Brit Milah and Korban Pesach

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

It is not coincidental that the Yom Tov of Pesach always follows parashat Tzav. The practice of reading particular selections from the Torah in connection with a specific holiday dates back to Moshe Rabbeinu. Tzav is read before Pesach, Bamidbar before Shavu’ot, Devarim before Tisha B’av, and Nitzavim before Rosh HaShana.

The reason for reading Parashat Tzav before Pesach is because Vayikra and Tzav contain many descriptions of Korbanot (sacrifices). While most of them are Korbanot offered by individuals, the Korban Pesach, as the first communal Korban represents a shift. It serves as a key to the redemption of our people because it emphasizes the sense of community among Klal Yisrael.

Only two positive Mitzvot in the Torah carry within them the penalty of “Karet”, (heavenly death), for non-observance; the Korban Pesach and Brit Milah (circumcision). We can understand the penalty for not observing Brit Milah because it is the mark of identification of male Jews, which sets us apart from all other nations. However, why should the failure to offer the Korban Pesach carry such a severe penalty? Regarding all other positive Mitzvot, if we fail to fulfill them, we receive no reward, but we are not punished either. Why should the Torah impose such a severe penalty for failure to offer the Korban Pesach?

Rav Soloveitchik suggested, that the Korban Pesach serves the identical function of Brit Milah throughout our history. It is more than a single positive commandment; it is the mark of our collective identity. According to Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105)., only one-fifth of the Jewish People left Egypt (Shemot 13:18). Like the Korban Pesach, the journey required a leap of faith. Those who refused to offer the Korban Pesach showed a disbelief in GD. These severe transgressions required a severe punishment-Karet. The Korbanot are introduced in Parashat Vayikra and completed in Tzav, coinciding with Chag HaPesach, in order to emphasize the element of Emunah and collective experience of a communal endeavor. In this respect, it is the Korban Pesach that most openly captures the broader values of Judaism, of Mesirat Nefesh (self-sacrifice) and areivut (interdependency).

Why was it necessary for our people to offer this sacrifice at the moment of the exodus? The reason the Rav gave, is that a slave usually is focused only upon himself and loses interest in his fellow slaves. So the purpose of the collective Korban, is to instill in us the feeling of compassion upon each other, and It symbolizes our surrender as Jews to the will of HaShem. GD remembers how we followed him into the desert, shed our status as slaves and became a community of GD. This is why the Korban Pesach was so important, and why failure to offer it resulted in Karet-being ripped away from Jewish destiny. These are the thoughts that should come to our mind at the Seder when we eat that last piece of precious Matzah, the “Afikoman”, which represents the Korban Pesach of our time.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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