Korban Pesach: The Emergence of Community

In lieu of a Parsha Post, this week’s post is a Pesach Dvar Torah.  As we prepare to sit down to our Seder table, and relate the story of our enslavement and miraculous redemption, the Sages teach that: כל המרבה לספר, הרי זה משבח – The more one speaks about the miracles of our Exodus and Redemption, the more praiseworthy it is. 

As we prepare for Chag Ha’Pesach, the time of our freedom, we recall the Korban Pesach (Paschal Sacrifice) that was offered when the Beis Ha’Mikdash stood.  In our times, in its stead, we place the zeroah – the roasted bone – on our Seder table; a paltry reminder of the glorious Temple service, may it be rebuilt immediately and in our days. 

At the cusp of our freedom, while still in the land of Egypt, Hashem commanded the Israelites regarding the Korban Pesach

דַּבְּרוּ, אֶל-כָּל-עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר, בֶּעָשֹׂר, לַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה:  וְיִקְחוּ לָהֶם, אִישׁ שֶׂה לְבֵית-אָבֹת שֶׂה לַבָּיִת – (And Hashem commanded Moshe and Aharon) Speak to the entire assembly of Israel, saying: On the 10th of this month (of Nissan), they shall take to them every man a lamb, a lamb for a household;

וְאִם-יִמְעַט הַבַּיִת, מִהְיוֹת מִשֶּׂה–וְלָקַח הוּא וּשְׁכֵנוֹ הַקָּרֹב אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ, בְּמִכְסַת נְפָשֹׁת:  אִישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ תָּכֹסּוּ עַל-הַשֶּׂה – And if the household is not sufficient for a lamb, then he and his neighbor close to his household shall take it together, according to the number of souls, each man according to what he can eat is counted for the lamb (Shemos 12:3-4).

What is the significance of this korban, which represents our freedom as a nation reborn, and through which we were redeemed from slavery? 

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l writes: “שֶׂה לְבֵית-אָבֹת–שֶׂה לַבָּיִת – Interestingly, the symbol of redemption in the Torah is the korban Pesach, which is a very strange sacrifice.  The concept of chaburah, community, is completely nonexistent in regard to other offerings… Pesach has been linked by the Torah with chaburah to such an extent that one sage is of the opinion that an individual cannot offer the korban Pesach; only a group may do so (Pesachim 91a).  The Pesach sacrifice differs from all other sacrifices because it is a symbol of cherus, freedom.  The Torah calls the korban Pesach ‘a lamb for each parental home, a lamb for each household’ because freedom expresses itself in the realm of bayis, of community, of being together.  Bayis is a new category which was revealed to the Jews as they gained their freedom.”

R’ S.R. Hirsch (Shemos 1:1) writes that there would come a time when the nation, oppressed and tortured by Pharaoh, would lie on the ground, seemingly easy prey for the vultures of history.  But then, at G-d’s call, the nation would rise up again to eternal life.  At that time, Gd would begin the up-building of his people not from the “rooftop” – not from the leadership or the highest echelon – but from the rocklike foundation of the homeseh l’bais avos, seh la’bayis – namely, from family ties, the mutual bonds that unite parents and their children… This is the heart and soul of the family: Each son builds his own home as a branch of his parents’ home, and every father lives on in his children and grandchildren.  Parents with their children, and children with their parents, knit together and united forever – this is the root of Israel’s eternal flowering.  Herein lies the secret of the eternity of the Jewish people.

R’ Soloveitchik continues: “וְלָקַח הוּא וּשְׁכֵנוֹ הַקָּרֹב אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ, בְּמִכְסַת נְפָשֹׁת: אִישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ – The halacha coined the term chaburah with reference to the group gathering together for this ceremonial offering.  A new fellowship was formed around the korban Pesach; a new community sprang into existence.  Being together, living with each other, sharing something many possess in common was made possible by the ceremony of the korban Pesach.   

“The slave suddenly realizes that the little he has saved up for himself, a single lamb, is too much for him.  The slave spontaneously does something he would never have believed he was capable of doing: he knocks on the door of his neighbor, whom he had never noticed, inviting him to share the lamb with him and eat together.  No wonder our Seder commences with the declaration, Ha lachma anya, this is the bread of poverty. 

“The ceremony of the Passover meal, centered around the korban Pesach, aims at the emergence of the new chessed community – for chessed is the characteristic mark of the free man.  The bondsman is not spiritually capable of joining the chessed community; he is too much concerned with himself, too insecure, too fearful regarding the morrow, too humiliated to think of someone else, too frightened and too meek.  The birth of the chessed community – of a nation within which people unite, give things away, care for each other, share what they possess – is symbolized by the Korban Pesach.  G-d did not need the Korban Pesach; He had no interest in the sacrifice.  He simply wanted the people – slaves who had just come out of the house of bondage – to emerge from their isolation and insane self-centeredness into the chessed community, where the little that man has is too much for himself” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.86-87).

As so, as we sit around the Seder table, we place the roasted bone on our Seder plate.  While it is a paltry and sad reminder of all that we lost when the Batei Mikdash (First and Second Temples) were destroyed, it is, nevertheless, a glorious reminder of the people that we are, the ideals that we live by, the community we have built and share, and the essence of our existence. 

A lamb for each household; a lamb for the father’s house; a lamb for each man and his neighbor who is close to his house

My brother told me the following humorous, true story:

A certain family in New Jersey was making a bar mitzvah and needed homes to put up their guests.  Their neighbors would be away that Shabbos, and they offered the ba’al ha’simcha (family of the bar mitzvah boy) the use of their home.  A family was put up in the neighbors home.

On Shabbos, somehow or another, the alarm in the home went off.  The police showed up.  They inquired of those staying in the home if this was their residence.  They answered that it was not.  They asked if they knew the pass code for the alarm; they answered that they did not. They asked if they knew the names of the family who lived in this house…they did not!  Who are you, and what are you doing in this home, the astonished police officers asked…?!

With the command to offer the Korban Pesach, as we stood poised to march from slavery to freedom, we were taught what it means to be a free Jew.  We live, not only for ourselves, but for our homes, our fathers house, for our neighbors and friends, for those who live near and those who live far.  The truest mark of our freedom is the ability to reach outward, to knock on the door of another, to invite him to our table, as, finally free, we are able to say: We have too much for ourselves, please join us, let’s share.

May we merit that this Shabbos ha’Gadol (the Great Shabbos that precedes Pesach), be truly great, with the everlasting fulfillment of:

הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם, אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא–לִפְנֵי, בּוֹא יוֹם ה’ הַגָּדוֹל, וְהַנּוֹרָא –  Behold I am sending before you Eliyahu the prophet, before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem (Malachi 3:23). 

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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