The great sage Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki-February 22, 1040 – July 13, 1105) started his magnificent commentary on the Torah by quoting Rabbi Yitzchak as saying since the Torah is primarily a book of laws, why doesn’t it begin with the first commandment given to the Jewish people, the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon.
Let’s suppose the Torah DID start at that point,
in the middle of this week’s parasha (Ex 12:2).
It would have been quite a dramatic beginning. Right after a one line commandment (the aforementioned first national mitzvah) the Torah tells us to slaughter,roast and eat a lamb. Huh? The alternative opening of our primary text, and already the Torah knows what we are thinking, “When do we eat?”
But this springtime barbecue is not for the weak of heart.
The lamb, or sheep, our tradition teaches us, was a deity for the Egyptians. Note the astrological sign Aries, the ram, which was a symbol for the sun god Ramses.
And before preparing the feast the people would have to tether their dinner to the door four days ahead of time!
What would the neighbors think?
And then, roast the lamb over an open fire for all the mutton worshippers to smell, and fuel their anger.
What chutzpah! What kind of way is this to open up our most sacred text? Well, of course, the Torah in actuality does not begin with the 12th chapter of the Book of Exodus.
Taking on their oppressors by this overt, “in your face” demonstration assumes a basic component , a faith in the power of the Creator to sustain, support, and inspire them, and a finely tuned sensitivity to the human condition.
This is the the essence of Jewish faith.
In order to understand how to develop this faith it is essential to understand the relationship of G-d and our fore parents, and the prototypical character traits that define our people. Without an Abraham and Sarah we would have no model for a compassionate warrior Jew, one who retains the essential qualities of kindness and dignity, not afraid to voice concern at the potential suffering of others. Isaac, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Jacob, Joseph- all undergo a transformation and elevation of character based on their relationship with their creator.
Witnessing the plagues brought upon the Egyptians must have been difficult for the enslaved Israelites, even though they were oppressed. One should feel uncomfortable at the misfortune of others. It goes against our very nature to delight in the acts of G-d that brought retribution on our captors.
May our constant attention to maintaining the right balance of tough defense and sensitive offense merit the final redemption- a lasting peace, and universal divinely inspired love.