Pay Attention to the Details
This week’s parsha is the introduction to the halachic process of observance
of the commandments of the Torah. In every commandment there are numerous
layers of meaning and importance. There is the social and moral value that
the commandment represents and teaches. There are also the technical
minutiae and complex details that comprise the fabric of every commandment.
The commandments regarding the observance of Pesach and of the structuring
of the Jewish calendar are part of this week’s parsha. The general values of
these commandments are apparent to all. Pesach represents for us the value
and concept of freedom from bondage and teaches us the beginning history of
our people. The calendar has always been a necessity for social and
commercial life and keeps us in tune with the changing seasons of the year.
These are the general reasons and lessons of these commandments. However, as
we also all know, the devil always lies in the details. What is the
mechanism that will enable the story of our departure from Egyptian slavery
to freedom to remain fresh and vital thousands of years later? Values only
have life if they are somehow translated into human action and normative
Theories are wonderful but they rarely survive the tests of time and ever
changing circumstances. Every scientific theory is therefore subjected to be
proven by physical experiment and validation. Freedom is a great theory but
unless somehow put into practical application in society it remains divorced
from the realities of everyday existence. Just ask the North Koreans or the
Syrians and Iranians about freedom! It is the technical requirements of the
commandment – the matzo, chametz, hagadah, etc. – that alone are able to
preserve the value and validate the theory and guarantee its meaningfulness
for millennia on end.
The uniqueness of the Jewish calendar lies also in its technical details.
The permanent calendar that we now follow, established in the fifth century
CE, is a lunar calendar with adjustments to make it fit into a solar year
span. The technical halachic details how the last Sanhedrin squared this
circle are too numerous and detailed for the scope of this parsha sheet.
However, suffice it to say, that if not for those details and calculations
our calendar would long ago have disappeared just as the ancient calendars
of Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome have disappeared. Many people look at
calendars not as Godly commandments but as merely a practical way to mark
our passage through time. Thus the details are really not important to them
since we are only interested in the so-called result.
But in Judaism, the details are of equal if not even greater importance than
the general value and end result that they represent. In our time, those
Jews who for various reasons only concentrated on the values, who were good
Jews at heart but observed no commandments or details, rarely were
privileged to have Jewish descendants.
Of course concentrating only on the details and ignoring the value system
that it represents is also a distortion of the Godly word. Seeing both the
general value of a commandment and observing its necessary technical details
in practice is the guarantee for allowing the Torah to survive amongst the
people of Israel for all times.
Rabbi Berel Wein