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Shabbat HaChodesh/Vayakhel – Do you trust G-d? – Rabbi Meir Kahane

On the tenth of this month, every man must take a lamb for each extended family, a lamb for each household... Hold it in safekeeping until the fourteenth day of this month. The entire community of Israel shall then slaughter [their sacrifice] in the afternoon. They must take the blood and place it on the two doorposts and on the beam above the door... Eat the meat during the night, roasted over the fire. Eat it with matzah and bitter herbs. Do not eat it raw of cooked in water, but only roasted over fire, including its head, legs and internal organs. (From this week's Maftir reading, Ex. 12:3, 6-9)

The whole Passover sacrifice in Egypt revolved around trusting in G-d and sanctifying His Name in face of terrifying dangers. After all, the lamb was an Egyptian idol. The Egyptians “revered” and worshiped it, and it was holy to them. One can imagine their wrath when they saw how the Israelites were taking it and degrading it by tying it to the bedpost from the tenth to the fourteenth of the month, and then slaughtering it and consuming it festively. By all rules of logic, the Egyptians should have been expected to attack and annihilate the Israelites. Let every Jew who stays in the exile ponder what the nations would do to Jews living under their rule if those Jews were to publicly treat their faith with contempt. Yet precisely such faith and trust did G-d demand of Israel – faith and trust that He could defend them against their foes.

Following is Mechilta (Bo, Mesechet DePischa, 5): “Hold it in safekeeping” (Ex. 12:6): Why was this said? Because it says, “Take for yourselves sheep” (Ex. 12:21), Israel said to Moses, “Could we sacrifice the sacred animal of the Egyptians before their very eyes and not have them stone us?” (Ex. 8:22). Moses responded, “From G-d's miracle for you when you took the sheep [ i.e., the Egyptians' inability to do anything while you bond their deity for four days], you can deduce G-d's reaction when you slaughter it. And Pesikta DeRav Kahana teaches (Parashat HaChodesh, page 55): This teaches that they were tied to the Israelites' bed posts starting from the tenth of the month, and the Egyptians would come in and see them, and become incensed. R. Chiyah, son of R. Ada of Jaffa said, “Take for yourselves sheep” (Ex. 12:21): “Every Israelite must take an Egyptian god and slaughter it before an Egyptian, and let whoever is angered by it, speak.” In remembrance of this bitachon [trust] and Kiddush Hashem, and by virtue of it, G-d split the Jordan for Israel, and its merit protected them in Haman's day, for everything Israel did with the lambs indicated their trust in G-d. Following is Pesikta DeRav Kahana (Ibid.): “The taking of the lamb stood by them at the Jordan, and its consumption protected them in Haman's day.”

Moreover, G-d established the steps involved in the Passover sacrifice in remembrance of the greatest bitachon that there could have been – our Forefather Abraham's readiness to slaughter his son Isaac at Mount Moriah. Following is Midrash Chadash on the Torah (220, quoted in Torah Shleimah, Ex. 12:6, letter 70): In accordance with Abraham's response to “Take your son”(Gen. 22:2), so did G-d tie the ram for him at that very moment [i.e., when G-d saw that Abraham was ready to trust Him and slaughter his son, He immediately prepared and bound the ram to replace Isaac]. Abraham delayed for three days, as it says, “On the third day” (Gen. 22:4). G-d therefore said to Israel, “Go early and tie the animal as of the tenth, so that you will be remembered before Me like your ancestors.”

Thus, true trust in G-d by the Jewish people is tied exclusively to their self-sacrifice in face of danger of death. This expresses itself also in G-d's command that they place the lamb blood on the two doorposts and the beam above the door. Here, there is a controversy over whether they placed the blood on the outside or on the inside. In Mechilta (Ibid., 6), R. Yishmael and R. Natan comment that the blood was placed on the inside, yet R. Yitzchak differs, saying, “Certainly they put it on the outside, so the Egyptians would see it and become livid with anger.” Yonatan translated verse 12:7 according to R. Yitzchak, saying, “They shall take of the blood and place it on the two doorposts and the beam above the door, from the outside.” All this was to magnify our trust in G-d while we were provoking the Egyptians. This is also the reason for the manner of consuming the sacrifice, commanded by the Torah: “Do not eat it raw ... but only roasted over fire (Ex. 12:9).

Following is Da'at Zekenim MiBa'alei HaTosafot (Ex. 12:9): Ibn Ezra interpreted G-d as saying: “Since you are sacrificing the deity of Egypt, you might say, 'Let us not roast it fully, lest the Egyptians notice'. It therefore says, 'Do not eat it raw.' Lest you say, 'Let us cook it and hide it in a pot,' it therefore says, 'Do not cook it in water'(Ibid.). Lest you say, 'Let us cut off the head and legs to make it unrecognizable,' it therefore says, 'including its head, legs and internal organs' (Ibid.).”

