Parshas Ha’Chodesh: Lessons from the Korban Pesach

In addition to the weekly Torah reading of Parshas HaShavua, Parshas Tazria, this Shabbos – Rosh Chodesh Nissan – we will read from an additional sefer Torah, in what is known as Parshas Ha’Chodesh, literally “the Portion of the Month.”  Parshas Ha’Chodesh is the fourth of four supplementary readings added in the weeks preceding Purim and Passover: Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, and Hachodesh.  The leining comes from Sefer Shemos, Parshas Bo, Shemos 12:1-20.   This section details G-d’s command to Moshe to sanctify Rosh Chodesh, with Nissan being the first month of the year, as well as many mitzvos regarding the Korban Pesach and Yetzias Mitzrayim.  Hence, it is most apropos for reading as we usher in Chodesh Nissan, the month of our redemption.  

In regard to the Korban Pesach, which was offered in Temple times, the pasuk tells us: דַּבְּרוּ, אֶלכָּלעֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר, בֶּעָשֹׂר, לַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה: וְיִקְחוּ לָהֶם, אִישׁ שֶׂה לְבֵיתאָבֹתשֶׂה לַבָּיִתSpeak to the entire assembly of Israel saying: on the tenth of this month, let each one take a lamb for each parental home, a lamb for each household; וְאִםיִמְעַט הַבַּיִת, מִהְיוֹת מִשֶּׂה וְלָקַח הוּא וּשְׁכֵנוֹ הַקָּרֹב אֶלבֵּיתוֹ, בְּמִכְסַת נְפָשֹׁת: אִישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ, תָּכֹסּוּ עַלהַשֶּׂהbut if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor who is nearest to his house shall take, according to the number of people, each one according to one’s ability to eat, shall be counted for the lamb (Shemos 12:3-4).  

As the meat of the korban Pesach was not allowed to be leftover until the morning, one family would join with another, and according to the number of total people, a chaburah would be formed.  

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav zt’l, teaches, “שֶׂה לְבֵיתאָבֹתשֶׂה לַבָּיִתA lamb for each parental home, a lamb for each household.  Interestingly, the symbol of redemption in the Torah is the korban Pesach, the paschal offering, which is a very strange sacrifice.  The concept of chaburah, community, is completely nonexistent in regard to other offerings: shelamim, chatas, olah, and asham.  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 paschal lamb on his own; only a group may do so (Pesachim 91a).  The Pesach offering differs from all other sacrifices because it is a symbol of cherus, freedom.  The Torah calls the paschal lamb ‘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” (Chmuash Masores HaRav, Vayikra, p.86-87).

As slaves, in Egypt for centuries, the concept of bayis – the home – and chaburah – a friendship community – was foreign to the slave mentality and antithetical to their way of life.  Not by choice, but by external factors imposed upon them by their taskmasters, the Bnei Yisrael were unable to build the bayis, nor could they focus on community.  

However, on the cusp of freedom, G-d introduced these two ideals to them: the building of the Jewish home, and the importance of community.

The Rav further teaches, “The halacha coined the term chaburah with reference to the group gathering together for this ceremonial.  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 paschal lamb, 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 paschal lamb; 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 chesed community, where the little that man has is too much for himself” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.86-87).  

Not only does korban Pesach teach us about the freedom we have been granted, which allows us to build the bayis, but it reminds us of the fundamental ideal of the chessed community which we are all a part of.  The Torah declares that one family goes to another, knocks on the door, and shares the yomtov meal, the paschal sacrifice, together.  With these dual, complimentary foundations – the bayis and the community – Klal Yisrael was born.  

“Five years before her petirah (passing), the Kanievsky children purchased a set of linen as a gift for the Rebbetzin.  They knew that if they presented her with a closed, gift-wrapped package, their mother wouldn’t consider keeping it.  So they removed the linen from its packaging and made up the beds.  The Rebbetzin noticed the new linen as soon as she entered her room, and begged her children to take the linen back home with them.  They refused, and the Rebbetzin and Rav Chaim used the linen for several weeks.

“One day, family members noticed that the linen had not been used for a while and asked the Rebbetzin about its whereabouts.  She replied, ‘You know that both Abba and I usually sleep for only three hours.  We really didn’t need it.  But our neighbor, Mrs. Adler, came to me the other day and mentioned that she wasn’t feeling well and the doctor told her to get at least eight hours of sleep regularly.  I figured that we would get better use of the linen by giving it to Mrs. Adler’” (Rebbetzin Kanievsky, Artscroll, p.177).

As we celebrate zman cheiro’seinu – the yomtov of our freedom – let us remind ourselves that our nation is built upon the Jewish home, and that every Jewish home must reach out to others, to join together in shared endeavors.  It was these ideals upon which our nation was redeemed, and perhaps it is with these holy and cherished ideals that our nation will be redeemed.

בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,


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