I was on the bus a few weeks ago, on a Friday morning, when a 16 year-old boy earrings and all, got on, and as he walked past me, he said “Shabbat Shalom." I naturally turned and responded likewise to him. However, I started to wonder if he was being honest, or he was trying to make fun of me. Obviously, it’s best to “err” on the safe side and assume he was being honest, but still…
Within a minute, he returned to my seat and said, “May I ask the rav a question?” (I love living in a secular city--I’m always “a rav” and people will speak to me in third person). He continued with a question he had about how he put on tefillin this morning. He then explained that he’s working slowly on become a ba’al tshuvah and how he’s going about it. (p.s. Thankfully 'the rav' knew the answer to his question)
I was pleasantly surprised, naturally, and I thought, this is an “Only-In-Israel” moment. It’s not the first time I’ve seen things like this. Many times, I’ve seen people with their arms full of tattoos, putting on tefillin every day, even if just to say Shema. When looking at a person, you really don’t know who you’re looking at.
Okay, on to Pesach.
I was listening to a talk given by Rav Zisha Salomon, the Moshgiach of Toras Simcha. Actually, like many of his talks, I’ve listened to it several times. He asked a very interesting question, which, quite frankly, I never thought of, despite being a glaring question.
We know that Hashem took us out of Egypt “in a hurry," because of the low spiritual level we were in. Had we remained there any longer, we would not have been redeemable. Not only that, but Hashem specifically gave us two mitzvos, Bris Milah and Korban Pesach, in order to give us some merit to “allow” Him to bring us out. You would think that this is a bit strange. After all, did the Jewish people not witness firsthand the awesome miracles that Hashem did? And given that the whole “Miracle Season” lasted an entire year, you would think that the spiritual level of the nation would only go up, yet we see that, if anything, it continued to drop.
The answer lies in a person’s education and subsequent outlook in life. For over 200 years, the Jewish people served Pharaoh. He was the undisputed leader of the world. He was even considered a god. And this was a simple “fact of life." And when we are raised with such things, there is very little that can be done to undo it. He cited a friend of his who is heavily involved with Jewish outreach and was once speaking to a board of directors of a (more modern) Jewish school. The head of the board made his point on something, and this rav quoted a Mishnah from Pirkei Avos to the contrary. The head of the board shook his head and said, “That’s a very un-Jewish thought--VERY un-Jewish!” How could somebody, a head of a Jewish school for that matter, say that a Mishna in Pirkei Avos is “Un-Jewish”? Simple, because what he considered “Jewish” is different to what the Torah considers Jewish. And anything that goes against what he believes simply cannot be Jewish.
This is what happened in Egypt. And this is specifically why the mitzvos of Bris MIlah and Korban Pesach were chosen to be the merit to bring them out. When the Jewish people started to grow, they stopped doing Bris Millah. After all, they wanted to be like the Egyptians. So, Hashem was giving them the ability to correct that fault and become “Jewish” again. And so too with taking the lamb, one of the Egyptian gods, and slaughtering it in front of their eyes. This was to rectify that idol worship and the non-Jewish ideas and thoughts that they allowed into their homes.
And from this we see why a year’s worth of miracles did not help inspire the Jewish nation to higher levels. When a person has these ideas ingrained in them, even seeing miracle after miracle will not make a dent. And that is why it is nonsense when people say, “If G-d does a miracle for me and I see it with my own eyes, I’ll believe in him." It’s not true, because when a person does not want to believe something (such as a Mishnah not being Jewish), nothing will change his mind. And even if he IS open to other ideas, which we can assume the Jewish people were, inspiration means nothing without being followed by immediate action. A person can be inspired by a chazzon on Rosh HaShanah, but after the davening, is he a better person? No, of course not. Unless, he uses that inspiration immediately, and translates it into action. In fact, inspiration without action is not only NOT neutral, but in fact, negative. For when one gets inspired and does not follow up on the inspiration, he becomes a bit “colder” to future inspiring moments.
This is why the Jewish people did not attain higher levels throughout the ten plagues. They saw a lot, they were certainly inspired a lot, but they did not yet have the mitzvos to take that inspiration and make a permanent change in their lives.
Perhaps this Pesach we can take the inspiration of the birth of the Jewish people, and make it stick with some sort of action plan.
Have a great Pesach!