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Shabbat Pesach 5778

Parashat Hashavua: See and Sanctify

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Shirat Hageula, p. 5-6

“This month is for you the ‘head’ of months, the first of the months of the year it shall be for you” (Shemot 12:2). The Mechilta (Bo 1) comments on this: Moshe had trouble telling when the new month was considered to have come … until Hashem showed him the moon as it was renewed and said to him: “See the moon when it is like this and sanctify it.”

The nations of the world count from Tishrei; Israel counts from Nisan. We have a tradition that Nisan is the month of liberation: “In Nisan they were liberated; in Nisan, they are destined to be liberated” (Rosh Hashana 11a).

“Keep the month of spring” (Devarim 16:1). If we delve deep into what makes Am Yisrael unique, we will find that it is its proclivity toward renewal. If and when there are falls in their level, they are never permanent. It is like the cold and bareness of winter, which prepare for a new flowering. Failure is never the final word.

Egypt was the metal caldron from which a new nation emerged. The exile in Babylonia was the place where the evil inclination toward idol worship was destroyed. 2,000 years of exile were also not able to cease the continuity of the nation, but rather it gave us a new desire for national life, with a new grasping of our place in the Land of our Fathers.

From where does the constant power of renewal come? What is the secret of our survival? What is our secret weapon? It is not tanks or our fighting spirit. The nations of the world have plenty of that. This is what confounded Moshe, and Hashem answered him: “See it and sanctify it.” The ability to renew comes from the ability to sanctify.

Where is the wellspring from which our forefathers drew water? “I am a wall” – this refers to Torah; “and my breasts are like towers” – this refers to shuls and study halls (Pesachim 87a). Even when we were in exile in foreign lands and we appeared to be totally enslaved, we guarded our independence and our uniqueness. There, in those shuls, when we got together in those spiritual fortresses, we dreamed the dream of the return to Zion, the dream of the return of the Kingdom of Israel. We kept the month of the spring; we preserved in our memories the hope of liberation. We knew that even if the day was distant, it would certainly come. “If it is delayed – wait for it.”

The light of morning has begun to shine forth. Just when we thought that our nation was finished, there is the beginning of a new flowering and a new spring. On the other hand, the danger has not passed. Even as we stand on the cusp of emerging liberation, we must remember what the Torah commanded: “See it in this way and sanctify.” When you see things in renewal, call upon it the name of Hashem. Do not see it as a chance occurrence – go and sanctify it.

Sometimes we hear people saying: “What is this work for you?” These people may be making the mistake of thinking that keeping mitzvot was needed only in the distant exile, to help prevent assimilation and that this danger does not exist in Israel. Some think that here a Jew is someone who sees himself as a Jew. However, this is not so, and those living here still need to know: “Drag along and take for yourself” (a play of words based on Shemot 12:21).

What is contained in the idea of Pesach? Two matters together. There is the idea that one pesach sacrifice can be used for all of Israel (Pesachim 78b), which hints at Jewish unity. On the other hand, when we are all together, we need to declare: “This is the feast of Pesach for Hashem” (Shemot 12:27).

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