Rather than discussing cosmology or theology, as one might think a commentary on the Creation of the Universe in Parshat Bereishit would start, Rashi begins his teachings on the entire Torah quoting an opinion that the Torah really should have begun with החודש הזה, HaChodesh Hazeh, “This month…” which appears in the middle of this week’s portion, Bo. Beyond revealing the underlying structural relationship between the Torah and the Mitzvot (commandments), he is directing us to another creation, this time of the Jewish People.
As we read, we are commanded to count the month of Nissan, in the beginning of the spring, as the first month of each new year (and not Tishrei, six months later, when we celebrate Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year) Next, we’re told to select a lamb for each household to sacrifice two weeks later as the Karban Pesach. The Torah is very specific that this is to be eaten in a group, and if a single household isn’t large enough to consume the entire lamb, two or more households must combine.
Next we’re told to do something very curious. When we slaughter the lamb, we’re supposed to smear the blood on our doorposts and lintels, presumably so God, appearing to the Egyptians as the Angel of Death, would recognize the Jewish homes and pass over them.
Why would the omniscient, omnipotent Master of the Universe need a visual sign to mark the Jewish homes? It’s even more a stretch when you consider that all the Israelites had originally settled in Goshen, living separately from the Egyptian population, and, when enslaved, this had become the world’s first ghetto, the original concentration camp. Presumably, every home was Jewish, so why mark any of them?
One image traditionally used to describe the Exodus is birth, as in the Birth of the Jewish Nation. We will soon leave the “narrow place” (מצרים, Mitzraim) and pass through the waters of the sea into full-fledged nationhood. But we can also see the transition as one of growing up. The simple step of joining together, with our individual uniquenesses, to transcend our separatenesses becomes the beginning of coalescing into a people. Not only do we partner with close neighbors to share a meal, but everywhere we look, at all the houses in our ‘hood, we see everyone else doing the same thing. No longer out of oppression and coercion, but out of the excitement of collaboration, we can begin to see ourselves as one people.
This, indeed, is a beginning within the Torah. Adulthood takes our childhood’s energy and youth’s preparation and training into the arena where we’ll have our turn to change the world. It begins with the exercise of working together. It extends in the future to our national project to bring light into the world. But we need continuously to remind ourselves that it only works when we see ourselves, with all our unique peronalities, nonetheless, as one.
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