Parshas Bo 5778 – The First Mitzvah

The First Mitzvah – Sanctifying the New Moon – Hints to the Ability of a Jew to Overcome External Nature and his Internal Nature, including the Evil Inclination

החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים” (שמות יב:ב)

“This month is to you the first of the months” (Shemos 12:2)

Rashi explains that Hakadosh Baruch Hu showed the moon to Moshe as it began to reappear at the beginning of the month of Nissan, and said to him, when the moon reappears, the new month shall begin.

Now, this mitzvah is the very first mitzvah with which the Jewish people as a nation were commanded to fulfill. (See Rashi at the beginning of Sefer Bereishis.) It is upon us to clarify why this mitzvah was afforded this lofty status of preceding all others?

We can suggest, with G-d’s help, that the reason for this is that all our service to Hashem is dependent on this mitzvah! The reason being that at the core of the mitzvah to sanctify the incoming month is to show that it is within the ability of a Jew to direct the nature of the world in his favor. (This is in contradistinction to the Jewish experience in Egypt/Mitzraim, where, as the name Mitzraim implies, there they were limited and subjected to the laws of Nature and to the dictates of the Egyptians.) Therefore, the Jewish court on earth decides which day the new month will begin, which is as though to say that they dictate the course of Nature, and that we are not solely dependent on the Nature of the world!

Now, in general, the main task Hashem asks from us is to choose our destiny! Meaning, when confronted by both the positive and the negative sides of a situation one is asked to choose the good side as it says“החיים והמות נתתי לפניך הברכה והקללה ובחרת בחיים” / “The good and the evil I have given before you, the blessing and the curse, and choose life!” (Devorim 30:19). Through this system Hakadosh Baruch Hu tests us to see if we will listen to the voice and choose the good side, or not!

Now, the evil inclination is much stronger than the good inclination as Shlomo Hamelech states “ממלך זקן וכסיל” / “from an elderly and foolish king” (Koheles 4:13), referring to the evil inclination as a “king” while the good inclination is referred to as an “unfortunate child” (ibid.). Therefore, if Hakadosh Baruch Hu would confront a person with the evil inclination side by side with the good inclination without giving him added support, the person would fall into the hands of the evil inclination. Therefore we find that Hakadosh Baruch Hu assists a person in his battle against the evil inclination. And in this manner the sages have explained the writings of King David. Rebbi Shimon the son of Lakish said man’s evil inclination challenges him anew each day with the intent of killing him, as the posuk states “צופה רשע לצדיק ומבקש להמיתו” / “A wicked person watches over a righteous person with the intent of killing him” (Tehillim 36:32) and if it were not for the help of Hashem, the righteous person would not be able to overcome the temptation of the evil inclination. This is as King David concludes (ibid 36:33) “ה’ לא יעזבנו בידו” / “Hashem won’t leave him (the person) in his (the evil inclination’s) hand” (Suca 52b).

Through which channel does Hakadosh Baruch Hu help the individual? The answer to this question will double as an answer to our initial question regarding the choosing of the sanctifying of the new moon as the first mitzvah in the Torah! That is, Hakadosh Baruch Hu preceded this mitzvah before all others, and in this establishing it as a foundation stone of all mitzvos, in order to teach us that just as Beis Din/the Jewish Court has the ability to decide the fate of nature, so too man has the ability, each individual according to his strengths, to overcome the nature around him. Through this, a person will understand that he contains the strength to stand up as well to the temptations of the evil inclination, for it too part of nature. And, if Hakadosh Baruch Hu would not show man through this mitzvah that he can override nature, man would think to himself, if nature, which as a rule does not stand against a person, and even so cannot be overridden, certainly man does not contain the ability to override the evil inclination which is stronger than him and stands up against him and his better interests! Therefore, Hashem preceded this mitzvah before all others, to strengthen an individual’s heart and to make him aware that in his hands lies great power – to learn his Torah and to resist all earthly temptations as well as natural non-spiritual limitations!

Chol Hamoed Pesach 5776

Two Reasons behind the Mitzvah of Tefillin and the Benefit Man Derives from its Fulfillment

“והיה לך לאות על ידך ולזכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת ה’ בפיך כי ביד חזקה הוצאך ה’ ממצרים” (שמות יג:ט)

“And it shall be to you for a sign on your hand and as a remembrance between your eyes in order that Hashem’s Torah will be (spoken) in your mouth for with a strong hand Hashem took you out of Egypt” (Shemos 13:9)

We find in the posuk two reasons for the mitzvah of Tefillin: (1) “למען תהיה תורת ה’ בפיך” / “in order that Hashem’s Torah will be (spoken) in your mouth” and (2) “כי ביד חזקה הוצאך ה’ ממצרים” / “for with a strong hand Hashem took you out of Egypt”.

There are three points upon us to clarify:

(1) The difference between the wording of “למען” / “in order that” and that of כי” / “for”?

(2) The explanation of the two statements“למען תהיה תורת ה’ בפיך” ו”כי ביד חזקה הוצאך ה’ ממצרים”?

(3) Why “למען תהיה תורת ה’ בפיך” / “in order that Hashem’s Torah will be (spoken) in your mouth” precedes “כי ביד חזקה הוצאך ה’ ממצרים” / “for with a strong hand Hashem took you out of Egypt”?

We can suggest with G-d’s help as follows:

(1-2) The word “למען” / “in order that” expresses a future intent, similar to that which is written“וכתבתם על מזוזות ביתך ובשעריך למען ירבו ימיכם וימי בניכם על האדמה”… / “And you shall write them on the door posts… in order that you and your children will live many days…” (Devorim 11:20-21), and the word “ “כי/ “for” is said regarding that which occurred in the past similar to“וגר לא תונה ולא תלחצנו כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים” / “Do not cause difficulty to a sojourner for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Shemos 22:20).

According to the above, we can understand our posuk as follows: “למען תהיה  תורת ה’ בפיך” / “in order that Hashem’s Torah will be (spoken) in your mouth”. The purpose of Tefillin is to bring a person to speak in Hashem’s Torah. What is the source of the power Tefillin is endowed with to accomplish this? “כי ביד חזקה הוצאך ה’ ממצרים” / “for with a strong hand Hashem took you out of Egypt”! That is, by taking the Jews out of Egypt with a “strong hand” by means of the ten plagues and the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, the Tefillin was endowed with the ability to bring its donner to speak in Hashem’s Torah.

(3) According to the above, we can suggest that our posuk preceded the section regarding the future benefits of donning Tefillin to the exodus from Egypt even though historically speaking the exodus came first so that the goal of learning Hashem’s Torah would be placed adjacent to the mention of Tefillin for this is the ultimate purpose of Tefillin!

Shevat 5778  

Good Shabbos!

Yona Vogel

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