Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 9 April 2022 / 8 Nisan 5782

Israel's Magna Charta

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
Become a Supporter Library Library

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 is, in Rav Hirsch’s words, the Magna Charta of Israel, setting forth the foundational elements of Jewish service. Below we present some of those fundamental teachings.

The instruction specifies that every individual must participate. Judaism is not a “representative religion.” The nation is built on the personal awareness and practice of every individual member. Yet, all members participated in the same service at the same time, creating a unified nation with a singular mission.The lamb — the most docile and pliant of the domesticated animals — was the object of the offering. The lamb, because of its joyful submission to the guidance of its shepherd, served as a symbol of what the Jew was to become vis-à-vis Hashem. As sheep of His pasture, each individual and the nation as a whole stood in devoted obedience before His guidance.

Each home was to have a lamb. But the instruction, as written, alludes both to a parent’s home (seh labeit avot) and to an individual’s own future home (seh labayit). A Jewish home is built on the foundations of the parents’ home, where the ethical guidance and moral mission of man is taught. Even more than houses of study, we are instructed: Create homes! Human affairs — from the most sublime to the most ordinary — are entrusted to the clean hands, pure minds and unsullied spirit of the loving Jewish home. No bastion of education or cultural establishment can ever take the place of the Jewish home.

But if the house is too small to consume an entire lamb, then he is to go to his neighbor and divide up the lamb in accordance with the number of individuals. Family comes first — he takes care of his own household first, from the blessings which Hashem has bestowed. But if that blessing is too large for the size of his family, the Torah teaches to join with one’s neighbor. It is not need, but overabundance; not destitution, but longing for love; not sympathy but duty which unites the homes of the Jewish people! It is not the poor man that seeks out the rich, but the rich man who seeks out the poor to apply the surplus blessing granted to him.

Our national birth was realized when we assumed the role of the sheep, adopting the fundamentals of nationhood. With these commitments, we become the loyal flock, led by the Shepherd, over high and low pastures, through centuries and millennia, up to the eternal goal.

  • Sources: Collected Writings I, pp. 103-111

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