Clearly, G-d wished to establish for Israel the principle of trusting in Him against all the power of mortal man. He wished to emphasize that there is no power on earth that can stand up to Israel when Israel does G-d's will, and that we should not fear the nations at all, even the strongest king or kingdom. A fundamental principle of trust in G-d is that complete faith and trust in G-d include a person's readiness to sacrifice himself, to give up his life, for the sake of Kiddush Hashem, where such a duty exists. Many righteous, G-d fearing people who indeed trust in G-d, have succumbed in this matter of completeness of trust in G-d, i.e., regarding their readiness to sacrifice their lives for this trust. Even Aaron the Kohen, holy from the womb, the first Kohen Gadol of Israel, who was the symbol of faith and trust in G-d, as we shall see, failed in this matter of self-sacrifice, such that he needed rectification for what was lacking. Shemot Rabbah (41:7): At that moment [when Israel sought to fashion an idol because Moses was delayed], Chur faced them and said, “Headless people [referring to their having no memory, or having incurred a death penalty]! Do you not remember what miracles G-d performed for you?” They immediately accosted him and killed him. Then they turned to Aaron ... and said: “Just as we did to that one, so shall we do to you.” When Aaron saw that it was so, he feared, as it says (Ex. 32:5), “Aaron saw and he built an altar [mizbe'ach] before him.” What is meant by “mizbe'ach”? “Motivated by the slaughtered one [min hazavuach] before him.” Aaron had a reason for doing this. As our sages said (Sanhedrin 7a): Aaron saw Chur lying slaughtered before him, and he said, “If I do not heed them, they will now do to me what they did to Chur. Through me will be fulfilled (Lam. 2:20), 'Shall a Kohen and Prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the L-rd?' and their sin will never be rectified. Better they should worship the calf. Perhaps they will find atonement through repentance.”

Even so, Aaron sinned by doing this. This is the substantive difference between Aaron and Chur. Certainly, both trusted in G-d, but Chur trusted in G-d completely. Such trust includes willingness to sacrifice one's life for G-d's name and for the sake of preventing His name from being profaned. Chur took hold of this faith and trust and it led him to perfection: he sacrificed his life for Kiddush Hashem. By that same merit, G-d chose precisely Betzalel to construct the Tabernacle, the earthly seat of perfection. Certainly Betzalel was not chosen because of his artistry or expertise, for he was only thirteen at the time, as our sages said (Sanhedrin 69b), and he lacked experience in craftsmanship. Yet it says in Shemot Rabbah, 48:8, “'I have filled him with a Divine spirit [and with wisdom]' (Ex. 31:3): Where was all this wisdom from? From G-d. And all of Betzalel's Divine spirit ... and understanding were from G-d as well.” Rather, he was chosen by virtue of his grandfather Chur, who sacrificed his life for Kiddush Hashem, thereby demonstrating complete and perfect faith. Betzalel, therefore merited to construct the complete and pure place where the Divine Presence was confined. This was the reason it says, “I have selected Betzalel son of Uri son of Chur, of the tribe of Judah” (Ibid., v.2). Only very rarely does the Torah mention someone's father and grandfather. The reason for it here, however, is that Chur's name had to be mentioned, for only by his merit was the thirteen year-old lad selected to be the architect of the Tabernacle.

Most certainly, when G-d [...] decrees that we must perform some deed, one must not look for reasons, however pious they may be, not to do that deed. Rather, if G-d or Jewish law requires us to fulfill some decree, then we must sanctify His Name and sacrifice our lives for it, this being the fullest expression of Kiddush Hashem and bitachon. It says, (Lev. 22:32-33), “Do not profane My holy name. I shall be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel. I am the L-rd who is making you holy and bringing you out of the Land of Egypt,” and our sages comment (Torat Kohanim, Emor, 9), “Sacrifice yourself and sanctify My Name,” and (Ibid.), “I took you out of Egypt on condition that you sacrifice yourselves to sanctify My Name.”

Self-sacrifice is the ultimate proof of trust in G-d, it is bitachon in its fullest form. Let a Jew not evade his duty, claiming that today there is no Divine revelation, no heavenly voice or prophecy of any other sort by which G-d could decree the need for an act of self-sacrifice. Surely, the whole Torah, all the deeds of our ancestors and of the judges and prophets, and the words of our sages, were meant to be a lamp unto our feet and to show us the path we must follow. These deeds and G-d's ways were set down in our sages' homiletics as eternal guidelines, presenting our duty regarding how we must act when there is no Divine Revelation.