Pesach - With Tests, Signs and Wonders
מרן רה"י הרב שבתי סבתו | כ ניסן התשעח | 05.04.2018
במסות באותות ובמופתים
With Tests, Signs and Wonders
The Miracle's Appearance
Hashem, nature's Creator and Director, reveals Himself in the world via both natural and super-natural occurrences.
A miracle, i.e., a super-natural event, does not just suddenly happen. It is the result of a gradual process that includes the necessary and appropriate preparations beforehand, climaxing with the miracle itself. The following verse, describing the momentous and miraculous Exodus from Egypt, spells out the three steps of the process:
אוֹ הֲנִסָּה אֱ-לֹהִים לָבוֹא לָקַחַת לוֹ גוֹי מִקֶּרֶב גּוֹי בְּמַסֹּת בְּאֹתֹת וּבְמוֹפְתִים ...
Has G-d ever performed miracles [like this], taking a nation out of another nation
with such tremendous tests, signs and wonders...
First comes the test. A miracle cannot occur unless preceded by a show of genuine faith backed up by significant deeds, including self-sacrifice. The next step is signs, whose purpose we will discuss below, and finally comes the miracle itself. Israel could not have been extricated from Egypt without open miracles – but these occurred only after the tests and the signs.
What is the function of the signs? We know that G-d wants the world to run and exist according to the rules of nature that He created. Miracles are viewed as exceptional events, occurring only when G-d finds it necessary to take special action to offset evil results of man's free will. Miracles ensure that the original plan that G-d set for the world is preserved and maintained.
In the case of the Jews in Egypt, there was absolutely no moral justification for Pharaoh's desire to keep Israel in his land and subjugate them forever. When the Divinely determined end of Israel's enslavement arrived – that is, the end of its "training" period for its true destiny in the world – G-d had to intervene with great wonders and miracles to cause Pharaoh to stop working to impede the Divine plan.
The miracles of the Exodus will never repeat themselves. They must therefore be eternalized with clear signs accompanying Israel throughout history to remind future generations of the tests and miracles that happened. Let us see how this test, sign and miraculous wonder pattern is implemented in the Plague of the First-Borns.
The Test of the Pesach Sacrifice
On the 14th day of the month of Nissan, precisely at midnight, an astonishing and powerful miracle occurred: The Smiting of the First-Borns. An invisible hand drew a precise map of the location of the eldest in each Egyptian household, enabling only them to be targeted and destroyed, while the Israelites were passed over. It was this last of the Ten Plagues that determined absolutely who was a Jew and who was an Egyptian.
This miracle was preceded by signs, and the signs were preceded by a test. The test demanded of the head of every family in Israel a tremendous effort to overcome his natural fears and inclinations: He was to take a lamb on the tenth day of the month, hold and guard it for a few days, and then slaughter it. This was a very difficult test, as lambs were the symbol of idol-worship in Egypt; for the Jews to mistreat an Egyptian god so callously and brutally was a provocative insult to their masters.
Let us listen to how Moshe Rabbeinu describes it. King Pharaoh had suggested that instead of leaving Egypt altogether, the Jews should simply bring sacrifices inside Egypt. Moshe responded:
לֹא נָכוֹן לַעֲשׂוֹת כֵּן... הֵן נִזְבַּח אֶת תּוֹעֲבַת מִצְרַיִם לְעֵינֵיהֶם וְלֹא יִסְקְלֻנו?!
This is not suitable... Could we offer the Egyptian abomination
before their very eyes and not have them stone us?
In other words, "This is totally unrealistic! How can we possibly slaughter your gods in public without being lynched en-masse?"
Incidentally, this explains why Moshe twice asked to go on a "three-days' walk away" (5,3 and 8,23), for it is a distance that can be considered "safe" when trying to keep antagonists apart. This was exactly the distance that Lavan placed between his sheep and that of his nephew Yaakov, so that they should not intermingle, as written: "He placed a three-days' walk between himself and between Yaakov." (B'reshit 30,36)
Returning to the difficulty of this test, we consult the Medrash, which discusses Israel's last days in Egypt:
Israel was told, "Pull and acquire sheep for you" (Sh'mot 12,21), meaning, "Pull yourselves away from idol-worship, and then acquire sheep and slaughter the gods of Egypt, and make a Pesach sacrifice" – for thus will Hashem pass over you [from the same root as the word Pesach] and save you." (Medrash Sh'mot Rabba 16,2)
The Israelites were to take the Egyptian sheep-gods on the tenth day of the month, and to slaughter them only on the 14th. This means that for at least three full days, an Egyptian god was tied up in every Jewish home, right in front of their Egyptian neighbors' unbelieving, furious eyes! This was quite a test for the Israelites to undergo. But it served an all-important purpose: Detaching Israel from idol-worship. How so?
