This shabbos is very unique in that we will read from three separate Torahs: the portion of the week, Tazria; the reading for Rosh Chodesh (the first of the month), which coincides with this Shabbat; and a special portion called “HaChodesh,” which we read around Rosh Chodesh of the Hebrew month of Nissan.
The portion HaChodesh speaks of the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh and the Paschal lamb offering. The Jewish people were commanded to take a lamb for the offering on the tenth of Nissan and then hold on to it for four days by tying it to their bedposts.
Only on the fourteenth of the month would the lamb be slaughtered. Before it could be eaten, however, the blood from the slaughtered animal must be smeared on the door posts as “a sign.” G-d would see the blood and pass over the homes of the Jewish people to spare them from the 10th plague—the death of the first born.
The lamb would be eaten as the “korban Pesach” with matza and maror right before the 10th plague and the Exodus from Egypt. That means that the first time the Jewish people celebrated the Exodus from Egypt was actually before the Exodus happened!
Why would we celebrate the Exodus with the eating of the korban Pesach before the Exodus actually happened?
The karban Pesach was an exercise in shoring up the Jewish people’s faith, which, in turn, would render them worthy to be taken out of Egypt. G-d gave them one more opportunity to display their faith, and the korban Pesach was this defining moment.
By taking the lamb four days early, the Jewish people were, in effect, denouncing all the idolatry of Egypt. As if taking the animal into their homes and tying it to their bedposts wasn’t enough, they roasted the lamb outdoors—displaying for all the Egyptians what they were doing.
At this point in time, the Jewish people had already witnessed nine of the ten plagues. With each of these plagues, Hashem in effect passed over them as well; their water didn’t turn to blood, and there weren’t frogs in their homes. With each of these plagues, there was no test of faith that the Jewish people had to pass through.
So why was the 10th plague—the death of the first born—different? Why did the Jewish people have to slaughter a lamb and put its blood on their doorposts as an extra precaution so as not to be affected by the 10th plague?
The first nine plagues were brought upon the Egyptians as a measure-for-measure punishment for persecuting the Jews. The tenth plague was different. It wasn’t just to punish the Egyptians. It was meant to also remove the Jewish people from the idolatrous environment in which they were steeped in order to elevate them to become Hashem’s chosen nation.
The Jews had to actively participate in the process of showing the Egyptians that they rejected their idolatry. This was achieved by taking a sheep–one of the Egyptian Gods—slaughtering it, bringing it as an offering before G-d, and eating from it. By taking this bold step, they transformed themselves.
Putting the blood on the doorposts was really a sign for the Jewish people—not a sign for G-d. Obviously G-d knew which houses to pass over! Putting the lamb’s blood on the doorposts was an act of dedicating themselves to G-d.
By celebrating Pesach each year, we do the same; we rededicate ourselves to G-d by reliving the experiences and anticipating the future redemption to come.
The sacrifice is called “pesach,” which means “passing over,” a reference to the time that G-d passed over our homes before the Exodus. Rashi explains that the word “pesach” does not only mean to “pass over” the homes, it also signals G-d’s mercy for the Jewish people in passing over the homes of the Jews when meting out the 10th plague.
Some commentators relate how G-d’s compassion was forthcoming in spite of our unworthiness to be taken out of Egypt. We are told that the Jewish people did not deserve to be freed from slavery; we were on the 49th level of impurity; we were idolatrous; and we had forgotten G-d and His Torah. Yet, G-d still had mercy on us.
That is the message we should be thinking about when we read this special portion called “HaChodesh.” Even though we don’t sacrifice the korban Pesach today, the message is relevant: G-d loves us and has compassion for us. Yes, there are times that we forget about G-d, but G-d never forgets about us. It is always possible to return and rededicate ourselves to G-d.
For those wishing to Hennie's Torah Tuesday classes online, please contact Hennie Black at firstname.lastname@example.org