Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
Home Equity and Insurance
The first phase of the exodus from Egypt is excitingly described in parshas Bo. In Va'eschanan (4:34), the Torah characterizes the exodus as "has any god ever miraculously come to take for himself a nation from amidst a nation" (goy mi'kerev goy). The Yalkut vividly compares the above to the birthing process. Just as the fetus / embryo is so attached to the mother, literally nourished and sustained there from, so too were the Jewish people assimilated and acculturated in Egypt. As the Egyptians were uncircumcised and groomed there hair in 'bluris style', so did the vast majority of Jews. The above analogy is further understood that just as the birth process is exceedingly dangerous, that if the midwife or farmer were to initiate the process and attempt to extricate the baby from its mother too soon, it could be fatal for both, and only after some initial movement and activity on the part of the fetus does it signal the commencement of the process. So too in Egypt, the exodus spearheaded by G-d could only begin with the nationalistic stirrings of the Jewish nation, initiating the birth and creation of their nation.
In light of the above we can appreciate some of the details of law that were applicable only in Egypt accompanying the first Pesach seder. The Torah commands that the Pascal lamb be slaughtered and roasted on the fourteenth of the first month, the day prior to their exodus. They were to slaughter the god of Egypt, thereby actively renouncing and showing the powerlessness of the Egyptian divine. What is most perplexing, however, is why were they mandated to smear the blood of the lamb on their doorposts and lintel (12:7)? The B'ear Yosef suggests the following: given that the lamb was roasted (12:8) the aroma wafted in the homes of the Egyptians as well. Lest an Egyptian invite himself into the Jewish home for some of the barbecue, the blood of his god on the door was a horrific degradation, causing him to do an immediate about face.
The birth pangs of Egypt were the specific actions that the Jewish nation underwent that evening, celebrating their anticipated freedom. It is these Jewish stirrings from amidst the culture of Egypt that alerted Hashem as to their readiness for deliverance.
The Torah further commands, (12:22) "no man shall leave the entrance of his house till morning". The Torah does not give a reason for this prohibition. The Meshech Chachma provides a most insightful understanding to the above. The Ramban explains that the description of Yaakov's struggle - (Breishis 32:25) "Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn" - portends the struggle between the forces of Esav and Yaakov till the end of time. Similarly, the Meshech Chachma understands this verse as the formula for survival of the Jewish people in galus, in the diaspora. One is not to leave the safeguards of the Jewish home till 'morning', till the final redemption arrives. His thesis is that certain mitzvos play a more pivotal and paramount role than others, especially in galus. The seyagim - those mitzvos that were instituted to protect and safeguard the Jewish home - are crucial for the survival of our people. Thus, the Talmud (Shabbos 17b) lists the 18 enactments that the rabbis instituted including bishul akum- the prohibition of a non-Jew cooking for a Jew even if the food is kosher. This law, still in effect today, was instituted to prevent socialization between Jew and non-Jew. A non-Jew cannot prepare a meal for the Jew without their participation in the cooking process. The Talmud (Avodah Zorah 42b) states that included in this seyag is the prohibition of stam ya-nam, i.e. the prohibition of a non-Jew handling kosher wine (unless pasteurized), again to thwart socialization and assimilation.
The Meshech Chachma notes, that historically at the time of the Egyptian exodus, we did not- yet have the Jewish laws, but had the nationalistic actions that warranted Divine approval in the form of magnificent miracles that were performed on our behalf. In sharp contrast, at the time of our exodus from Babylon, we were observant of Jewish laws, but negligent in the safeguards of our identity, as found in Nechemia (13:23-24). The Jewish youth spoke Ashdodis, they assumed non-Jewish names, and intermarried. The Meshech Chachma understands the Talmud (Sotah 36a) to say that we were denied a second miraculous deliverance because of the sins, namely because of our acculturation and lack of proper insulations. In the galus the Jew must strengthen his resolve and commitment especially to the siyagim, i.e. to those laws that assure and insure our uniqueness and individuality amongst the nations.
This teaching is so essential today. In yesteryear, the Jew living amongst the nations had to be on guard from actively going and visiting their forums of entertainment. Such a visit required, however, a deliberate and conscious effort on his part; he had to seek out this foreign set of values and morality. Today, with the internet and Blackberry almost appended to one's body, it is most difficult and challenging to avoid surfing in foreign and forbidden sites. Moreover, one mistaken inadvertent click can catapult a person "out of his home" and environment.
"No man shall leave the entrance of his house until the morning" is understood by Rav Hirsch zt"l to prevent the mob mentality from influencing the fledgling Jewish nation to retaliate against its former masters. In addition, the pasuk teaches us how we are to learn from the past and realize that our homes are to be fortified with Torah, Jewish values, Jewish music, love and concern, thereby preparing us for the dawn of our ultimate deliverance. Now more than ever, the teaching of Anshei Knesses Hagedolah, (Avos 1:1) "asu seyag la-torah - make a fence for the Torah" is crucial for our survival.