Thursday, January 22, 2015
The first mitzvah given to the Jews (as a nation) was to determine and sanctify the day that will be Rosh Chodesh, the first of every month, in effect creating the Jewish calendar (see Rashi on Beraishis 1:1). This command lies in the words of the verse quoted above. The words החדש הזה can also be translated as "this renewal," meaning that G-d showed Moshe the crescent moon and said, "When the moon renews itself, it will be Rosh Chodesh for you" (Rashi ad loc.). The priority given to this mitzvah suggests that sanctifying Rosh Chodesh is a model mitzvah, representing the themes that lay at the core of all the other mitzvos as well.
The primary purpose of the mitzvos is to transform the physical world from mundane to holy. By using a particular object to perform a mitzvah, thereby revealing the G-dly purpose for which it was created, that physical object becomes sanctified.
This idea is epitomized in the sanctification of Rosh Chodesh, in whichtime itself is elevated. This mitzvah is observed by Beis Din sanctifying a day that was previously like any other, declaring that it is now Rosh Chodesh; it is no longer a regular weekday, and is replete with special offerings brought in the Beis Hamikdash etc. Furthermore, the workings of the calendar require Beis Din to calculate the constant cycles and patterns of the sun and the moon. Thus, this mitzvah elevates not only the days sanctified as Rosh Chodesh (and by extension, the holidays observed on specific dates within the months,) it also reveals the G-dly purpose within the entire passage of time.
The sanctification of Rosh Chodesh was therefore the first mitzvah commanded, being as it is clearly and obviously an act of sanctifying the mundane, which is essentially the underlying theme behind all the mitzvos.
Furthermore, time is marked by change, which is the "first" and most basic characteristic of every creation: the change from non-existence to existence. Therefore, the mitzvah of declaring Rosh Chodesh is specifically the first mitzvah. Just as time is the very first creation, its sanctification as well is the very first mitzvah.
After guaranteeing that G-d will skip over and spare the Jewish homes fromMakas Bechoros, the Plague of the Firstborn, the Torah adds "and there will be no destructive plague in you." Rashi explains that these additional words address the following query: "What if one of Bnei Yisrael was in an Egyptian's house? I would think that he would be smitten like him. Therefore, the verse states: 'and there will be no destructive plague in you.'"
The Jew who lingered in an Egyptian home on the night of the Exodus was in a shocking spiritual state, one more akin to that of his Egyptian oppressors than to that of his fellow Jews. The Bnei Yisrael suffered miserably at the hands of the Egyptians for many years. Then, everyone witnessed the miraculous plagues with which G-d punished the Egyptians. Finally, the Jews offered the Pesach sacrifice to commemorate their imminent redemption from Egypt, and were commanded "no man shall leave the entrance of his house until morning" (Shemos). At this point, a Jew who still chose to spend the night in the home of an Egyptian, one could assume "would be smitten like him," in Rashi's words.
Yet, out of His love for the Jewish people, G-d Himself descended, as it were, into the homes of the Egyptians in order to single out the Jew who might be among them. "I will go out into the midst of Egypt" (Shemos 11:4), says G-d, to save from Makas Bechoros a Jew who was so spiritually hollow that even on this fateful night he still clung to his Egyptian colleagues.
From here we see the lengths we must go in order to save another Jew spiritually – to draw him nearer to the worship of G-d. Emulating G-d's ways, we must see to reach even the Jew who is so assimilated that engaging him can require sacrificing (within the guidelines of halacha) our own spiritual standards. We must descend even to that Jew for whom a holy environment is utterly foreign, he is still "in an Egyptian home," to rescue him and draw his heart to his Father in Heaven.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
G-d struck the Egyptians with the Ten Plagues as punishment for their cruel enslavement of Bnei Yisrael. These supernatural Plagues also forced Pharaoh to recognize G-d's existence and might, as G-d told Moshe to convey to Pharaoh, "I have allowed you to stand, in order to show you My strength and in order to declare My name all over the earth" (Shemos ).
These reasons seem sufficient, but in an earlier verse, where G-d initially told Moshe about the Plagues that He will bring upon Pharaoh (Shemos 7:3), Rashi introduces yet a third purpose in the Plagues. Commenting on the words, "I will harden [Pharaoh's heart]," Rashi explains: "Since Pharaoh behaved wickedly and defied Me... it is better for Me that his heart be hardened, so that I can increase My signs and My wonders in him, and you will recognize My mighty deeds. And so is the custom of the Holy One, blessed be He. He brings retribution on the nations so that Israel should hear and fear."
This is based on a principle taught earlier by Rashi, in his commentary on the very first verse in the Torah. Rashi writes there that all of existence was created by G-d "for the sake of the Jewish people and for the sake of Torah." This is true not only of the world's coming into existence, but of every event that transpires within the creation as well. Besides for everything being deliberately orchestrated through Divine Providence, the ultimate purpose of every occurrence in the world is achieved only when it brings a direct benefit to the Jewish people and the Torah. Therefore, even when an event seems to have occurred for other reasons as well, its true objective is the impact it will have on the Jewish people.
Rashi therefore emphasizes from the start that the Plagues were brought upon the Egyptians not only as retribution for their behavior toward the Jews and in order to cause them to recognize the Creator, but for the example that the punishment of the Egyptians served for the Jews, inspiring them to a deeper fear of G-d.
—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 36, pp. 33-36