Moshe had asked to be allowed to go to the desert for three days, where Israel would separate from the culture of idol-worship before receiving the Torah. But Pharaoh refused, and so they ended up undergoing the three-day separation process inside Egypt as they held the Egyptian gods that they planned to sacrifice to Hashem. Their courageous, determined stand in the face of the enraged Egyptians is what put an end to their further assimilation within Egyptian society. It also opened the Jewish hearts to the true faith in the G-d of Israel, namely, fearlessness of everything other than G-d Himself.
Note that this process was preceded by three days of darkness, which helped Israel psychologically to undergo the detachment from Egypt.
The Blood and the Sign
Following the test comes the sign. We saw that holding the sheep and slaughtering it was the height of self-sacrifice. It is therefore only natural that the blood of this slaughter would be used as a symbol of this sublime act by Bnei Yisrael:
וְהָיָה הַדָּם לָכֶם לְאֹת עַל הַבָּתִּים אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם שָׁם...
The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you reside… (Sh'mot 12,13)
The phrase "a sign for you" means that it will be for your benefit. It will remind you of your mission and task in the world. It will preserve for future generations your sacrifice in the struggle against idol-worship – a sacrifice that was a necessary condition for the Exodus. The memory of the Exodus will thus defeat forever the tendency to follow the ways of the idol-worshipping nations. Not for naught do the first two of the Ten Commandments emphasize the importance of cleaving to Hashem and abandoning idol-worship:
אָנֹכִי ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים.
לֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל פָּנָי.
I am the Lord your G-d, Who took you out of Egypt,
out of the house of bondage. You shall not have other gods before me. (20,2-3)
Thus, the Pesach blood is a symbol – and this helps us understand the Medrashic exposition on the wordsוְרָאִיתִי אֶת הַדָּם וּפָסַחְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם , I will see the blood, and I will pass over you (12,13): "The blood is seen to Me and not to anyone else" (Mechilta d'Rebbe Yishmael, Bo, 6). The Egyptians did not see the blood that was hidden from view behind the door, for it was a memorial sign specifically for Israel. The blood is a remembrance of the educational values that were revealed in the slaughter of the Pesach lambs: self-sacrifice, abandonment of idol-worship, and true faith in G-d Who revealed His strong hand and brought great awe of Heaven among the Egyptians.
This entire process teaches us that in order for a miracle to occur, the beneficiaries must first pass an appropriate test showing their very high level of faith. In addition, a sign must be left for future generations as a memorial and testimony of the test that was passed, so that the self-sacrifice not be in vain or forgotten.
A Sign Upon Your Hand
The Passover blood, sprinkled upon the doorposts and over the door, was a sign for its time. But how can it be preserved for generations? The Torah provides the answer at the end of the Kadesh li kol b'chor passage, immediately after the Israelites left Egypt:
וְהָיָה לְךָ לְאוֹת עַל יָדְךָ וּלְזִכָּרוֹן בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ, לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת ה' בְּפִיךָ
כִּי בְּיָד חֲזָקָה הוֹצִאֲךָ ה' מִמִּצְרָיִם.
The tefillin will be a sign on your hand and a remembrance [atop your forehead]
so that G-d's Torah will be in your mouth
for G-d took you out of Egypt with a mighty hand. (13,9)
The hand-tefillin is worn on the left hand, corresponding to the blood on the left doorpost. The head-tefillin stands for the blood placed atop the door-frame. What parallels the blood sprinkled on the right-hand doorpost?
The answer is: The parchment passages that comprise the Mezuzah, which we affix at the right-hand entrance to our houses and rooms. By fulfilling this mitzvah throughout history, we perpetuate forever the sign of "blood" of the Exodus night.
This is why these two commandments of Tefillin and Mezuzah were joined together in the first paragraph of Kriat Shma:
וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת עַל יָדֶךָ, וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ.
וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזֻזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ.
You shall bind [these words] as a sign on your hand, and [atop your head].
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your home and gates.
Together they represent the essence of the signs of blood atop the doorframe and two doorposts, as is written: The triple-strand rope will not quickly come apart (Kohelet 4,12). Via these two mitzvot, the great miracles of the Plague of the First-Borns and the Exodus will be engraved on our hearts forever.
