In relaying to Benei Yisrael God’s commands concerning the paschal sacrifice which they were to offer on the eve of the Exodus, Moshe instructed, “Mishkhu u-kchu lakhem tzon” – which literally means, “Pull and take for yourselves a sheep” for the sacrifice (Shemot 12:21). The Midrash (Mekhilta; Shemot Rabba 16:2) famously interprets the word “mishkhu” (“pull”) in this verse to mean “withdraw.” According to the Midrash, Moshe was instructing the people, “Withdraw your hands from idol-worship.” As a prerequisite for the miraculous Exodus, the people were instructed to renounce Egyptian paganism, to which they had grown accustomed over the course of the Egyptian exile, and to then display their faith in the one, true God by offering a special sacrifice.
Rav Avraham of Sochatchov (the Avnei Neizer), cited by his son, in Sheim Mi-Shmuel (Parashat Tzav, 5678), explained that the Midrash understood the word “mishkhu” as denoting not simply “withdrawal,” but an active process of distancing. He notes the observation made by Rav Simcha of Bunim of Peshischa that the only prohibition from which the Torah commands us to “distance” ourselves is the prohibition against falsehood, which the Torah formulates as, “Mi-devar sheker tirchak” – “You shall keep a distance from falsehood” (Shemot 23:7). The root of all falsehood, the Avnei Neizer taught, is idol-worship. And thus the command of “mishkhu,” that Benei Yisrael were to distance themselves from idol worship, has the broader implication of requiring that we distancing ourselves from self-deception and delusion, from the many different “falsehoods” with which we live.
How might we understand this association between idolatry and falsehood, and how does this relate to the Pesach celebration?
The explanation, perhaps, is that we sometimes delude ourselves into feeling subservient and bound to certain perceived needs. Like the ancient pagans, who, unwilling or unable to feel subservient to a single, omnipotent Divine Being, made for themselves inanimate “gods” to whom to subjugate themselves, we, too, impose on ourselves various forms of “servitude” to absolve ourselves of our true obligations. We tend to mistake certain excesses and luxuries for necessities, voluntarily “subjugating” ourselves to these comforts. We also tend to turn other people’s habits and lifestyles into “gods” that we must “serve,” models of living to which we are willing to sacrifice the most important things in our life. Idol-worship is the embodiment of “falsehood” in that it is false subservience, deceiving oneself into committing absolute loyalty to something which does not deserve it, at the expense of one’s real obligations and responsibilities. This could be a worthless statue, but it can also be something of value that we mistakenly turn into the highest priority, and for which we sacrifice more important commitments.
The Exodus marked the moment when Benei Yisrael were to break themselves free of all subservience other than subservience to the Almighty. And thus they were commanded to “withdraw” and distance themselves from “falsehood,” from illusionary “gods” to which they felt committed. Our celebration of Pesach each year requires our release from our own “falsehoods,” from our imaginary, self-imposed “masters” whom we serve. As we remember and reenact God’s taking us out of servitude to become His servants, we must make the firm decision to leave our “service” of the many different “masters” which we have empowered over ourselves, the various loyalties and commitments that we have but shouldn’t have. We must reaffirm our exclusive subservience to the Almighty, and resolve that the only true obligations which we have are those imposed upon us by God Himself.