Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 28 January 2023 / 6 Shevat 5783

Like a Lamb

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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If we were to point to one act as the moment of the birth of our nation, it would be the korban Pesach undertaken by our ancestors more than three thousand years ago. The words conveying this instruction are, in Rav Hirsch’s words, the Magna Charta of Israel, setting forth the foundational elements of Jewish nationhood.

The way in which the people were counted for this service (highlighting the prominence of the family unit), the permission of one individual to act on behalf of his brethren (declaring that all are equal before Hashem, so that one is authorized to act for another), the permission for self-determination in the formation of household units (emphasizing the right to independence and free choice), and the way in which communal sharing was instructed (to those who perceive their own abundance to seek out their neighbor) — are all facets of this foundation stone in the edifice of Jewish nationhood.

The korban Pesach was the foundation of not only the communal and social structure, but also of the individual’s relationship to Hashem. At this moment of emergence into a new life, each individual, each household, each family and the entire community as a whole are to see themselves as lambs — they are to accept Hashem as their Shepherd and place themselves under His guidance and direction. This concept — that Hashem is our Shepherd and we are His flock — became the most comprehensive and lasting view of our relationship to Hashem. (Psalms 100:3; 80:2, 79:13

Indeed, our daily Temple service of one sheep in the morning and one sheep in the afternoon would symbolize this relationship — the way in which Israel was to present and dedicate itself to Hashem at the start and end of each new day. This was but a continuation of the first instance of Israel, the lamb, submitting to the leadership of the Shepherd.

This Jewish lamb, however, is not a meek, sad creature, that allows itself to be led to the slaughter without offering resistance. The Paschal lamb was “complete, male, in its first year” — whole in body, with manly vigor and fresh with eternal youth. Complete and independent, but vis-à-vis Hashem, forever young and following.

Both sheep and goats were fit for the korban Pesach. A goat characteristically shows greater independence toward the outside than does the sheep. Thus the word for goat — ez — denotes stiff resistance. While the goat assumes an outward posture of defiance, showing his horns to every stranger, to the shepherd he is obedient and pliant, as the sheep.

  • Sources: Commentary Shemot 12:3-6

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