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Geshmack Dvar Torah of the Week: Pesach for Pesach’s sake

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Pesach for Pesach’s sake

The eating of the Korban Pesach was meant to commemorate the great miracle of the firstborn in Jewish households being "passed over" in Egypt.

If we think about this, this makes no sense. The 10 plagues were punishments for the Egyptians who had enslaved the Jews, whom Hashem calls "the sons of My firstborn (Avraham)". If the punishments were for Egyptians, why should there have been any threat to the lives of the Jewish firstborn, to the extent that we celebrate that they were spared?

In addition, by the other plagues, the Pasuk explicitly mentions that the Jews were wholly unaffected. At the splitting of the sea this is the case too. The common denominator is that no special "sign" had to be made to G-d (כביכול) that He should leave them be, and no special sign is remembered today. So why is the salvation of the Jewish firstborn different, so much so that it required demonstrable acts that they were Jews by spreading blood on their doors, and later generations then had to remember this act by eating the Korban Pesach? (Abarbanel and R’ Yitzchak Meltzen)

(Our more hawkish readers will find this familiar, these questions having been asked here)

The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 72:2) says: Alas for the wicked who turn מדת הרחמים (Mercy) to מדת הדין (Judgment).

R' Yitzchak Blaser, a student of R' Yisrael Salanter, explained this in the following way. The Gemara (Yuma 86a) states that even though repentance alone cannot atone for a violation of a מצות לא תעשה - (a negative commandment), nevertheless, on Yom Kippur the flood of מדת הרחמים - Mercy - is so great that if a person repents, he can hve a כפרה (forgiveness) - even if he might not be worthy!

R' Yitzchak Blaser explains that what the Midrash means is that if a person had this opportunity to obtain forgiveness for sins he couldn't erase the entire year, and he turned his back on this chance,  his disdain for מדת הרחמים rebounds back onto him, and it becomes מדת הדין.

Although the Jews had served the Egyptian idols, it hadn't been out of choice. But with the Exodus over, and Hashem having saved them countless times, they had the chance to throw off any trace of idol worship and show their commitment and dedication to Him by taking a lamb, an Egyptian deity, and in their faces, roast it, eat, and put it's blood on display.

If they turned their backs on this ideal opportunity they would have incurred Hashem's wrath and מדת הדין.

The other plagues were specific punishments that the Jews were not deserving of, but the 10th plague was not “just” a punishment for the Egyptians, unlike the previous plagues, as it had a secondary function. Whilst all the plagues were punishments in that they revealed Hashem’s hand in nature to the Egyptians, the Jews were not meant to be punished in this way. But here they had an opportunity to throw off the yoke of idol worship, and had they not used this opportunity, they would have incurred a מדת הדין, and the Korban Pesach we take is a remembrance of the kindness we were shown, that led to us being saved.

This explains why the Mechilta says that the Jews were as deserving of destruction in the final plague as the Egyptians, up until the final Korban Pesach was brought.

Also, in Pirkei d’R’ Eliezer, it says that some people would not undertake circumcision, the merit of which was needed for the גאולה as well (דם פסח ודם מילה). So Hashem told Moshe to make the Korban Pesach, and Hashem sent a breeze from Gan Eden, which caused people to faint at the irresistible aroma, at which point Moshe said כל הערל לא יאוכל , and they immediately underwent circumcision.

All this shows Hashem’s great mercy, as the Targum translates ופסחתי (Shemos 14:13) as a word meaning “compassion”.

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