SALT - Sunday, 29 Tevet 5776 - January 10, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            After conveying to Benei Yisrael God’s commands concerning the korban pesach, Moshe instructs Benei Yisrael that in the future, they are to explain to their children the meaning behind this annual observance.  When their children inquire as to why this sacrifice is offered, they are to tell them about the miracle of the Exodus, specifically, how Benei Yisrael were spared from the plague of the firstborn on the night they left Egypt (12:26-27).

            The Mekhilta, commenting on these verses, cites a debate as to whether Moshe here presented to Benei Yisrael “bad news” (“besora ra’a”) or “good news” (“besora tova”).  According to the first view, Moshe here foresees the disheartening situation of “Torah being forgotten from among Israel,” as children will need to be taught why the paschal sacrifice is offered.  According to the other view, Moshe here relays the happy tidings that the generation of the Exodus would reproduce and have children and grandchildren.

            Of course, both these views are correct.  Moshe’s instructions convey both the heartwarming news that the Israelite nation would continue and endure, and the discouraging tidings that there will be times when ignorance about Jewish tradition would be widespread.  It therefore stands to reason that as with many “debates” in Midrashic literature, these two views reflect not two mutually exclusive opinions, but rather two sides of the same coin.  As part of their preparations for the Exodus, Moshe informed Benei Yisrael that this moment would mark the nation’s emergence onto the stage of history, where they would remain for all eternity.  And this announcement was both exhilarating and daunting.  Alongside the excitement over the knowledge of our nation’s destiny, we were made aware of the enormous challenges that this destiny entails.  Every generation would have to work hard to ensure that the Torah is not forgotten.  The “good news” of eternal survival was accompanied by the “bad news” that this was contingent upon our meeting our responsibilities by ensuring the perpetuation of our heritage, a task that would very often prove to be exceedingly difficult.

            The broader message that Chazal perhaps seek to convey in this passage is that every good fortune imposes upon us a degree of responsibility and obligation. Just as the blessing of children and Jewish continuity imposes upon us the difficult challenge of education to perpetuate our tradition, all our blessings in life must be seen as a challenge, as we are to utilize them the right way and for the right purposes.  Our good fortune is granted to us to enjoy, but also to use in the pursuit of our nation’s ideals.  And thus just as we celebrate and give thanks for our blessings, we must also take upon ourselves the responsibility to use them wisely and channel them towards the advancement of our goals as God’s chosen people.