Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Tzav
To dedicate this lesson

The Day after the Shabbat


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

Nissan 5783
There were two stages in the geula (liberation) from Egypt – one on the first day of Pesach, when Bnei Yisrael were able to leave, and one at the splitting of the sea, when they no longer had to see the Egyptians again. There must be a reason that it could not happen at one time.

"Had Israel kept two Shabbatot properly, they would have immediately had a complete geula" (Shabbat 118b). It seems that this refers to two types of Shabbat. One is the weekly remembrance of Creation. The other one is Yom Tov ("the day after Shabbat" – Vayikra 23:15, which the Tzedukim were not willing to accept as the meaning of the pasuk), because it is a Shabbat which is created by the intervention of man, by setting the calendar.

What is the crucial significance of our setting the calendar? While the rule is that "everything is in the hands of Heaven," the task of sanctifying that which is mundane is man’s. Man is a being of opposites, as he is made from earth combined with a soul from the divine. Whereas an individual has a struggle in dealing with the physical world, that is easier than for a nation, as an individual can put up partitions between him and the rest of the world. An entire nation cannot do so. It must collectively embrace the physical world. Someone needs to plant and harvest and grind … These time-consuming activities can swallow a person up.

This was the task that was created for Israel when they left Egypt. As an independent nation, they would need to be involved in all elements of their national existence. Bnei Yisrael were to be a nation like all nations … and unlike all nations. They would sing not just about its struggles but also about its harvest and its first fruit. But the approach to these agricultural elements has to be done according to the input of the Torah, which thereby sanctifies it.

This holiday is the second Shabbat, the one which only Israel, with its combination of flesh and soul, will create; it is not decided in the Heaven, and that is the nature of the day. How does one reach the spiritual content of the day? The special mitzva of the first day of Pesach is the eating of the Korban Pesach. This is different from other korbanot, for which the main part of the mitzva is the sprinkling of the blood. There are many fundamental halachot concerning the eating, and spiritually it represents the taking of material meat and turning it into something holy. This is how we prepare to celebrate the geula from Egypt, not by means of only a physical celebration or of a fully spiritual one, but of a mix that represents national sanctity.

Until the day after this Pesach celebration, it was not possible to take the first harvest of the field properly. It must be done without haughtiness, and only then can one begin to prepare for the giving of the Torah (sefirat ha’omer begins, ending with Shavuot). In that way, we do not suffice with a transformation from slavery to freedom but also from shibud ("we would still be meshubadim to Paroh in Egypt") to a fuller geula. We could have had an independent state in Egyptian form, which is what the people were used to. Only after eating the Korban Pesach were we spiritually prepared for a new national life, fundamentally disjointed from Egypt.
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