When the Jewish people strengthen themselves and remind themselves who they are and what their unique purpose in the world is, then even their enemies will respect them.
This week’s Torah portion is ‘Bo’ (Exodus 10:1-13:16) and with it, 210 years of slavery come to an end. The final three of the ten plagues are completed and Pharaoh has simply had enough; the Jews are on their way to freedom and the Promised Land.
For the first nine plagues, the Jews essentially had it easy: Moses and Aaron did their thing, the plagues came and went, and the rest of the Jewish people simply sat back and watched their tormentors suffer. The tenth plague, however, was different.
The tenth plague –the death of the firstborn- had some obligations attached to it. The Jews had to work. As part of the Exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people had to offer a special sacrifice known as the “Korban Pesach”, or in English, the Paschal Lamb. This offering was prepared just before the plague of the firstborn was unleashed. As part of the requirements of the Korban Pesach, the Jewish people were commanded to take the blood of the lamb and paint it upon their doorposts. Why? Because “When God will pass through to smite [the firstborn of] Egypt and He will see the blood that is on the lintel and the two doorposts, God will pass over the entrance and He will not permit the Destroyer to enter your homes”. Hence, the Jewish people were required to place the blood of the Korban Pesach upon their doorposts in order to save themselves from the plague of the firstborn.
Does God Almighty need a sign or code to know which houses were the Jewish ones and which ones were the Egyptian homes? Was God worried that He’d make a mistake and smite the wrong home? Does God need such reminders? What’s going on here?
Contrary to widespread misconception, and the script in some of the well-know movies that portray the story of the Exodus, the blood of the Korban Pesach was not placed on the outside doorposts. It was placed on the INSIDE doorposts. Only the residents of the home knew the blood was there!
Our sages teach us that the message of the blood — and the reason God demanded the Jewish people place it upon their doorposts – was that in order to be saved from the plague of the firstborn, they had to first re-affirm to *themselves* who they were: Jews that are loyal and appreciative to God Almighty who was about to take them out of Egypt. Sometimes we need to strengthen and remind *ourselves* who were are and what our mission in this world is. We must not let ourselves become the silly child who forgets that all he is provided with comes from his loving parents. God is our loving father, and sometimes, we have to say “thank you”. Sometimes, we have to do some work in order to earn His attention and care. What was the result of these efforts? “God caused the Jews to find favor in the eyes of the Egyptians”.
The lesson: When the Jewish people strengthen themselves and remind themselves who they are and what their unique purpose in the world is, then even their enemies will respect them. People are humbled when others have self-respect, confidence, and determination.
And so it is in Israel today. The leaders of the State of Israel must continually give themselves a “reality check”. They must realize that they are the leaders of the Jewish people and they must stand up for their rights and do what is needed for the benefit of the citizens of Israel. When we are confident and determined in the legitimacy of our goals, the world will be forced to engage us with the dignity and respect we deserve.
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!