17 February 2014

"Our Secret Weapon"

18 Adar Alef 5774

In our continuing discussion, I want to begin looking more into the concept of mesirut nefesh - self sacrifice - and it's meaning for our time and for redemption.  For without mesirut nefesh, there is no redemption.

YESHIVAT HARA'AYON HAYEHUDI
Jerusalem, Israel
HaRav Yehuda Kroizer SHLIT"A, Rosh Yeshiva

OUR SECRET WEAPON

One of the repeating themes weaved throughout the story of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt is the great mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) that certain individuals displayed for the sake of the Jewish people, and their great reward for their selfless acts. Eventually, these acts of self-sacrifice would spread to the entire nation.

The story of the Exodus opens up with king Pharaoh ordering the midwives, Yocheved and Miriam, to kill all the Jewish male babies. Surely, the king of Egypt did not need police or advisers to put his wishes into action, for anyone who would dare disobey the king's order would certainly be put to death. Still, Yocheved and Miriam refused to lend a hand to Pharaoh's wickedness, for they feared the L-rd, so they did not do as the king had ordered. Their reward for this very courageous act? The Torah tells us that Hashem made houses for them. What kind of houses? From them would come forth the houses of the Kehunah (priesthood) and the houses of Malchut (kingship).

Next, we find the great acts of Moshe, in leaving the palace where he lived a life of luxury, where every request of his was fulfilled, to go out and see the pain of his people. All of this he gave up in an instant when he saw the Egyptian striking a fellow Jew, and killed him. He then went into exile, leaving all behind. For this, Moshe was chosen to lead the people out of Egypt.

We find that, after the decree went out that the Jews would no longer receive straw to make bricks but would still be required to produce the same amount as when they were given the straw, they were unable to come up with the daily quota. As the Torah tells us that the Egyptian overseers said to the guards: Why did you not complete your requirement to make bricks as yesterday and before? And the guards of the children of Israel were beaten. So unlike today's Jewish police, who frantically give out the beatings, these Jewish heroes received the beatings from the Egyptians and did not pass it on to their beloved people. They, too, were rewarded for their acts, for later on we find that these same Jewish policemen became the future Sanhedrin!

Even Pharaoh's daughter Batya was rewarded for her great act of self-sacrifice for saving baby Moshe. For surely she took great risks to herself when she brought Moshe into the royal palace. Our Rabbis teach us that Moshe prayed on her behalf, and so the 10 plagues did not affect her. She would leave Egypt together with the Jewish people and later convert. She also merited to enter the Land of Israel 40 years later.

The nation as a whole was also put to the test and passed with flying colors, when they were given the commandment to offer the Passover sacrifice. To pass this test, the Jewish people were sent to the limits, when G-d ordered to tie up the Egyptian god (the lamb) to their bedposts and, four days later, slaughter the lamb before the eyes of the helpless Egyptians. The Jews suggested to Moshe that maybe they could cook the lamb in a stew, chopping it up in fine pieces so the Egyptians would not take notice of it. No, answered Moshe, it must be whole. Not only that, but it must be roasted, for the smell of the burning lamb should go all over Egypt for all to smell. The Egyptians were still helpless in stopping the Jewish people, and had to watch them destroy their god. This took great self- sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish people, and it was in this merit that they were able to cross over the Reed Sea.

In our parsha, Beshalach, we find the Jewish people with their backs to the wall. With the mighty Egyptian army in front of them, and their back to the sea with nowhere to run, Hashem commanded them to enter into the raging sea. The Jews were hesitant, and they formed a committee and a subcommittee (oh, how we love committees) to see which tribe would be the first to enter. At that moment, Nachshon from the tribe of Judah jumped in, and only when the water started to enter his mouth did the sea open up for the Jewish people. Once again the day was saved through the great merit of self-sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish people. Nachshon was justly rewarded, as all before him, for his unselfish act to merit descendants who would sit on the throne of Israel!

Today, too, we see the great self-sacrifice of our children on behalf of the Jewish people and its Land. ... As in the Redemption in Egypt that came about only though acts of mesirut nefesh, so, too, in our day. As the blood of the Passover sacrifice went up to the Almighty and enabled us to pass through the raging waters of the sea, so, too, the blood of our children spilled for the Land of Israel should go up before the Almighty and bring Redemption to us all.
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[I also suggest to re-read Discussion with Moishe'la: "Mesirus Nefesh is Our Answer"]