Parshas HaChodesh: Lessons from the Korban Pesach

This Shabbos, Shabbos Parshas Shemini, is also Shabbos mevorchim Chodesh Nissan, the first month of the year (Shemos 12:2 with Rashi).  Nissan is the month of geulas Mitzrayim, the month of the miraculous redemption from Egypt, which we commemorate, relive and reenact each year on leil ha’Seder.

On this Shabbos, corresponding to Rosh Chodesh Nissan, a second sefer Torah is taken out and we lein Parshas Ha’Chodesh, in preparation for Nissan and Chag HaPesach.  This is the fourth and final of the special arabah parshios (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and Ha’Chodesh) that prepare us for the yomim tovim of Adar/Purim and Nissan/Pesach.  The Torah reading for ha’Chodesh is from Parshas Bo, Sefer Shemos 12:1-20.  The section teaches us about Kiddush ha’Chodesh, with Nissan being the first month of the year, as well as mitzvos and inyanim regarding the Korban Pesach.

In regard to the korban Pesach the Israelites sacrificed in Egypt, on the cusp of their freedom, the pasukim tell us: And Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Egypt saying…Speak to the entire assembly of Israel, saying, On the tenth of this month, וְיִקְחוּ לָהֶם, אִישׁ שֶׂה לְבֵיתאָבֹתשֶׂה לַבָּיִתthey shall take, each one, a lamb for the fathers house, and lamb for the house,  וְאִםיִמְעַט הַבַּיִת, מִהְיוֹת מִשֶּׂהוְלָקַח הוּא וּשְׁכֵנוֹ הַקָּרֹב אֶלבֵּיתוֹ, בְּמִכְסַת נְפָשֹׁת אִישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ, תָּכֹסּוּ עַלהַשֶּׂה, and if the household is too small for (consuming the entire) lamb, then he and his neighbor who is close to his house shall take, according to the number of people, each one according to one’s ability to eat (Shemos 12:1-4).

It is the korban Pesach that represents the transition from slavery to freedom, from bondage to redemption, and from light to darkness.  It is the korban that symbolizes the creation of the Jewish community and the foundations of Jewish society.  What is the significance of a household too small to consume an entire lamb reaching out to his neighbor, asking and inviting him to share his meal?   What is the symbolism of offering a lamb to G-d?

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch teaches, “The Divine system of state-building is also based on mutual need, but it is a need springing from abundance, a need to do one’s duty: וְאִםיִמְעַט הַבַּיִת, מִהְיוֹת מִשֶּׂה , such is the law that is to build the Jewish state.  It is not the poor that need the rich, but the rich that need the poor.  Let him whose own household is too small to take in the blessings G-d has bestowed upon him seek out his neighbor, so that his neighbor may supply him with additional souls to benefit from his abundance and thus help him fulfill his duty.  G-d can provide for the poor without the help of the rich.  But without the poor, the rich cannot fulfill their life’s purpose.  In the Jewish state, it is not considerations of personal need, but a sense of duty, מצוה, that should join one household to another, uniting the individual entities into one national community.  Only such a society, secured by mishpat and united by tzedaka, will give rise to a formal structure that will become the kehal adas Yisrael (v.6).

Yisrael is the national entity.  Eidah denotes the independent constituents who are responsible for the fulfillment of the nation’s mission: the community.  Kehal denotes the highest echelons of government and leadership: the nation’s representative.  These three groups are immortalized in the shalosh kitos (three groups/classes) of she’chitas ha’Pesach (the slaughtering of the Paschal lamb).

“At this moment of emergence into a new life, each individual, each household, each family and the entire community, as a whole and as individuals, are to see themselves, in their relationship to G-d, as a שֶׂה (a lamb)… From the moment G-d assumed His position as our Leader, this concept – that G-d is our Shepherd and we are His flock – became the most comprehensive and lasting view of our relationship to G-d and His relationship to us” (RSRH, Commentary to Shemos 12:3-6).

From within the laws of korban Pesach, emerges our duty towards one another – and he and his neighbor shall eat together; our cohesiveness as an assembly – speak to the entire eidah/assembly of Israel; and our utter and complete dependence on Hashem, our Shepherd – and each shall take a lamb (seh) for the fathers household.

Furthermore, the reaching out to one’s neighbor to share the korban Pesach represents freedom in the truest sense, for sharing food with another person – outside of one’s immediate family – is the sign of a free man.  A slave saves the little food he has for himself.  He does not have the physical or mental capacity to share with someone else.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav zt;l, teaches, “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…

“The ceremony of the Passover meal, centered around the korban Pesach, aims at the emergence of the new chesed community – for chesed is the characteristic mark of the free man.  The bondsman is not spiritually capable of joining the chesed 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 chesed 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 self-centeredness into the chesed community, where the little that man has is too much for himself” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.86-87).

May we merit to celebrate our complete redemption and freedom this Nissan, when together in chaburos with our families, neighbors and friends, we will feast on the Korban Pesach in a rebuilt and redeemed Yerushalayim.

בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,


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