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Parashat Bo

This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat Parashat Bo

5 Shevat 5768

January 12, 2008

Vol.17 No.18

In This Issue:

Elevating the Mundane

by Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Weinberg

After Hashem redeemed Bnei Yisrael from Egypt, firstborns of Bnei Yisrael must have experienced intense feelings of Hakarat HaTov for being spared from the final Makah, the death of the Egyptian firstborns. The Pesukim at the end of our Parasha describe this sense of gratitude in no uncertain terms: "And it happened when Paroh stubbornly refused to send us out that Hashem killed all of the firstborns in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of man to the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I offer to Hashem each male first of the womb, and I shall redeem all the firstborns of my sons" (Shemot 13:15).

What was the nature of this redemption of the firstborns? Seforno comments that such a redemption allowed for the firstborns to engage in Avodat Chol, mundane work. The implication is that had the firstborns not been redeemed, they would have remained on the original lofty level of Kedushah for their entire lives. If this is so, what is the nature of the Minhag to make a celebratory meal on the day a Pidyon HaBen takes place? It seems that such an occasion does not call for any Simchah at all! Isn't the redemption a disappointment, as the child descends from the loftiest levels of Kedushah to the life of a "regular" person?

Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky (Emet LeYaakov pp. 292-293; comments to Bereishit 2:4 and Shemot 23:16) answers our question with a concept that is fundamental to understanding the role of a Jew in this world. The secular world often views the Neshamah and the Guf (body and soul) as being two, independent entities. Pursuits of holiness are assigned to the soul, while the body remains unrefined and is content with a life of mundane activities. It is for this reason that a non-Jew is entitled to bring only a Korban Olah, a burnt offering (from which nothing is eaten), in the Beit HaMikdash; a non-Jew is unable to grasp the depth of Kedushah that can be attained by simply eating from a Korban. However, the Gemara (Pesachim 68b) records a very different story when it comes to a Jew's mentality in serving his Creator: "All agree that on Shavuot, one needs to spend a portion of the day eating." On the day on which we commemorate the acquisition of our holy Torah, it is more appropriate than ever to remind ourselves that Torah offers us the unique opportunity to sanctify the mundane.

With this fundamental principal, we can come to a true appreciation and recognition of the Simchah of a Pidyon HaBen. While it is true that prior to the firstborn's redemption he is entirely holy and can be viewed as being enveloped in the purely spiritual world, it is only after his redemption that he can achieve man's true mission in this world: to find and elevate the simple sparks of holiness scattered throughout the four corners of the earth.

In Parashat Shemot, when Moshe first encountered Hashem by the burning thorn bush, he was informed that the land upon which he was standing was holy ground. The Chafetz Chaim (Chafetz Chaim Al HaTorah p. 94) explains that in reality, we all are charged with the task of recognizing that there is no place in this world devoid of Kedushah, and consequently it is our mission to bring to fruition the call of Hashem to all Jews: "HaMakom Asher Atah Omeid Alav Admat Kodesh Hu" (Shemot 3:5).

The message of bringing together the spiritual and the physical is so critical to Torah Jews that Hashem taught this message at the beginning of creation. The Mishnah tells us, "Kol Maasecha Yihyu LeSheim Shamayim," "Everything you do should be for the sake of heaven" (Avot 2:12). The Bobover Rebbe (Kedushat Tzion, Parashat Bereishit) asks why the Mishnah uses the term "LeSheim Shamayim" as opposed to the seemingly more appropriate "LeSheim Hashem?" The Rebbe explained that the word Shamayim is made up of Eish and Mayim (Rashi to Bereishit 1:8). In the creation of Shamayim, two things that seemingly cannot be intermingled came together for a common cause. So too, many things we see in the natural world we assume have no connection to the world of Ruchniyut, spirituality. However, in reality, all of our deeds can be made LeSheim Shamayim!

With the physically and spiritually cold days of Tevet behind us and the first rays of spring on the horizon, we enter the days of Shevat, a month that is dedicated to strengthening our commitment to elevating the physical. The Sefarim HaKedoshim tell us in the name of Sefer Yetzirah (one of the oldest and most obscure Kabbalistic texts, attributed by many to Rabi Akiva) that each month is accorded various attributes that are unique to its essence. Additionally, each month is given a letter of the holy Aleph-Bet that is likewise intricately connected to that month's inner essence. The month of Shevat is associated with the letter Tzadi as well as the action of "Le'itah," a word used to describe a gluttonous, animalistic eating (see, for example, Bereishit 25:30, in which Eisav demands, "Hal'iteini Na Min HaAdom HaAdom HaZeh"). Various Sefarim explain the relationship between the letter Tzadi and Le'itah as follows: the way in which one eats often will be the truest indication of whether or not he truly is a Tzaddik (a word parallel to Tzadi). Throughout Torah, we find many Olam HaZeh-activities described with the term "Achilah." It is specifically through the sanctity of elevating one's worldly actions that one merits the title "Tzaddik." (For further study, see Ohr Gedalyahu to Chodesh Shevat and Sheim MiShemuel.)

May we all be Zocheh to be worthy of such a title as we fulfill the ultimate purpose of man in this world, and through our elevated actions, may we be Zocheh to bring the Geulah Sheleimah speedily in our days.

Respectable Exodus

by Dovid Gottesman

Before Yetziat Mitzrayim, Hashem caused the Jews to find favor in the eyes of the Egyptians. A simple reason for this is so that the Egyptians would readily offer their gold and silver to Bnei Yisrael so that they would leave with great wealth, in fulfillment of the Brit Bein HaBetarim. But if that was Hashem's intention, why not cause the Egyptians to give over their wealth out of fear? Why did He have to engineer events so that the Egyptians gave the Jews their wealth willingly?