We may ask: Why does the mitzvah of Mezuzah not appear in the above passage of the Exodus, in Sh'mot, but only in the Shma Yisrael passages in D'varim? The answer is that during the events of the Book of Sh'mot, the nation dwelled in tents, which are temporary and exempt from the mitzvah of Mezuzah. But in D'varim, the mitzvah of Mezuzah is about to become very practical: Moshe is delivering his parting speech as the nation prepares to enter Eretz Yisrael, where they will build permanent homes on which they will be obligated to place Mezuzot.
A Mighty Hand
At the end of Parashat Sh'mot, Hashem speaks encouraging words to Moshe:
עַתָּה תִרְאֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶעֱשֶׂה לְפַרְעֹה, כִּי בְיָד חֲזָקָה יְשַׁלְּחֵם, וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה יְגָרְשֵׁם מֵאַרְצוֹ.
You will now see what I will do to Pharaoh:
with a mighty hand he will send them out,
and with a mighty hand he will banish them from his country.
The last two phrases appear to say the same thing, and the verbs in particular are synonymous: "send them out" and "banish them." Why the duplication?
Rashi explains that the first phrase means that Pharaoh will be forced to send them out by virtue of G-d's mighty hand, and that he will banish them against Israel's will via the Egyptians' mighty hand. On the one hand, G-d activates His mighty hand against Pharaoh, via the Ten Plagues, so that he will send out Bnei Yisrael to serve G-d, and on the other hand, G-d activates another mighty hand against Israel, via the Egyptians, to have them banished quickly.
This verse describes the mighty hand activated against Israel:
וַתֶּחֱזַק מִצְרַיִם עַל הָעָם לְמַהֵר לְשַׁלְּחָם מִן הָאָרֶץ ...
Egypt used force against the nation, to quickly send them out of the land...
The Egyptians were anxious to send away the Jews to serve G-d, hoping that this would stand them in good stead and protect them from G-d's plague. But from the Israelites' standpoint, they were banished quickly from Egypt, with no time to properly prepare food to eat on the way:
... כִּי גֹרְשׁוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהִתְמַהְמֵהַּ וְגַם צֵדָה לֹא עָשׂוּ לָהֶם.
… for they were banished from Egypt, and could not tarry;
they did not even make food for themselves. (verse 39)
This is precisely the essence of the prophecy given to Moshe Rabbeinu before the Plague of the First-Borns:
עוֹד נֶגַע אֶחָד אָבִיא עַל פַּרְעֹה וְעַל מִצְרַיִם,
אַחֲרֵי כֵן יְשַׁלַּח אֶתְכֶם מִזֶּה כְּשַׁלְּחוֹ כָּלָה, גָּרֵשׁ יְגָרֵשׁ אֶתְכֶם מִזֶּה.
I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh and Egypt,
and afterwards he will send you away; he will totally and forcefully banish you.
Here too we see both expressions: "send" against the king's will, and "banish" against Israel's will. Pharaoh thought they would return after three days; he does not intend to banish them, but merely to send them away. But as far as Bnei Yisrael were concerned, they were banished, with no time to prepare, and certainly with no intention to return.
Both of these "mighty hand" objectives are alluded to in mitzvot mentioned immediately after the Exodus. The Kadesh li kol bechor passage, which deals with the Paschal sacrifice, both opens and closes with the "mighty hand" – employed here against Israel. The relevant verses are:
קַדֶּשׁ לִי כָל בְּכוֹר...כִּי בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיא ה' אֶתְכֶם מִזֶּה...
Sanctify unto Me every first-born…
for with a mighty hand G-d removed you from this. (Sh'mot 13,2-3)
...לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת ה' בְּפִיךָ כִּי בְּיָד חֲזָקָה הוֹצִאֲךָ ה' מִמִּצְרָיִם.
…so that G-d's Torah be in your mouth,
for with a mighty hand G-d removed you from Egypt. (verse 9)
The V'hayah ki y'viakha passage, featuring the mitzvot of sanctifying the first-born and of wearing tefillin, also begins and ends with the "mighty hand" concept – but this time employed against Egypt:
וְהָיָה כִּי יִשְׁאָלְךָ בִנְךָ ...
וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ ה' מִמִּצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים.
And when your son asks you… You shall answer him:
G-d removed us from a house of bondage in Egypt with a mighty hand. (Sh'mot 13,14)
וְהָיָה לְאוֹת עַל יָדְכָה וּלְטוֹטָפת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ כִּי בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ ה' מִמִּצְרָיִם.
