Shortly after a year of being rescued from Egypt, this week’s Torah Parsha (BEHAALOTECHA) provides a glimpse into Moses’ psyche, as well as the state of mind of the Israelites....
By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
When Passover coincides with Shabbat, we intercept our reading of Leviticus, and return to the portion of EXODUS, to repeat the miraculous story of how our ancestors escaped slavery in Egypt, and became a free nation. We reiterate the tenth and final plague, which God imposed on the Pharaoh and his people: the plague of death of the first-born within each Egyptian household; and, how God (through Moses) instructed that the homes of the Jewish would be ‘passed over’, if the blood of a sacrificial animal was visible on the doorposts of their homes. “After 430 years of bondage and servitude, the Jewish people were finally free” (1).
Every year, for thousands of years, Jews all over the world comply with God’s Commandment: “And thou shall tell your children, saying that it was that which the Lord did for me, when I came forth out of Egypt (2). To ensure that we never forget, the Torah requires us to consider the experiences of our ancestors, as if we personally endured the intense fear and anticipation, followed by a new and glorious sense of freedom. The Haggadah (translated as ‘The Telling) adds “The Holy One did not redeem only our ancestors, but God delivered us as well” (3).
The focus of Passover, the celebration of our Exodus from Egypt, ostensibly should be about Jewish unity; its mitzvahs and traditions, to emphasize our similarities and ‘oneness’. One of the essential commandments was the Passover sacrifice. This was not a communal offering; but, rather an individual endeavor.
Another required commandment of Passover is the reciting of the Haggadah, by which we recount the story of the Exodus. Instead of simply telling the history of our people, communicate it by way of questions and answers. The Haggadah makes reference to four types of children: the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one, and the one who does not know what to ask. Each child asks a different question; and, our responses vary, depending on their individual queries and needs (4).
The paradox of community and individuality is actually the core structure of all Jewish communities. Although we are ‘one nation’, we were divided into twelve tribes. Each of the twelve tribes had a different role; but, simultaneously, they were a single entity, acting in harmony.
The same can be said on the individual level. We are all different, with a singular personality. Each of us has the ability to contribute something special to our community, which is our own distinctive talent, incomparable to that of anyone else. But, it is precisely these differences which bind us together.
Every individual possesses a piece of God’s puzzle; and, this puzzle cannot be completed without the contribution of our own unique skills and inspiration.
This is the reason why we specifically draw attention to the four very different children, as described in the Haggadah. Our community must include all types of individuals, as each one adds an ingredient, which otherwise would be lacking.
(1) EXODUS (12:42)
(2) EXODUS (13:8)
(3) “The Open Door: A Passover Haggadah”