SALT - Monday, 17 Nissan 5778 - Monday, 2 April 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
In memory of former IDF Chief Rabbi and leading rabbi of Religious Zionism, Avichai Rontzki z"l
            The Torah commands in Sefer Shemot (12:43), “Kol ben neikhar lo yokhal bo,” which appears to forbid non-Jews from partaking of the meat of the pesach sacrifice.  Rashi, however, citing the Mekhilta, explains the term “ben neikhar” as referring to somebody “whose actions are foreign to his Father in heaven” – meaning, a Jew who has abandoned the faith.  As Rashi proceeds to note, this includes both members of idolatrous nations and Jewish apostates.  (Meshekh Chokhma suggests that the Mekhilta could not accept the straightforward reading of the verse, as referring only to gentiles, because the command not to partake of the pesach sacrifice is not included among the Noachide laws that apply to gentiles.)
            An astonishing remark relevant to this law is made by Rav Tzvi Elimelekh of Dinov – the “Benei Yissaskhar” – in his work Derekh Pikudekha (13:4).  He raises the possibility that eating the korban pesach is forbidden – on the level of rabbinic enactment – even for those who are guilty of misdeeds which Chazal equated with idol-worship.  Specifically, the Benei Yissaskhar points to anger, about which the Gemara (Shabbat 105b) states, “Whoever gets angry – it is as if he worships a foreign deity.”  Anger is equated with idol worship, and thus the Benei Yissaskhar considers the possibility that a short-tempered individual who is easily angered might be forbidden from participating in the korban pesach ritual.  Remarkably, the Benei Yissaskhar then goes even further, suggesting that this rule might apply even nowadays, when we do not offer the pesach sacrifice, as we eat the afikoman in commemoration of the sacrifice, such that an angry person might be unable to eat the afikoman.
            Whether or not this insight was written as a matter of practical Halakha, it reminds us that the designation of Am Yisrael as God’s treasured nation at the time of the Exodus obligates us not only ideologically, but also in terms of character.  As many have noted, the pesach sacrifice served as Benei Yisrael’s public and resolute rejection of Egyptian paganism.  In conveying God’s instructions regarding the sacrifice before the Exodus, Moshe told the people, “Mishkhu u-k’chu lakhem tzon” (literally, “Pull and take for yourselves a sheep”), which the Midrash (Shemot Rabba 16:2) famously explains to mean, “Withdraw your hands from idolatry.”  And for this reason, people who do not accept the basic beliefs of Judaism are excluded from the korban pesach observance, which is intended precisely to demonstrate our withdrawal from conflicting beliefs and devotion to monotheism.  The Benei Yissaskhar here reminds us that this expression of commitment relates not only to belief, but also to character.  Treating people with patience, understanding and forgiveness, and avoiding anger and vindictiveness, are no less critical to our designation as God’s treasured nation as our commitment to Jewish belief.  The Exodus from Egypt elevated us to a stature that demands unwavering devotion to God’s laws, but also demands especially high standards of character.