Torah Tidbits

31 July 2014 / 4 Av 5774
Issue 1039
Shabbat Parshat Tzav-Hagadol-Shmini
March 21, 2013

Guest Article

They are Moshe and Aharon who spoke to Par’o (Sh’mot 6:27) by Dr. Meir Tamari

At the very beginning of Moshe’s historic mission to redeem Israel from slavery and exile, the Torah interrupts the story with a detailed report of his mishpacha-talogy from “Reuven, Shimon, Levi… they are Moshe and A’aron who spoke to Par’o”. This seeming digression is actually fundamental to our understanding of prophecy, while Par’o as a central player in the story is relevant to all our ideological struggles.
The chosen redeemer of Israel does not have a mysterious birth nor does he suddenly emerge from the desert - but has a distinguished family; parents, siblings, aunt, uncles and cousins who are all known to the Jews. At the end of the Torah we are told that in his old age, Moshe retained his physical strength, his keen eyesight and his great spiritual gifts.
The Pharaoh before whom he came to demand the release of Israel is likewise not the weak ruler of an insignificant and marginal nation. His Egypt was of the greatest empire of its time with advanced science and medicine, a ramified irrigation system, the breadbasket of the world and a large non-Israeli slave population that built pyramids and buildings which are still today engineering and mathematical wonders. The power and achievements of Pharaoh and the Egyptians enhance the miracle and salvation of Pesach so that they are the key to all the spiritual and physical redemptions that we have witnessed throughout the ages.
The power and strength of Par’o is manifest in his negation of Hashem from his first words, “Who is G-d?” till the final judgment at Yam Suf; see how many times we are told, “and Par’o hardened his heart”. “Why is it so important for Rashi to tell us that at midnight, Par’o arose from his bed? This was a real kofer; Egypt was being destroyed by the plagues, his people were suffering, all the first born were threatened and he himself was a b’chor, yet Par’o had gone to sleep in his own bed, normal, and uncaring and unafraid of Hashem; would that we had the same strength in our Avoda as he had in his rebellion” (Menachem Mendel of Kotsk).
The awareness of the power, sophistication and general achievements of the negative and evil characters in our history definitely enhance our understanding of the importance and relevance of the chagim. However, far more important are the national and communal factors that Pesach and the chagim commemorate. Jewish mysticism which has been integrated into much of present day mainstream religious thought, has been seen as stressing the spirituality and religiosity of the individual’s experience and elevation. Yet something additional, specifically Jewish, important and basic seems to be lost when the Shalosh Regalim, Chanuka and Purim are made into a mere continuation of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.
Undoubtedly, they all call for and enhance the individual’s spirituality and religiosity, however, these flow not from their needs or from conditions but solely from the experiences, needs and potential of the Jewish nation. Furthermore, they all commemorate historical, physical and material events. Am Yisrael collectively and nationally were physically enslaved in a real country, their human bodies suffered rigorous labor and serious punishment, their Tzelem Elokim subject to by humiliation and mental abuse; the sons drowned in the Nile or cemented in the walls were flesh and blood, not angels. The spiritual exile did not affect merely the individual’s religiosity and faith but succeeded by the blandishments of wholesale assimilation, to make idolatry a socially acceptable behavior. So the preparations and observance of Pesach were communal and national since the Exodus is constantly the experience of the nation, not of runaway bands or individuals. Groups were organized and each person had to be nominated to share in the Korban Pesach, this offering done by pilgrimage to the central national sanctuary and never on the private localized sanctuaries.
Furthermore, the purpose of Pesach was not primarily individual liberation, freedom which could have been reversed as long as they remained in Egypt, but rather the collective physical leaving by a whole nation of its territory in order to be brought and settled in its designated Land. Only there could they become a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation. “The commandment to be holy (Vayikra 19:2) is phrased in the plural to teach that only by attachment to Klal Yisrael, [the collective body politic] can ordinary men and women become holy; the closer the attachment, the greater the holiness” (Menachem Mendel of Kotsk).

From Meir Tamari’s, “Truths Desired by G-d; An Excursion into the Weekly Haftarah” -

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