rest of Egypt was ravaged by the plague. 
Maharal[3] explains that the significance of the final plague was not the miracle per se[4]. Rather, the Service that the Jews busied themselves with prior to that night in effect symbolized that they were now a people unto themselves. By smearing the blood on their doorposts, they demarked their homes as an island within Egypt. Until that time, the Jews were unwittingly part of Egyptian society. But at that point they symbolized that they had completely severed all ties with the land that served as their host-country for more than two centuries.
The final plague was decreed against all of Egypt. But the Jews were no longer part of Egypt; they had effectually become a new nation! They sat inside their homes, walking sticks in hand, ready to leave with a moment’s notice. They may have physically still been within Egypt’s borders, but mentally, psychologically, and spiritually they had already departed. 
It is not the miracle of our being spared that we celebrate, but rather the reason why we were spared. We had become Klal Yisroel! Even before we received the Torah we had accepted upon ourselves to become a special nation.
The holiday of Pesach was so named to celebrate the transformation we underwent that night. Because we had become a new nation, we were not subject to any decree levied against Egypt. We were free of Egypt on all levels - free to be the Chosen People.

Our Sages explain that those Jews who did not want to leave Egypt never did. Tragically, eighty percent of Klal Yisroel perished during the plague of darkness.
Netziv notes that the eighty percent who died included many distinguished personalities. Many of them were prepared to receive the Torah and accept the yoke of G-d upon themselves. But they saw no reason to leave Egypt. Their prevailing feeling was that they could have added responsibilities without becoming an independent people. They could receive the Torah in Egypt and continue to enjoy Egyptian prosperity and bounty. Their mistaken outlook had tragic and devastating ramifications. The Torah nation had to be a new entity, without ties to any other nation or yoke.

The gemara[5] relates that when Haman sought to malign the Jews during his propaganda campaign to convince Achashveirosh to destroy the whole Jewish Nation, he told the king, “’The laws of the king they do not keep’[6] - They go around all year claiming ‘It’s Shabbos today; it’s Pesach today!’”
Haman’s intention was to prove to the king that the Jews were never available for work because they were always claiming that it was a holiday and they were not permitted to perform any work that day. Haman argued that they did not generate any income for Persian society, and, in fact, only caused a strain on the economy. 
Rabbi Nosson Gestetner zt’l[7] notes that Haman’s diction is perplexing. What did he mean “they go around all year claiming ‘It’s Shabbos today; it’s Pesach today!’” Pesach is only one week of the year. What did Haman mean that all year long the Jews claim it’s Shabbos/Pesach?
He answers that Haman specifically mentioned Pesach because it is the celebration of the Jews’ intrinsic and extrinsic differences. Haman was saying that even when it is not actually Pesach, the Jews still claim it’s Pesach in the sense that they must always maintain certain boundaries and distinctions. It may not be the holiday of Pesach per se, but the message of the holiday remains with them continually.[8]
Haman was complaining that Jews live a life of Shabbos and Pesach. They WANT to be different, and therefore they are a public nuisance and should be disposed of.  

Rabbi Leibel Chaitovsky[9] noted that during the first nine makkos the Jews were protected simply by virtue of the fact that they were Jews.
When it came time for the final plague of Makkas Bechoros however, it was no longer sufficient to just be a Jew. At that point the Jews would only be spared if they proved their unyielding and fearless loyalty to G-d.
The first nine plagues were external; there were outside stimuli that wreaked havoc upon the Egyptians. Therefore, being a Jew was enough to ward off those external forces.
Makkas Bechoros on the other hand, was an internal plague. Many of the Egyptians didn’t even know that they were firstborns. There was no outside event or stimulus that triggered the plague. It was G-d Himself who removed their spirit of life causing them to die. Therefore, to be spared from that plague the firstborn Jews had to demonstrate their internal loyalty.
Medrash relates that although the Jews were idolaters they merited redemption because they maintain their Jewish identity in three ways: they didn’t alter their language, mode of dress, and they retained their Jewish names.
Rabbi Chaitovsky noted that on the night of Makkas Bechoros, the Jews had to emphasize these three merits to prove that they were indeed different than the Egyptians.
To emphasize that they didn’t change their names, prior to offering the Korbon Pesach every Jew had to pre-register for it. They had to write down their names as belonging to a certain group offering the Korbon Pesach.  
To emphasize that they didn’t change their clothes they dressed in a distinctive manner that final night in Egypt. The Torah states that they had to eat the Korbon Pesach with their shoes on, belts tied, and walking sticks in hand.
To emphasize that they didn’t change their language they had to use their power of speech to recount and relate all of the miracles that had occurred until then, the mitzvah of haggadah.
That night they demonstrated their great dedication and loyalty and proved their worthiness to be taken out of the exile.

 “Pesach” celebrates what we became and our joy in accepting that role. G-d skipped over our homes because the decree simply did not apply to us. Pesach is the celebration of, “אתה בחרתנו מכל העמים - You have chosen us from among all the nations,” as well as our inner desire to live up the responsibility of being Chosen. 

“They go around all year claiming, ‘It’s Pesach today’”
“And I will skip over you”

[1] Mashgiach, Ohr HaChaim, Queens NY, and a personal rebbe
[2] Pascal Offering
[3] Gevuros Hashem, chapter 60
[4] When Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l quoted this Maharl he would explain, “The final plague is not about koontzin- tricks’. We aren’t impressed by koontzin and we don’t celebrate holidays simply because of a koontz.”
[5] Megilla 13b
[6] Esther 3
[7] L’horos Nosson (Moadim 2, Haggadah 132)
[8] We can add that Shabbos represents the same idea. A non-Jew is forbidden to keep Shabbos, while a Jew’s life revolves around Shabbos. The day itself symbolizes the distinction between Klal Yisroel and other nations.
[9] Eighth grade Rebbe at ASHAR and a wonderful personal inspiration 


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