[The tefillin] shall be a sign…
that with a mighty hand G-d took us from Egypt. (verse 16)
How do we know that the "mighty hand" in the latter is against Pharaoh and the Egyptians? It is clear from the context: "When Pharaoh refused to let us out, Hashem killed every first-born in Egypt…" (verse 15)
And how do we know that the "mighty hand" in the Kadesh li kol bechor passage was employed against Israel? Again, the other verses in the passage tell us:
מַצּוֹת יֵאָכֵל אֵת שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים...וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר:
בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה' לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם.
Matzot shall be eaten for the seven days… and you shall tell your son on that day:
"For this, G-d wrought [this] for me when I left Egypt." (verses 7-8)
This verse is unclear. Is it "for this" – the eating of matzot – that G-d performed these miracles? Isn't the opposite more likely, namely, that G-d commanded us to eat matzah to commemorate what we ate when we left Egypt?
To understand this, let us keep in mind these two fundamentals: G-d extricated us from Egypt so that we would become His Nation, and the eating of matzah is one of the features of the Beit HaMikdash, the spiritual center of the Jewish nation. (The Mishna (Menachot 5,1) tells us that all the Mincha offerings in the Holy Temple, except for two, are brought in the form of matzah.) Thus, it was truly "for the [national] eating of matzah" that Hashem took us out of Egypt.
Home and Mikdash
As we have learned elsewhere in this volume, the home of every Jewish family in Egypt became a type of Beit Mikdash: The Pesach sacrifice was slaughtered there, and its blood was gathered in a utensil and sprinkled on the doorpost and door frame, symbolizing the altar (as the Medrash Rabba explains). Similarly, no meat may be removed from the home on Pesach night, just as sacred food may not be removed from the Beit HaMikdash; if it is, it becomes unfit for eating.
Another parallel is this:
...כִּי כָל שְׂאֹר וְכָל דְּבַשׁ לא תַקְטִירוּ מִמֶּנּוּ אִשֶּׁה לַה'.
For any leavening or any honey, you shall not cause to [go up in] smoke,
[as] a fire offering to G-d. (Vayikra 2,11)
Chametz and sweet fruits are not permitted as offerings in the Beit HaMikdash – just like we were similarly commanded on the night of the Exodus:
וְאָכְלוּ אֶת הַבָּשָׂר בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה צְלִי אֵשׁ וּמַצּוֹת עַל מְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻהוּ.
They shall eat the meat on this night, roasted over the fire, and matzot;
with bitter herbs they shall eat it. (Sh'mot 12,8)
That is, the sacrifice was eaten roasted, just like the meat that was burnt on the altar in the Beit HaMikdash, and it was encompassed by matzah and bitterness, just like in the Beit HaMikdash where chametz and sweet were not permitted.
And a third likeness between Pesach night and the Beit HaMikdash: The Beit HaMikdash and the site of the altar serve as a place of refuge for accidental killers, just like the Levite cities; similarly, our homes, in which each family gathered together on the night of the Exodus ("take sheep according to your families…", Sh'mot 12,21) , was a place of refuge and protection in the face of the Plague of the First-Borns raging outside. As we read:
...וְרָאָה אֶת הַדָּם עַל הַמַּשְׁקוֹף וְעַל שְׁתֵּי הַמְּזוּזֹת
וּפָסַח ה' עַל הַפֶּתַח וְלֹא יִתֵּן הַמַּשְׁחִית לָבֹא אֶל בָּתֵּיכֶם לִנְגֹּף.
… He will see the blood on the doorframe and on the two doorposts,
and He will pass over the entrance, and He will not permit the destroyer
to enter your houses to smite [you]. (12,23)
This all comes to attest to the fact that the night of the Exodus bears the first buds of what is to be in the Beit HaMikdash. Here, each Jewish home is a small Beit HaMikdash, and Hashem brings His Presence to dwell among each and every family – while in the future, there will be one large Beit HaMikdash for all of Israel.
Signs for You
Let us return to the above-mentioned verses (13,7-8): "Matzot shall be eaten for the seven days… For this, G-d wrought for me when I left Egypt." This means that in order for us to become G-d's People, He activated His "mighty hand" against us when we left Egypt. This is why the Torah continues here most uniquely:
וְהָיָה לְךָ לְאוֹת עַל יָדְךָ וּלְזִכָּרוֹן בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת ה' בְּפִיךָ
כִּי בְּיָד חֲזָקָה הוֹצִאֲךָ ה' מִמִּצְרָיִם.
It shall be a sign for you on your hand, and a remembrance between your eyes
[above your forehead], so that G-d's Torah will be in your mouth -
for with a mighty hand G-d took you out of Egypt. (verse 9)
This sign is for you, just like the blood was a sign for you – so that you will never turn your back on your mission and destiny; so that your mouth shall be accustomed to reciting G-d's guiding words; and so that you shall not be able to resist such a decisive Divine decree.
