Vort from the Rav: Bo

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Exodus 12:43

זאת חֻקַּת הַפָּסַח כָּל־בֶּן־נֵכָר לֹא־יאכַל בּֽוֹ
This is the statute of the Passover sacrifice: No estranged one may partake of it.

The paschal offering is referred to as a chok, involving suspension of one’s reason, similar to the laws of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. Here, at this sacrifice commemorating the birth of the Jewish people, the Jew is committed to the collective unfolding of the Jewish historical destiny. Ours is a paradoxical history, with unrealized dreams, unfulfilled hopes and yearnings, supported by an unbounded faith and promise—a history that is both tragic in suffering and glorious in its unyielding loyalty and amazing survival.

One of the unique aspects of our history is surely our capacity to evoke sinat Yisrael, the persistent and ever-present hostility which humanity directs at us as a people; it is a strange and inexplicable fact of our history. Another is the contradictory, zig-zagging pattern of our historical past, seeming to violate the geometric rule that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. At times, we seem to be approaching our destiny, slowly but surely; suddenly we are deflected, thrust aside or forced to move in the opposite direction. Positions previously achieved are abandoned and the accomplishments of entire generations are wiped away. Just as surely, ge’ulah once again starts beckoning, inspiring new hopes and movements. This process of historical detours is unlike the history of other nations, which seem, more or less, to be moving in a straight course—from the inception of nationhood to eminence, upon occasion, and to subsequent decline.

This irregular pattern began early in our history. God had promised Abraham that his descendants would inhabit Canaan. Why did they have to endure the servitude of Egypt for hundreds of years and the subsequent confinement in the desert for forty years before the promise was fulfilled? The Passover Haggadah provides us with a brief historical review: “Originally, our ancestors were idol worshippers… And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau; and I gave to Esau Mount Seir to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.” The promise to Esau to possess Mount Seir was almost immediately fulfilled but Jacob’s inheritance was sidetracked by his descent to Egypt. The Haggadah mentions Esau here precisely to draw this contrast, that for the Jew the distance to be traversed between promise and fulfillment is long and circuitous. This is a strange and paradoxical feature of our history.

God told Moses that He had previously identified Himself to the Patriarchs by the name El Shaddai and not by the Tetragrammaton, Y-H-V-H (Ex. 6:3). Rashi explains the latter name as referring to God fulfilling His promise to enable them to inherit the land in their lifetime. The Tetragrammaton signifies realization. The Patriarchs had only been given promises; a long road still lay ahead of them before their descendants would conquer the land. Similarly, the Torah relates, “Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer” (Ex. 13:17). Deviations from the straight course and long delays characterize the strange movement of Jewish history; the longest, not the shortest route, seems to be our destiny.

This mystifying pattern of Jewish history is a chok, demanding our loyalty even as it defies our comprehension. It is as irrational as the Parah Adumah is in the realm of the individual. Why should El Shaddai be separated from Y-H-V-H, the promise from the fulfillment? And yet the Jew waits patiently, filled with expectancy, with an unshakable faith in the inevitable redemption. If rationality were our guide, we would never have survived all these detours; we would have given up long ago, even in Egypt. But instead, the Jew makes a total commitment which stubbornly persists irrespective of pragmatic circumstances.

This sovereign will, as it is reflected in the Korban Pesach, is expressed in the words, “I firmly believe in the coming of the Messiah; and although he is slow in coming, I daily wait for his coming” (Maimonides’ Twelfth Principle of Faith). The enormous capacity of the Jew to wait perseveringly for the redemption with a sense of its imminent advent, despite all delays and discouragement, is a unique endowment of our people. This is symbolized by the chok of Korban Pesach; the root word paso’ach, semantically, means jumping, leaping, skipping around obstacles and curves in an irregular and impeded movement. (Rashi, Ex. 12:13) (Reflections of the Rav, Vol. 1, pp. 110-112)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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