At the very beginning of his Torah commentary, Rashi suggests
that the Torah should have begun in the middle of our parashah
(specifically with chapter 12). It is there that we find the first
mitzvah that was given to Bnei Yisrael as a group, and what is the
primary purpose of the Torah if not to convey the mitzvot?!
Rashi explains that the Torah begins with Creation because
(quoting Tehilim 111:6), "The strength of His deeds He told to His
nation." Hashem wanted the world to know that He created the world
and He is free to give Eretz Yisrael to whomever He chooses.
R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l observes that there is another
lesson conveyed by the story that the Torah tells up to this point.
It is how Yisrael came to be (in the words of the same verse), "His
nation." Without that introduction, the coming story of the giving of
the Torah at Har Sinai would have been incomplete or even
What does Avraham do in the Book of Bereishit that makes the
Jewish people unique? Why, as we will read in the coming weeks, were
Avraham's descendants chosen to receive the Torah? R' Soloveitchik
explains that Avraham was the first person, and Judaism was the first
religion, that progressed from recognizing the existence of G-d to
recognizing an obligation to live according to His Will. Many ancient
societies recognized that there is a G-d, but no society concluded
that that G-d cared how they lived their lives.
There is another, related lesson: G-d chose Avraham, but Avraham
chose G-d. The Torah until now is a prelude to the giving of the
Torah because it teaches that Hashem did not give us the Torah against
our will. Rather, the Torah is the treaty which memorializes the
covenant between Avraham's family and Hashem. (Quoted in Efneh
"It is a Pesach offering to Hashem." (12:11)
Rashi explains that the name "Pesach" derives from the word
"skipping." He writes: "For Hashem skipped over the houses of the
Jews which were among the houses of the Egyptians. He jumped from
Egyptian to Egyptian, and the Jew was in the middle. As for you,
serve Him for the sake of Heaven."
What does Rashi's last comment mean and how is it related to his
explanation of the word "Pesach"? R' Nosson David Rabinowitz z"l
(whose 76th yahrzeit is tomorrow; grandfather of the present
"Munkatcher Rebbe") explains as follows:
Sometimes a person witnesses a powerful event which inspires him
to strengthen his service of Hashem. However, that is not the ideal.
Rather, we should serve Hashem because, and only because, that is His
Moshe was concerned that the plague of the firstborn would have
an undesirable effect on Bnei Yisrael. This is why, according to
Rashi, Moshe instructed them: "As for you, do not serve Hashem
because you will see Him skipping over your houses. Instead, serve
Him for the sake of Heaven."
In this light, we can understand why the Korban Pesach is
referred to (in verse 12:43) as a "chok" - a mitzvah whose reason is
unknown. Although the Korban Pesach (whose blood was placed on the
doorposts to identify a Jewish house) recalls the great miracle that
Hashem performed and our gratitude to Him, that should not be our
reason for performing the mitzvah. Rather, we should observe the
mitzvah of Korban Pesach as if its reason is unknown to us.
The Torah tells us (12:50), "All of Bnei Yisrael did as Hashem
had commanded Moshe and Aharon, so did they do." The Torah is
informing us that Bnei Yisrael took Moshe's message to heart and
sacrificed the Korban Pesach solely for the sake of the mitzvah.
(Ve'eileh Ha'devarim She'ne'emru L'David p.101)
"On the previous day, you shall eliminate leaven from your
homes . . ." (12:15)
Rabbi Yehuda, one of the sages of the Mishnah, maintains that
chametz must be destroyed by fire and not by any other means. He
derives this from the law of "notar" / leftovers of sacrificial
offerings, which also must be destroyed by fire.
R' Zvi Elimelech Shapira z"l (the Bnei Yissaschar; died 1841) is
quoted as stating that whenever the Talmud derives one law from
another law, there must be some intrinsic connection between them.
What is the connection between chametz and notar?
