SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, January 16, 2021

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Parashat Bo tells of Benei Yisrael’s departure from Egypt after the tenth and final plague – the plague of the firstborn – convinced Pharaoh to release the enslaved nation.  Addressing the nation after their departure, Moshe instructed them to forever remember that momentous day (13:3), adding, “Today you are leaving – in the month of spring” (13:4).  Moshe found it worthwhile to emphasize to the people that they left Egypt “be-chodesh ha-aviv” – “during the month of spring,” referring to the month of Nissan, which marks the onset of the spring season.
            The Mekhilta, commenting on this verse, cites a verse in Tehillim (68:30) which speaks of how the Almighty “motzi asirim ba-kosharot” – “releases prisoners at the right times.”  According to the Mekhilta, this refers to the Exodus from Egypt, when Benei Yisrael were released from bondage in the season which was, in the Mekhilta’s words, “kasher” – most suitable for travel.  The springtime is a period of year when conditions are, generally, neither uncomfortably hot nor uncomfortably cold and wet.  The Mekhilta explains that Moshe emphasized to the people the season of the Exodus to underscore the fact that God led them from Egypt at the time of year when traveling is easiest and most comfortable.  (Rashi cites this remark of the Mekhilta in his commentary to this verse in Tehillim.)
            What might be the significance of this detail of the Exodus?  Would it have really mattered to Benei Yisrael if they had left during the hot summer or cold winter?
            Rav Yechezkel of Shinova, in Divrei Yechezkel, offers a symbolic understanding of the Midrash’s comment.  The Exodus occurred in the springtime, he explains, to teach about the need for moderation in religious life.  Heat is often used as a metaphor for intense zeal and passion, whereas the experience of cold is commonly associated with apathy and disinterest.  Our nation left the service of Pharaoh and entered the service of the Almighty specifically during the springtime, which is neither exceedingly hot nor exceedingly cold, because we must avoid both extremes in our service of God.  Of course, we must not approach our religious duties dispassionately, and certainly not begrudgingly, but rather with energy and enthusiasm.  At the same time, however, we must beware of excessive fervor, which could lead us to try lunging to spiritual heights for which we are as yet unsuited.  Overly passionate religious fervor leads to unrealistic goals and expectations, which in turn leads to failure and disappointment.  Religious growth must be approached with a delicate balance between excitement and patience.  We must, certainly, feel enthusiastic and passionate about our commitment to God and our desire to serve Him, but these emotions must be tempered by a humble, honest recognition of our limits and of the realities of human life.  Like our ancestors at the time of the Exodus, we are to embark on our journey in a manner that is neither “cold” and dispassionate, nor “blazing” with ecstatic fervor, but rather with a genuinely passionate but realistic drive to serve our Creator to the best of our ability.