Elli Schwarcz – Self-SACRIFICE: Lessons from Egypt

Last week we began discussing the mitzvot of the Pesach Sacrifice and Brit Milah (circumcision). Here’s what we learned:
  • B’nei Israel were commanded to take a sheep for each household, then to slaughter and eat it. They fulfilled this mitzvah despite the danger of  Egyptians avenging their idol’s honor.
  • Hashem gave Bnei Israel special protection when they did this mitzvah; the Egyptians did not harm anyone.
  • This mitzvah was given at the same time as the commandment to perform Brit Milah. These two mitzvot were what allowed B’nei Israel to merit redemption; ‘by their bloods they would live’.
  • Brit Milah is a physical way with which we can identify as different than the other nations, reflecting our elevated souls. Our action in completing ourselves physically reminds us of our responsibility to perfect our souls spiritually.
We remain with some questions, as we wonder why these two mitzvot were the chosen tools for our redemption, what the emphasis of blood is all about, and how the Pesach’s blood is ‘ours’…

Let’s think: if Milah identifies us as Hashem’s Nation, dedicated to fulfilling His will, what did that original Pesach Sacrifice symbolize?

When we remember that it meant slaughtering and eating the idol of the culture that they had been subjected to all these years, the answer is clear: the Pesach Sacrifice was the destruction of idol worship- and represented the commitment of B’nei Israel to ignore and debase anything around them that would stand in the way of them serving God…

Let’s look ahead a bit now. After B’nei Israel had left Egypt, crossed the Yam Suf and traveled in the desert for several weeks, they arrived at Har Sinai to receive the Torah. Take note of the first two of the Ten Commandments- mitzvot in which the entire rest of the Torah are contained:

  • I am Hashem your God, Who took you out of Egypt…
  • There shall be no other gods (idols) before Me…
-Yitro, 20
-Sound familiar? They echo exactly the mitzvot of Milah and Pesach- identifying Hashem as God and ourselves as His People, and negating idols! So the same principles which merited our redemption were also the primary commandments of the Torah, the basic ideas through which which we would live…

(The great Maharal of Prague explained the connection between Milah and Pesach in a way that reminds us of our own learning until this point. According to the Maharal, Milah was a symbol of servitude- like the marking or sign a slave would be branded with by his master, as a means of identification. The Pesach sacrifice, he continues, was an act of servitude, an action that showed our subjugation to God. The sign by itself would be insufficient, because a slave does not necessarily act according to his status; he can rebel and never serve. The act would be similarly lacking, because service alone does not show that the person doing it is a slave; he may well be a free man who just so happens to have worked for someone.)

Based on all we are seeing here, we begin to view the acts of Milah and of Pesach as great acts of Mesirut Nefesh, self- sacrifice. Aside from the constant danger of Milah (see Gemara Gittin 57b with Rashi) and the unique danger of the Pesach in Egypt, the acts were themselves ones which turned us into Hashem’s servants; by fulfilling them, we were giving up of our selves, foregoing our own physical desires in coming closer to God, embracing the Torah although it meant we would now have to answer to a Higher Authority.

In fact, those same ‘founding principles’ would stand the test of time in their own right- no matter how far the people would sometimes stray, no matter how difficult the circumstances:

All mitzvot that our ancestors accepted with Mesirut Nefesh are still performed with Mesirut Nefesh… such as Milah and ( avoiding the sin of) idol worship…

-Gemara Shabbat 130a

-So we have come full circle: the ‘bloods’ of these two mitzvot were our own, in the sense that we gave our selves in fulfilling them with Mesirut Nefesh-

for the blood is the Nefesh (life source)…
-Acharei Mot, 17:10
-and these mitzvot brought us closer to Hashem, meriting us the Torah, the very source of life:
It is a Tree of Life for those who grasp it, and those who draw near it are fortunate.
-Mishlei, 3:18
-thus fulfilling the promise declared by Hashem:

By your bloods, you shall live!

-Yechezkel, 16:6

-Amazing. And it should come as no surprise, then, that when we return the Torah to the Aron, the Ark, after reading from it in the synagogue, we recite this verse with the Torah as a Tree of Life- and that just before that verse is read, we recite:

For it is a good acquisition; do not forsake my Torah!

-Mishlei, 4:2

– For the Gematria (numerical value) of  “Lekach hatov”  (‘the good acquisition’) is 160- the same value aszeh haPesach – ‘this is the Pesach’!

-So Hashem gave us these mitzvot as a means of redemption, and as a way of meriting the Torah- and He therefore tells us: ‘I gave you a good means of being taken out (‘lekach‘ literally means ‘something which is taken’)- so don’t abandon the Torah that it brought you!’

Let us be inspired by the greatness of Hashem and His Torah, and dedicate ourselves to continue in the ways of those who came before us, serving Him with all of our soul.

Have a great Shabbat!
Elli Schwarcz
Elli Schwarcz is an alumnus of the Toras Moshe, Ner Israel, and Carteret Yeshivos, and has been involved in Jewish outreach for almost 15 years. He is a Hebrew School and English Language Arts teacher, and has a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Johns Hopkins University. Of all his pursuits, Elli most enjoys teaching high-level Jewish thought and Talmud to teenage boys, exposing them to the beauty and wisdom of their heritage while highlighting their own ability to engage in advanced Torah learning. Elli lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, with his wife and children.

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