R' Yaakov Yichizkiyah Gruenwald z"l (Hungarian rabbi; died 1941)
explains: Why would a person leave leftovers from a sacrificial
offering rather than eat it all within the allotted time? Often, this
would occur because he lacks bitachon / trust in G-d and is afraid he
will have no food for tomorrow. Chametz alludes to a similar lack of
bitachon. What is the difference between chametz and matzah? Matzah
does not expand. The way it is made is the way it remains. Chametz
does not share this trait. Chametz rises as if it is afraid there
won't be enough for tomorrow. Thus, chametz also alludes to a lack of
"It shall come to pass when Hashem will bring you to the land
of the Canaanites . . . And it shall be a sign upon your arm
and an ornament between your eyes . . ." (13:11 & 16)
The Gemara (Kiddushin 37b) asks: Why are the entry into Eretz
Yisrael and the mitzvah of tefilin mentioned in the same paragraph?
The Gemara answers: It was taught in the yeshiva of Rabbi Yishmael,
"Do this mitzvah so that you will enter the Land."
R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l (1865-1935; first Ashkenazic
Chief Rabbi of Palestine) explains the connection between tefilin and
Eretz Yisrael as follows:
Tefilin, by virtue of where they are worn, parallel the heart and
the mind, the organs through which the neshamah and the intellect
reveal their powers. However, the heart and the mind, being physical,
are subject to man's will, and the powers of the neshamah and the
intellect can be lessened by the choices man makes. Therefore, Hashem
commanded that we wear tefilin, a crown which is separate from the
body and which therefore will be unaffected by man's will. To the
contrary, the holiness of the tefilin causes rays of "light" to spread
out over the entire body and reach the heart and the mind. As a
result, the power of the intellect predominates over the power of the
R' Kook continues: The Gemara(Menachot 44a) states: "One who
wears tefilin lengthens his life." Why?
Long life usually is dependent on having a healthy constitution.
However, a stronger and healthier a person is more likely to be
challenged by physical desires and other destructive traits; thus, the
person who lives long is not necessarily the most fortunate. The
exception is a person who wears tefilin, because the external "mind"
and "heart" which the tefilin are, rein in a person's desires and
reinstate his intellect to its proper place. For such a person, long
life is a true blessing.
The uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael lies in the fact that there a Jew
can reach such a lofty level that the bounty of the land enhances,
rather than challenges, his spiritual growth. This explains why the
Torah repeatedly promises material blessings, the very things that a
wise person avoids. When a Jew is under the influence of his tefilin,
he can live in Eretz Yisrael and enjoy its bounty without being
(Chavash Pe'er, Drush 1)
R' Yehosef Schwartz z"l
Along with the medieval scholar R' Eshtori Ha'parchi, R' Yehosef
Schwartz is considered to have been one of the greatest students of
the geography of Eretz Yisrael prior to the 20th century. He was born
in Bavaria (Germany) in 1805 and studied in the yeshiva of R' Natan
Adler. (This was not the same R' N. Adler as the teacher of the
Chatam Sofer, but perhaps his nephew, who later became Chief Rabbi of
the British Empire). R' Schwartz also attended university (possibly
the University of Wurzburg) where he studied languages, geography and
astronomy. Despite being the only Jew among 300 non-Jews, he remained
observant and continued to set aside times for Torah study while
At age 24, R' Schwartz developed a burning desire to study works
that discuss all types of issues relating to Eretz Yisrael. In that
same year (1829), he published his first map of the Holy Land.
However, it was not until four years later that he actually reached
R' Schwartz settled in Yerushalayim, where he fit comfortably
into both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities. In the courtyard
of his home, he built a mikvah so that he could maintain a constant
state of purity. Part of his time he devoted to studying kabbalah in
Yeshivat Bet El, an academy devoted to those studies. He also began
to tour Eretz Yisrael, attempting to identify places mentioned in
In 1840, R' Schwartz's brother, R' Chaim Schwartz, asked him to
publish his findings. Two works resulted: Tevuot Ha'shemesh about the
proper way to calculate sunrise and sunset, and Tevuot Ha'aretz about
the borders of Eretz Yisrael, its cities, and its flora and fauna.
(It is reported that, in preparing the former work, R' Schwartz
climbed mountains in Eretz Yisrael 2,000 times in order to watch the
R' Schwartz passed away in Yerushalayim on 9 Shevat 5625 (1865)
and is buried on Har Ha'zeitim. (Source: Kedoshim Asher Ba'aretz
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