OU Torah Insights Project
Parashat Tzav - Shabbat Hagadol
According to the Gemara, it was on Shabbos, the tenth of Nissan, that Bnei Yisrael rose up and defied that which Egypt deified. Unimpeded by the Egyptians, they freely fulfilled the will of Hashem: "On the tenth of this month, each of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household."
Moshe Rabbeinu's previous apprehensions about Egyptian retaliation went unrealized. If liberty is the power to do as one pleases, then on that Great Shabbos, Bnei Yisrael, at last, experienced liberty.
Liberty, however, represents only half of the equation. With liberty comes the responsibility to follow Hashem's charge to choose a lifestyle that is holy, right, and good. And Hashem teaches Bnei Yisrael this second, perhaps even more essential element in a very striking way.
Bnei Yisrael were instructed to spend the first night of their redemption, the fifteenth of Nissan, confined to their homes. After slaughtering the Pascal lamb, Bnei Yisrael framed their homes and their very lives with the mitzvah of painting their doorwaysthrough which they could not exitwith its blood.
Why did Hashem begin the Exodus with a night of forced residence?
The Mishnah tells us that seven days prior to Yom Kippur, the kohein gadol was sequestered in a chamber in the Temple to prepare him for his duties on Yom Kippur.
The Gemara asks whether that chamber required a mezuzah. The Sages say that it did because it served as a dwelling for the Kohen Gadol. Rabbi Yehudah disagrees. He says that since the kohein gadol is forced to remain in the chamber, it is not a bone fide residence and does not require a mezuzah.
Perhaps the Sages believe that a forced residence is nonetheless a bone fide residence, because as long as one has the freedom to choose to frame one's house and one's life with mitzvah, one still holds the freedom of self-determination.
Thus, many halachic authorities rule that even a jail cell requires a mezuzah, assuming that the prisoner who lives there enjoys basic religious freedoms.
On Shabbos Hagadol, Hashem empowered Bnei Yisrael with the liberty of free motion and free choice. On the night of Pesach, sealed in their crowded homes, Bnei Yisrael learned that the essence of freedom lies more in our ability to choose, than in our ability to move.
And that moment of realization, that moment of mitzvah, marks the true beginning of our redemption.
Rabbi Benjamin Samuels
Rabbi Samuels is rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah in Newton Centre, Massachusetts.