Bo – Helping Each Other All Together

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On the of the 15th of Nissan the Jews sacrificed the Korban Pesach. By Hashem’s command they took its blood and smeared it on the door posts and lintels of their houses, this being the sign that would protect them from the coming plague of the firstborn. That night they ate the Korban Pesach with matzah and maror, rejoicing in their Impending redemption. The Egyptian firstborns were killed by Hashem himself, not through an angel or any other heavenly force, as the Haggada relates (adapted from Rav Baruch Chait’s Haggadah, page 112).

However, the Torah in this week’s portion of Bo proclaims, “Hashem will pass to smite the Egyptians, and He will see the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, and Hashem will pass over the entrance, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses to smite [you]” (Shemos 12:23). About this the Ramban explains, “AND HE WILL NOT PERMIT THE DESTROYER TO ENTER YOUR HOUSES. This means the angel that brings destruction in the world at the time of a plague, similar to that which it says, And He said to the angel that destroyed the people: It is enough; now stay your hand (Shmuel Beis 24:16). It is not, however, a reference to the One Who brought the destruction in Egypt, since it was the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Who smote them.” Similarly, Rashi on the previous verse points out, “that once the destroyer is given permission to destroy, he does not discriminate between righteous and wicked. And night is the time that destroyers are given permission, as it is said: “in which every beast of the forest moves about” (Tehillim 104:20). — [from Mechilta].” Therefore, no Jew was permitted to leave their house that night.

In preparation for the first seder night in Egypt, the Torah relates that Hashem told Moshe, “Speak to the entire community of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month, let each one take a lamb for each parental home, a lamb for each household. But if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor who is nearest to his house shall take [one] according to the number of people, each one according to one’s ability to eat, shall you be counted for the lamb’” (Shemos 12:3, 4).

The Ralbag learns a lesson from these two pesukim, that: “among the family they should be as close as possible in order so that one can attain from the other any help that is needed. For this reason, the Torah commanded that each family should take a sheep for themselves to show that the people of each household were sitting with each other. For the Pesach [Lamb] in Egypt were in the house of the people who made it and not one person left from the entrance of their house the entire night. And for this also they were strict about the Pesach [lamb] in Egypt, that if the family was too small to eat the entire sheep, then they would combine with their neighbors closest to them to take the sheep and eat it to ensure the quota of people will all finish up [the Pascal lamb offering].” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What exactly is the lesson the Ralbag is teaching us from these pesukim? It cannot be that family comes first and each family has to have an inseparable bond in order to help each other because, as the pasuk and Ralbag continues, a family has to be ready to combine with their closest neighbor to share in the korban pesach if they are too small to eat it themselves. Furthermore, what was the concern that night, that the Torah had to make sure that each person felt as close as possible to each other to ensure they stayed in their houses and performed the first Pesach seder properly. As we saw above, they were probably too afraid to wander anywhere that night anyways, because of the destructive forces wrought on the Land of Egypt that night.

The Ralbag in his verse-by-verse commentary also points out on these pesukim that the Torah is teaching us proper manners; that it is proper for people, when getting together for a meal or other event,  to get together with the people from their family. The Torah is teaching us this by showing how many people who needed to eat the Paschal lamb got together with their entire family to partake in eating it. However if the family was too small it was not befitting for the Paschal lamb to be slaughtered if not everyone in the family would be able to finish it, lest the uneaten leftovers would become invalidated and would have to be burned. As the subsequent pesukim say, only those that were originally counted in the group were allowed to partake in that Paschal lamb. Therefore, if the family was too small they would have to partner up with their next-door neighbors to ensure that the entire offering was eaten, and did not have to be wasted and burned. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

There was a clear and present danger outside, and inside they just needed to make sure to finish all they were required to eat, and granted family comes first, but if family wasn’t enough then neighbors must get involved. So what exactly is the Ralbag coming to learn from here about making sure that we as a family, and if need be extending it to neighbors have to be as close together as possible in order to help each other? They were probably too scared to walk out of the house anyways, and were overly excited for their impending redemption; of course they were rejoicing and feasting indoors! All they had to do was eat meat with matzah and maror, and be sure all of it was finished; how hard could that be? Why was help needed to ensure that everything gets done properly, if all that was needed was to be sure there were enough people beforehand to make sure everything got eaten up?

However it would seem that if the family, and neighbors if need be, were not as close as they should be, even with all the fear and excitement of what was happening around them and what was about to transpire, even such a simple task as they had that night could have gone wrong. Therefore the Ralbag sees a lesson for all generations from this moment in the Torah; that the only reason everything went smoothly was because everyone bonded together, as close as possible, and for that reason were willing to do whatever it took to help one another. And that is the only reason why everything went smoothly for the Jews on the first Pesach night.

Bonding together to be as close as possible, even for a family, isn’t natural; it requires effort, but in the end is the only way to ensure the proper help is given.