Throughout our Galut, we have been mocked, hated, and killed by the nations of the world. We have had to ignore those who deride us because of our service to Hashem. There is a danger, however, that this will be seen as the way things should be if we are good Jews. The Torah teaches us that the opposite is true: "Learn and observe [the Torah], for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations, who will hear of all these laws and proclaim that this is truly a great, wise, and understanding nation" (Devarim 4:6). The Torah attaches importance to the respect given us by the nations of the world. This acknowledgment of God by the gentiles is so important that all of the miracles of the splitting of the Yam Suf were performed in order that the Egyptians should recognize Hashem (Cf. Shemot 7:5). The Ibn Ezra adds that the Egyptians referred to were those who drowned. Thus, the splitting of the sea was warranted even for the few seconds of recognition of God by the drowning Egyptians. Olam HaBa is not limited to Jews; righteous gentiles also have a portion therein (see Rambam Hilchot Melachim 8:11).

Halacha reflects this idea. We are forbidden to make a Chilul Hashem by giving the gentiles reason to criticize us for bad conduct. Kiddush Hashem is a piece of the Mitzvah of Ahavat Hashem, loving God. As Jews, we must command the respect and favor of the nations of the world in order to fill the world with His glory (Cf. BeMidbar 14:21). That occurs, teaches Rashi, only when we fulfill the Mitzvot properly. A Mitzvah fulfilled properly is beautiful and can command only respect and admiration. If we fail to perform the Mitzvot properly, we will be considered fools, for the Mitzvah that is performed improperly creates ridicule against us. The scorn of the nations of the world is not a sign of our perfection, but rather a sign that something is lacking in our service of Hashem. The idea that "It is a Halacha: Eisav hates Yaakov" (Sifrei BeHaalotecha 69, cited by Rashi Bereishit 33:4 s.v. VaYchabekeihu) guards us against assimilation, but when we fulfill our role properly, the entire world will want to serve Hashem. Prior to our first redemption - the model of the final redemption to come - Hashem brought us favor in the Egyptians' eyes so that we would not forget this ideal. The Egyptians readily gave us vessels of gold and silver to improve our service to Hashem in the desert. The clothing they gave us represented the honor and glory in which they wished to dress us. And so it will be in the final redemption.

Facets of Rosh Chodesh

by Moshe Kollmar

Parashat Bo includes the first Mitzvah given to Bnei Yisrael, the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh: "HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem Rosh Chodashim Rishon Hu Lachem LeChodshei HaShanah," "This month is for you the beginning of months, it is for you the first of the months of the year" (Shemot 12:2). In this single Pasuk, the Torah reveals a great deal of hidden meaning about the essence of Rosh Chodesh, and specifically Nissan, the first month of the year.

According to a Pshat interpretation of the Pasuk, the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh seems not to be a responsibility of Bnei Yisrael at all! The Pasuk says that Nissan is the first month - this has nothing to do with the actions of Bnei Yisrael. I asked Rabbi Chaim Jachter about the origin within the Pasuk of the Mitzvah to proclaim each Rosh Chodesh. He answered that the first "Lachem" ("for you") in the Pasuk teaches that it is up to us, Bnei Yisrael, and not Hashem, to determine when the beginning of each month will occur.

The Pirchei Levanon says that "Lachem" also teaches that Nissan is a time for all of Bnei Yisrael's needs to be fulfilled; just as the first Nissan was the month of Geulah from Mitzrayim, so too all of our first months will be months of Geulah in which the needs of Bnei Yisrael will be fulfilled.

The Baal HaTurim teaches based on the fact that variations of the word "Chodesh" appear three times in this Pasuk that Rosh Chodesh Nissan is the Rosh HaShanah of three things. Firstly and most simply, Nissan is the first month of the year. The other two are based on Gematria. The Gematria of "Chodesh" is 312. Adding one as a Kolel (based on laws of Gematria) to this sum yields 313, equal to that of "LaRegalim," "for holidays." Thus, we see that Rosh Chodesh Nissan is also a Rosh HaShanah LaRegalim (see Rosh HaShanah 2a). For the final significance of Rosh Chodesh Nissan, we must take the Gematria of "Nissan" itself, 170. This is equal to the Gematria of "Melachim," kings, showing that Rosh Chodesh Nissan is also Rosh HaShanah LaMelachim (ibid.). (Additionally, the letters of the repeated word "Lachem" in the Pasuk can be rearranged to form "Melech," king.)

Rashi asks what the word "HaZeh," "this," has to do with the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh. He answers that Moshe was unsure of how much of the moon had to be visible, so Hashem showed him the moon that night, and told him "HaZeh" - specifically the amount of moon that was visible to Moshe is the minimum requirement for Rosh Chodesh.

The Sefat Emet points out that unlike other nations, Bnei Yisrael use the moon, which represents night and times of hardship, to determine our months; this teaches that we continue through our hardships and regenerate like the moon. Other nations and religions create their calendars based on the sun, which represents good times, signifying that they can survive only the good, but will fall apart in bad times. History supports this idea; other nations, like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, are no longer in existence, but Jews are still around, notwithstanding others' many attempts to wipe us out.

Rosh Chodesh Nissan, like every Rosh Chodesh, is a time of revival and empowerment of Bnei Yisrael. May our careful observance of this Mitzvah bring Mashiach's so that we can celebrate Bnei Yisrael's first Mitzvah with all of Yisrael together.

Staff at time of publication:

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