Deserving Redemption

Speak to the congregation of Yisrael saying: On the tenth of this month each man should take a lamb for the family – a lamb for the household. (Sefer Shemot 12:3)

And it will be guarded by you until the fourteenth of this month. And the entire assembly of the congregation of Yisrael will slaughter it in the evening. (Sefer Shemot 12:6)

1. A special requirement of the first Pascal Lamb
Parshat Bo describes the conclusion of the ten plagues and the exodus of Bnai Yisrael from Egypt. The parasha also describes the first commandments that Moshe communicates to the people. Moshe establishes the Torah’s calendar. The month of the redemption is identified as the first month. Other months are identified as the second month from the redemption, the third month from the redemption, and so on, through the twelfth month from the redemption. Moshe also communicates the laws governing the Pesach – the Pascal Lamb. This sacrifice is to be slaughtered on the eve the fifteenth of the month. The blood of the sacrifice is to be placed upon the inside of the doorposts of the homes of Bnai Yisrael.

This sacrifice is linked to the final and most terrible plague. Makot BeChorot – the striking down of the firstborn of Egypt. This plague will break the will of Paroh and the Egyptian people. Finally, Bnai Yisrael will be liberated. The blood of the sacrifice – placed upon the doorposts of the homes of Bnai Yisrael will save them from terrible death and destruction of the plague.

The two passages above deal with one of the requirements of this sacrifice. The lamb for the Pesach is to be secured on the tenth of the month – four days before its slaughter on the afternoon of the fourteenth of the month. During these four days the lamb is to be inspected in order to establish that it is free of any blemish that disqualifies it from use as a sacrifice.

The Talmud explains that this requirement was unique to the Pesach that was sacrificed in Egypt. Each year the Pesach will be offered in celebration of the redemption. However, future Pascal Lambs need not be secured four days in-advance.[1],[2] Why did the Pesach sacrificed in Egypt have this special requirement?

2. Bnai Yisrael did not merit redemption
Rashi responds to this question by quoting the Midrash. Rashi explains that when the time of redemption approached, Bnai Yisrael was bereft of commandments. Rashi continues and explains that the nation’s imminent redemption required that the people involve themselves in the observance and performance of mitzvot. In response to this crisis, Hashem communicated – through Moshe – two commandments to the people. He instructed the people to secure their lambs. He also explained to the people that a prerequisite for participation in the sacrifice is milah – the circumcision of the male members of the household. All uncircumcised males must be immediately circumcised. Through the nation’s involvement in these two commandments, the redemption would be secured.[3],[4]

And Moshe said to Hashem, “Who am I to go to Paroh and will I bring forth Bnai Yisrael from Egypt?” And He said, “For I will be with you. And this is the sign that I have sent you. When you bring forth the nation from Egypt, you will worship G-d at this mountain.” (Sefer Shemot 3:11-12)

3. Bnai Yisrael’s redemption as a prelude to the Sinai Revelation
In Moshe’s initial encounter with prophecy, an angel presents himself as a flame burning in the midst of a bush. Amazingly, the fire burns intensely within the bush but the bush is not consumed. Hashem speaks to Moshe and charges him with the mission of leading Bnai Yisrael out of oppression and bondage and into the Land of Cana’an. The two passages above relate the initial dialogue between Hashem and Moshe. Moshe protests that he is unfit for this impossible mission. Hashem responds that He will accompany Moshe. He makes reference to the wonder of the bush that is not consumed by the fire in its midst as a sign of His relationship to Moshe. However, Hashem then adds that redemption from Egypt will be followed by the nation’s arrival at this place – Mount Sinai – and at this mountain the people will serve Hashem. This last element of Hashem’s response is apparently a reference to the Sinai Revelation that will follow redemption. Why is Hashem – at this moment – telling Moshe that the people will come to this place and experience the Revelation? How is this information relevant to Moshe’s objection?

Rashi explains that Moshe’s objection was actually composed of two elements. First, he questioned his own qualifications for the mission that Hashem was assigning to him. Second, he questioned whether Bnai Yisrael merited redemption. Moshe had observed the behaviors of Bnai Yisrael in Egypt. He saw little in their behaviors or values that suggested that they deserved to be redeemed. According to Rashi, Moshe had initially been troubled by the injustice of the suffering endured by his brothers. But after carefully observing their behaviors and attitudes, he had concluded that their terrible oppression was a deserved and fair punishment.[5]

Based on his interpretation of Moshe’s protest, Rashi explains Hashem’s response. Hashem agreed with Moshe that he was not qualified to speak to Paroh. However, Hashem would be with Moshe and He would secure the success of Moshe’s mission. He also acknowledged that the people were not deserving of redemption. However, He explained to Moshe that their redemption was not a response to their righteousness or the injustice of their suffering. Instead, Hashem would redeem an undeserving and a meritless people because of the people’s destiny. The people were bereft of merits. However, because of their destiny – the experience of Revelation – they would be redeemed.[6],[7]

4. A contradiction in Rashi’s comments
Rashi’s comments seem to contradict one another. According to his interpretation of the dialogue between Moshe and Hashem, Bnai Yisrael would not be redeemed through its merits. However, despite the absence of merits, the people would be redeemed in order to achieve their destiny. They were to be the witnesses of Revelation and they would receive Hashem’s Torah. In other words, the lack of merit in the present was irrelevant. Bnai Yisrael’s destiny dictated that redemption was imperative.

