Keeping Our Eyes on the Road By Rabbi Yoni Mandelstam


Bringing a child into this world is nothing short of miraculous. Chazal even consider parents to be “partners with Hashem” when a child is born (Kiddushin 30a). It is therefore rather surprising that a mother must bring a Korban Chatat, a sin offering, after having a child. The Torah states, “UVen Yonah O Tor LeChatat,” “And a turtledove or a young dove as a sin offering” (12:6), implying that she must atone for a sin which has occurred. The nature of this Korban Chatat strikes us as unusual and perplexing.

Interestingly, the Ba’alei HaTosafot in the Da’at Zekeinim (12:8 s.v. VeChipeir Aleha HaKohein) understand the simple reading of the Pesukim to not be referring to a sin offering. Rather, when the Torah here mentions the concept of Kaparah (atonement), it should be interpreted as a purification and cleansing process as opposed to atonement. The woman who gave birth did nothing wrong, and her Korban reflects her cleansing process after childbirth in a hygienic sense of the word. This being said, the authors of the Da’at Zekeinim admit to the fact that the Gemara has an entirely different approach to this Korban.

The Gemara (Niddah 31b) records that the students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai asked their Rabbi what a woman is guilty of after having a child, and his response was that, “At the time of her birth pains she took an oath to never have another child.” At first glance, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s response is troubling; a sin offering seems like too harsh of a response to an innocent woman experiencing pain. Perhaps, to explain this Gemara on a philosophical level, it can be suggested that the Torah is particularly strict in response to this woman’s oath in order to teach us the timeless lesson that the Jewish people, by definition, must always look ahead to a brighter future despite pain and distress. Anyone who is willing to give up on contributing to the future of Klal Yisrael, even for a moment, is found guilty to some degree.

The theme of looking ahead to a brighter future can be found in the Pesach story itself. The Gemara (Sotah 11b) says that the Jewish people were redeemed from the Egyptian slavery in the merit of the righteous Jewish women. Specifically, the women would bring water and fish to their husbands in order to encourage them to think ahead to the future of the Jewish people despite the difficult moments of slavery. This episode illustrates the strength of Jewish women specifically, and it teaches us to never get lost in the troubles of the present moment without thinking of a brighter day ahead.

Similarly, the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh reminds us to always renew ourselves in spite of challenges. Each month represent a new opportunity for growth. It is no coincidence that the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh was given by Hashem to Moshe in Mitzrayim itself— if there was ever a time to give up and not look ahead to the future, it was during the slavery in Egypt. Yet Hashem instructed Moshe to look at the new moon in the midst of Egyptian bondage. This is because the Jewish people, by definition, look ahead to grow.

The Seder night is the most opportune time of the year to highlight the resilience of the Jewish people. Often, there are multiple generations of one family sitting around the table telling the story and reciting the Hagaddah together. A grandchild might recite the Mah Nishtanah as the grandparent watches in amazement. The family proceeds to recount how someone tries to destroy us in each and every generation, but Hashem always saves us from their hands. The family is not only reciting the story of the Jewish people in ages past, but they themselves live the story as they pass on our tradition from one generation to the next.

The Pasuk in Tehillim (139:12) states “Ya’ir KaYom Lailah,” “Night will shine as day.” According to the Zohar (2:38), this Pasuk is referring to the Seder night. Perhaps, the meaning of this Zohar is that the Pesach Seder highlights the resilience of the Jewish people and their ability to “shine even during the times of darkness.” When we gather at the Seder, we realize that there is always hope for the Jewish people, as we are on a journey led by Hashem. We look ahead to a brighter future and must never vow to prevent the growth of tomorrow, no matter how difficult and painful today may be. When we conclude the Seder by reciting LeShanah HaBa’ah BeYerushalayim, we testify to the fact that we live with a sense of hope and optimism towards the future of Am Yisrael.

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