The depth of this concept is that the entire process of the choice and sanctification of Israel as G-d's nation was planned in advance – and in fact "forces itself" upon both Israel and its foes with a "mighty hand." This is an exalted and sublime system, reminiscent of G-d's word to the Prophet Yirmiyahu:
בְּטֶרֶם אֶצָּרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ, נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם נְתַתִּיךָ.
Before I formed you, I chose you,
and before you left the womb, I sanctified you;
I have made you a prophet to the nations
...אַל תֹּאמַר נַעַר אָנֹכִי, כִּי עַל כָּל אֲשֶׁר אֶשְׁלָחֲךָ תֵּלֵךְ וְאֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר אֲצַוְּךָ תְּדַבֵּר.
… Don't say, 'I am a youth' – for you must go wherever I send you,
and speak all that I charge you. (Yirmiyahu 1,5-7)
Hashem is telling the prophet: "Don't be small-minded; you cannot refuse the mission I am assigning you." He gave a similar message to the Prophet Yechezkel:
וְהָעֹלָה עַל רוּחֲכֶם הָיוֹ לֹא תִהְיֶה, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם אֹמְרִים נִהְיֶה כַגּוֹיִם כְּמִשְׁפְּחוֹת הָאֲרָצוֹת...
And that which comes into your minds shall never come about,
that you say, We will be like the nations…
חַי אָנִי נְאֻם ה' אֱ-לֹהִים, אִם לא בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבְחֵמָה שְׁפוּכָה אֶמְלוֹךְ עֲלֵיכֶם.
As I live, says G-d, surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm
and with anger poured out I will reign over you. (20,32-33)
Tefillin: The Double Sign
Just as Am Yisrael is commanded to grow and execute its great mission, every individual is similarly charged to grow and accept responsibility upon himself, as the Medrash teaches:
"Heaven and the earth and all their hosts were completed" (B'reshit 2,1). Said R. Simone: "Every single blade of grass has its own mazal in the heavens that strikes it and tells it [when] to grow." (B'reshit Rabba 10,6)
As we noted above, we find in both Kadesh and V'hayah a double mention of "a mighty hand," as well as the mitzvot of both hand- and head-tefillin. We also noted that in Kadesh, the emphasis is on the "mighty hand" against Israel. Accordingly, the tefillin-verses in this passage are directed to each individual Jew: "Do not deny your mission, and do not fear to grow." The hand-tefillin is thus covered - because every person has his own individual mission: "It shall be for you a sign – and not for others."
But regarding the head-tefillin, the Torah states that it should be a "remembrance [on your forehead] between your eyes," as if to say: "Remember proudly, and do not allow any outside elements to impede your mission." The head-tefillin is therefore uncovered, standing proud and fearless.
On the other hand, as mentioned above, the passage of V'hayah ki y'viakha emphasizes the mighty Divine hand directed against the Egyptians and our other enemies. This explains the words "ul'totafot bein einekha" written regarding the head-tefillin – that the tefillin should "float" upward and be uncovered to all. The word totafot is derived from the Aramaic word tafet, meaning "to float," as we learn in the Mishna in Pirkei Avot:
[Hillel] also saw a skull floating upon the water, and said to it, "D'atfet, atfukh - For that which you floated [drowned], you shall be drowned, and those who drowned you will also be drowned."
The purpose of the uncovered tefillin is to deter the enemies who seek to attack Israel, as the Gemara teaches:
"All the nations shall see that G-d's name is proclaimed upon you and they will fear you" (D'varim 28,10). R. Eliezer HaGadol says: "This refers to the head-tefillin." (B'rachot 6a)
In contrast, regarding the hand-tefillin, the Torah spells "your hand" with an extra letter heh, thus that the word ends with kuf-heh, from the root meaning "weak" - alluding to the weaker, left hand. We must strengthen this hand via the tefillin, and we must make sure the enemy does not see it – and so we cover it.
In sum: The Nation of Israel cannot run from its holy mission, and neither can the nations of the world prevent us from fulfilling it. This is the hidden mighty hand (vis-a-vis Israel), together with the revealed mighty hand (vis-a-vis the Egyptians and the other nations).
 as explained elsewhere, this phrase is the Torah's reference to the Egyptian gods
 This question is expanded upon in our lesson "Sending Off vs. Expelling," in B'reshit.
 in the Pesach lesson, "When Your Son Asks You"
 This Medrash was explained at length in the Pesach lesson "Golden Utensils and Clothing"