In his comments on Parshat Bo, Rashi suggests the opposite view. Hashem gave Bnai Yisrael commandments to observe prior to redemption. The people’s involvement in these commandments was pre-requisite to redemption. This means that without the merit of their involvement in these mitzvot, the people could not have been redeemed![8]

He performs the will of those who fear Him and He hears their cries and saves them. (Tehilim 145:19)

5. The “why” and the “how” of redemption
It seems that Rashi is distinguishing between two issues. These are the “why” and the “how” of redemption. First, Rashi asks – in the name of Moshe – why were Bnai Yisrael redeemed. What merit earned them Hashem’s attention? Rashi explains that the people had no merit; they had a destiny. Their redemption was Hashem’s response to this destiny and not to the people’s merits. However, according to Rashi, this response leaves an important issue unresolved. How could the people be redeemed? Redemption would express and be predicated upon a relationship between Hashem and Bnai Yisrael. In order for that relationship to be forged, the people must acquire a spiritual identity.

An example will help illustrate these two issues. Imagine that a benevolent person creates a generous scholarship for a young man or woman to study at any yeshiva, college, or school he or she chooses. Interested young people are invited to submit applications. The benefactor selects one of the applicants. The applicant selected has not shown enormous promise, neither has he accomplished much to date. Nonetheless, after careful consideration, the benefactor concludes that this specific young person is destined for greatness. Despite his selection of this fortunate young person as the scholarship recipient, the benefactor cannot unilaterally secure the recipient’s success. The recipient must now respond and demonstrate initiative. He must set goals for himself and strive to meet these goals. He must apply himself and take advantage of his opportunity.

Bnai Yisrael was selected by Hashem to fulfill a destiny of enormous importance – witnessing Revelation and receiving His Torah. However, this selection was only the reason for the people’s redemption. It was the “why” of their redemption. Still required of the people was their emergence as a spiritual nation capable of participating in a relationship with Hashem. Redemption would take place in the framework of this relationship and this relationship was the “how” of redemption. The mitzvot that Bnai Yisrael embraced and practiced in the waning days of their exile in Egypt were the foundation of this relationship.

Rashi’s thinking is reflected in King David’s words. David declares that Hashem hears the cries of those who fear Him and saves them from affliction. His response to our prayers is an expression of the relationship between Hashem and the petitioner. The petitioner must fear Him; he must engage in this mutual relationship. Hashem’s response is an expression of the relationship between Hashem and the one who fears Him and turns to Him for salvation.

1. Mesechet Pesachim 96a.
2. There is some discussion among the commentators regarding whether future Pascal Lambs require four days of inspection. Many authorities understand the Talmud to exclude future Pascal Lambs from the requirement of being secured and designated four days in advance. However, the Lamb must be inspected for four days. According to this interpretation of the Talmud, a person may charge the seller with the responsibility of inspecting the lamb for four days and purchase the lamb from the seller immediately prior to its slaughter. Others understand the Talmud to exclude future Pascal Lambs from the entire four day inspection requirement.
3. Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Shemot 12:6.
4. Rashi also notes that by securing the lamb for sacrifice the people rejected the idolatry of Egypt. The lamb was regarded by the Egyptians as sacred. Therefore, the four day “grooming” of the lamb for its sacrifice was an act of defiance and a renunciation of the Egyptian idolatry. In the standard text of Rashi, this explanation for the commandment and the explanation above – that their redemption required the people’s involvement in mitzvot – are intertwined. However, in the Midrash Rashi is quoting, these two explanations are clearly presented as alternatives. One authority quoted by the Midrash suggests that the commandment to secure the lamb addressed the imperative that the people involve themselves in commandments. A second authority rejects this explanation for the commandment and suggests that the mitzvah forced the people to renounce the Egyptian idolatry.
5. Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Shemot 2:14.
6. Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Shemot 3:11-12.
7. As explained, Rashi is suggesting that the people’s destiny is of such enormous importance as to engender the imperative of its redemption. This is the generally accepted interpretation of Rashi’s comments. Rabbi Reuven Mann suggests an alternative interpretation. Moshe could not understand the basis for the people’s rescue. They seemed undeserving and beyond salvation. Moshe could not, at this point, appreciate the transformative potential of the Torah. Hashem responded to Moshe that although the people were meritless and incapable of bringing about their own spiritual revival, Torah would transform the people into a nation worthy of its relationship with Hashem.
8. Rabbi Reuven Mann, Recorded lecture, C-0-40 Korban Pesach.