> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > Shem MiShmuel

Moshe and the Korban Peasch

Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16 )

by Rabbi Zvi Belovski

Before the last plague, the execution of the firstborn, God announced to Moshe and Aharon the details of the korban pesach (paschal offering), which would be eaten on the night preceding the Exodus. After God's speech to Moshe and Aharon, the Torah records Moshe's communication to the elders of klal Yisrael:

Moshe called to all the elders of Yisrael and said to them, "Draw and take for yourselves one sheep per family and slaughter the Pesach." (Shemos 12:21)

Draw and take for yourselves - draw your hands away from idolatry and take for yourselves the sheep for the mitzvah [of Korban Pesach]. (Shemos Rabbah 16:2)

This facet of the korban pesach is obviously fundamental - it enabled klal Yisrael to separate from their associations with the idolatry of Egypt (the object of which was the sheep) and to worship God instead. But there is something puzzling here: this aspect of korban pesach is not mentioned before this point in the text; it is entirely absent from God's speech to Moshe. It appears that Moshe himself added this facet of the offering without being instructed to do so by God!

It is well known that Yisrael had reached the deepest level of spiritual calamity in their Egyptian exile - the stage which is called the forty-ninth level of spiritual impurity. Had they sunk any lower, they would have been so imbued with alien culture and depravity that they could never have been redeemed, and for this reason the Exodus took place earlier than originally intended. The word tumah (impurity) is etymologically related to the word timtum, which means "spiritual blockage." A person under the influence of this tumah thus becomes unreceptive and closed to any good spiritual forces; he loses his ability to change and develop in response to perception of the Divine.

One aspect of Yisrael's spiritual depravity in Egypt was their inability to correctly use their power of speech. Indeed, the Arizal notes that the word pesach can be broken down into two words - peh sach, "the mouth speaks." The inability of klal Yisrael to express themselves in their oppression was relieved when the Exodus came, enabling them to speak freely and in praise of God once again. This is the deeper meaning behind the halachah which demands that Hallel be sung while offering and eating the korban pesach. Every aspect of the offering (which is itself called "pesach") had to reflect the joy and elation at the Exodus and the miraculous redemption of Yisrael while the Egyptian lost all their firstborn. This was the peh sach - the mouths of klal Yisrael singing praises to God for the miracles He had wrought.

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This all seems quite reasonable, except that klal Yisrael, as we have seen, were in a state of spiritual poverty, trapped and silenced by their exile. How could they suddenly, in this situation, burst into song? Indeed, Chazal tell us:

A dried-up lulav is unusable, under the rubric of "The dead cannot praise God." (Tehillim 115:17). (Yerushalmi, Sukkah 3:1)

Objects, and indeed people, who are dead, either physically or spiritually, cannot praise God; they simply don't have the feeling and sensitivity to do so. Thus klal Yisrael in Egypt, when they were in a spiritually dead state, were incapable of bursting forth with praise and thanks to God.

Dealing with this problem was Moshe's intention when telling klal Yisrael to "draw and take for yourselves a sheep." He realized after God's command that Yisrael were so spiritually desensitized that they would not succeed in offering the korban pesach in the correct spirit without preceding it with special, corrective action. Our Sages tell us:

One may heal with everything [which is usually prohibited] except through idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed...

Idolatry - for if a Jew is sick and they tell him to go to a particular idol to be healed, he may not go, as the verse says, One who offers to the gods will be put in cheirem [excommunicated] except for God alone (Shemos 22:19). Since anyone who offers to idols will be excommunicated, it is better for him to die of his illness than to be excommunicated in this world... (Shemos Rabbah 16:2)

If the punishment for idolatry is so severe, it follows that someone who thoroughly distances himself from it achieves the opposite - complete connection to God and to holiness. In fact, we may note that the word cheirem has the gematriah of 248 - the number of limbs in the human body. This means that connection to idolatry engenders complete pollution, spreading to every aspect of the person. In contradistinction, someone who achieves the opposite will merit to have every part of his person infused with the Divine.

Moshe thus advised the elders to distance themselves as far as possible from the idolatry of Egypt, for in response they and klal Yisrael would merit a sublime level of connection to holiness and thus become capable of offering the korban pesach in the best possible manner, with praise and thanks to God.

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The advice offered to klal Yisrael by Moshe Rabbeinu carries a great message for all of us. There are times when we find ourselves depressed, confused by our lack of feeling of connection to God. The solution to this is to contemplate one's current actions and mind-set and attempt to go to the opposite extreme. This will ensure that in place of depression and failure will come appreciation of the sublime, just as klal Yisrael achieved when leaving behind the idolatry of their past. Indeed, our Sages promise us:

If one comes to purify oneself, one is helped. (Yoma 38b)

This means that when we embark on a project of spiritual improvement we are guaranteed not only success, but even Divine assistance, once we initiate the project. Let us hope that we make use of this great gift.


Excerpted from Shem MiShmuel by the Sochatchover Rebbe, rendered into English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, published by Targum Press. Click here to order.


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