Step Up – Pesach

There are many mitzvot which in some form are related to our history in Egypt. The purpose of some of those mitzvot is to remember leaving Egypt, others remind us that we were slaves in Egypt, others combine these two ideas - we were slaves and God took us out of Egypt -  while others simply mention that we were on our way out of Egypt.Our exile in and exodus from Egypt is apparently so important in building our national identity that it is mentioned in regard to many of the mitzvot. Rabbi Soloveichik looks back and explores the source of these mitzvot - the exile and exodus from Egypt. He explains that each facet of our time in Egypt has its corresponding reminder in the mitzvot.2 He took as an example the mitzvah of redemption of the first born.

When Moshe relayed the mitzva of the sanctification of the firstborn to the people, he tied it to the Exodus from Egypt.3 If it is conected to Egypt, we might expect it to be among the first things God tells Moshe at the first meeting by the Burning Bush. Yet, He didn’t mention anything at the bush about the eldest. In fact, only later, when Moshe was preparing his imminent return to Egypt, did God mention that "Israel is MY firstborn" and that He would smite Pharaoh's firstborn if Pharaoh would refuse to let His firstborn, Israel, leave the country.4 Why the emphasis on the firstborn? Would it have been much different if the term had not been used at all? What message is being sent by God when he says – "Israel is My firstborn"? How does that change the message of "Let my people go?"

We all know by now that our birth order has some influence on who we are. It is not a final determinant of our behavior or personality but there is definitely influence. The oldest has certain character traits that are common to the eldest, the youngest as well and everybody has heard of the middle child. 

Rabbi Soloveichik focuses on the firstborn's characteristic of responsibility to choose the right path. While Yaakov, who was the second born, was interested in obtaining the birthright and the responsibility that ensued, he seemed to have no interest in the subsequent blessing. He wanted only to be a part of the heritage of Avraham and Yitzchak! He wanted to continue their ways. That's why the birthright was so important to Yaakov. Esav happily gave up his birthright because he was too involved with the 'here and now'. He saw no future that included carrying on the heritage of his father and grandfather. Yaakov, however, wanted to raise the flag of the Covenantal Community.5  After all, we are not here just for ourselves.6

Carrying on the tradition of Avraham and Yitzchak is not a simple task yet it is a proud one.

We are all children of Yaakov. This is part of the many messages of Pesach. We were taken out of Egypt in order to be the firstborn of the nations – not better, just the Elder. We follow in Yaakov's path of actually choosing the birthright. We have a responsibility to ourselves and mankind to be that person, that nation. Let us raise the flag!

Chag Kasher VeSameach‼‼‼

In memory of my mother, Hentcha Leah bat Yitzchak Lipa, hk"m

Refuah sheleimah for Malka bat Gittel


  1. Devarim 5:15; 10:19; 25:17
  2. Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, z"l delivered a lecture called Makas Bechoros (the smiting of the eldest) in 1975 – I highly recommend the experience of listening to this rabbinic sage. Part one, about 90 minutes - and part two – about 30 minutes -
  3. Shemot 13:2
  4. ibid. 4:22
  5. Rabbi Soloveichik wrote an article entitled The Covenantal Community in which he describes Israel's special relationship with God
  6. This is one of the central ideas of Dr. Viktor Frankl's logotherapy.

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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