Your Shul at the Jersey Shore

Shabbat Parshat Tazria-hachodesh 5779

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Pesach and Family

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5771

Whenever your kids are out of control, you can take comfort from the thought that even God’s omnipotence did not extend to God’s kids. After creating Heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve. And the first thing He said to them was: “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Adam replied.

“Don’t eat the forbidden fruit,” God said.

“Forbidden fruit? We got forbidden fruit? Hey, Eve…we got Forbidden Fruit!”

“Don’t eat that fruit!” said God.

“Why?” “Because I’m your Creator and I said so!” said God, wondering why he hadn’t stopped after making the elephants.

A few minutes later God saw the kids having an apple break and was angry. “Didn’t I tell you not to eat that fruit?” God asked.

“Uh huh,” Adam replied.

“Then why did you?”

“I dunno,” Eve answered.

“She started it!” Adam said.

“Did Not!” said eve

“DID so!” said adam

Having had it with the two of them, God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own.

I know that every parent in the room can identify with that story. Children can sometimes drive us crazy, as can our siblings and parents. The reason that we can exasperate each other to such a degree is because our family means that much to us. People who we don’t care much about can’t really bother us, but the people that we care about most can push our buttons the most. In that sense, and in many others, there is nothing like family.

That seems to be one of the lessons of the special maftir that we read about this morning, Parshat Hachodesh.

3. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house;

  1. And if the household is too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the souls;

7. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, in which they shall eat it.

This section contains the very first laws given to the Jewish people and right in forefront is the HOUSE, that is where and with whom the sacrifice is eaten and that is where the blood is smeared on the doorposts for protection.

I know that family is important but why is it one of the defining characteristics of the korban pesach? Why at the very beginning of all mitzvoth is family so prominently featured?

Finally, why paint the doorposts, why not have each person display their own faith with an individual mark of some kind?

The Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, addresses the third question- why paint the doorpost and not mark the person? He argues that if each person were marked then they would stand alone in judgment and many would not survive.  It would have been that way in Egypt as well. Therefore Hashem commands each family to mark the house and as long as someone in the family was worthy, it would protect the entire family.

There is a critically important message here. It is extremely tough to go it alone in Judaism. It is much easier to travel the Jewish journey with family. There is collective strength and energy that allows you to succeed and thrive.

And it is not simply your immediate family that is there for you in Judaism; it is your ancestors before you as well.

Rabbi Ephraim Lunshitz, the Kli Yakar (16th century Prague) 12/7, highlights a discrepancy between God’s command to Moshe and what Moshe tells the people. Hashem tells Moshe to paint the doorposts and then the mashkof, the beam across the top. When Moshe tells the people he tells them to paint the top beam and then the doorposts.

Why make the change? The Kli Yakar suggests as he writes, bederech Midrash, which means that he won’t swear to it but likes the idea, that the change reflects two perspectives regarding the worthiness of the people. The Mashkof on top represents God on top and the doorposts represent the people on the bottom.

Hashem tells the people you begin on the bottom, paint the doorposts, return to me and I will then return to you. Moshe counters with – We don’t have the strength to start first, rather you God begin on top and we will follow.

Why did Hashem think that we can do it? Because the two doorposts are not simply the Jews standing on the ground, they represent the patriarchs and matriarchs who are the pillars of our faith and the merits of those individuals. And God believed that the Tzaddikim, the righteous descendants of those individuals can begin the process of reuniting with God.

In a similar vein the Midrash asks- why a lamb for the house of your fathers? To teach us that we always have the merit of our ancestors protecting us- Abraham brought a lamb in place of Isaac, Isaac was meant to be the lamb, and Jacob removed the sheep in the spotted and speckled animal episode.

What the Midrash is teaching us is that in our relationship with God we must be aware that we do not stand alone at one point in history but that we are part of a tradition and have a shared fate and destiny with centuries of Jews before and answer us.

The easiest place to see that is in family. We know that we don’t stand alone, we have parents or children to help push us in the right spiritual direction. And we know that we don’t exist simply at one point in time, unconnected to what came before or what will come after. Each family has a tradition from parents and grandparents and great-grandparents that we can draw upon and that make us who we are.

Therefore at the beginning of all Mitzvoth when we think about our relationship to Hashem the focus is on family because it teaches us those two important lessons:

You don’t have to do it alone – you have the spiritual protection of family and nation and you have a rich tradition to draw from and upon.