The Lamb of Unity
Adapted by Rabbi Binyamin Adilman from the writings of
the Maharal of Prague
During the Plagues, the Israelites always enjoyed relief even while the
Egyptians were suffering. During the plague of blood for example, if a
Jew and an Egyptian drank water from the same cup, for the Egyptian it
was blood and for the Jew it was water. And so on for every plague.
Nevertheless, G-d had to save the Israelites from the plague of the death
of the first born. Why were they suddenly subject to his plague?
The ten plagues were brought upon Egypt in order of increasing severity
from the first to the last. The plague of the death of the first born
was the most pernicious of them all. The essential spiritual level of
the Israel, even in Egypt, always remained intact; so much so that when
the plagues started, Israel couldn't be harmed by them. The plague of
the death of the first born was carried out by G-d Himself, and it was
so severe, that even their spiritual stature was not able to protect them.
To save them, G-d took The Jewish People as a personal nation. He actually
made them a part of Himself. Since The Jewish People became an integral
part of G-d, they were spared. Therefore they earned the privilege of
serving G-d and were obligated to bring the Pesach Offering. Performing
this service was a sign that they had a unique relationship with G-d.
The Aramaic translation of the word "Pesach" is "Chayasa"
(Ex. 12:11), which means "mercy" or "caring". It shows
the special relationship that developed between us and G-d when he took
us as a people and saved us from the plague of the death of the first
born. He had mercy on his people and saved them from annihilation. In
that G-d is unique and singular, He took to himself a nation that is unique
and singular, unlike any nation of the world. This quality is still a
feature of the Jewish People today. There has never been a successful
attempt by Jews to integrate into any other nation; we always remained
distinct, a people apart.
The Maharal of Prague in his commentary on the Haggadah details how the
Pesach Offering, in many of its laws, reflects this idea of unity between
the Jewish People and G-d:
It was a mitzvah to roast and eat the Pesach Offering "with its
head on its knees". That is to say complete, and not cut into smaller
pieces (see Ex. 12:9), unlike every other type of sacrifice. Something
which indicates unity must be whole.
The Pesach Offering was eaten in one house, and only by the family group
that was registered for that particular animal (Ex. 12:4). Something which
indicates unity must be concentrated in one place.
The Pesach Offering was taken from a 1 year-old sheep or goat (see Ex.
12:5). The number one indicates unity.
The Pesach Offering was taken from goats or sheep, but not from cattle.
A goat or sheep is a more delicate and tender animal. If it sustained
a wound on one of its limbs, the animal itself would suffer the pain of
the injury. An ox or cow, due to its bulk, would not be so affected by
a similar wound. It would only feel pain in that particular limb. The
Jewish People is likened to a sheep. When one Jew transgresses (as in
the case of Achan, see Joshua 7), the whole nation suffers. The Jewish
People, like the sheep, have a presence which is less physical. An entity
which is more spiritual is naturally more sensitive.
The Pesach Offering was roasted over the fire (see Ex. 12:8, 9). Cooking
in water causes meat to become soggy and the pieces separate. Roasting
over the fire draws out the juices and the meat becomes consolidated,
another indication of unity.
It was prohibited to break any of the bones of the Pesach Offering (see
Ex. 12:46). Again, anything whole and not broken is an indication of unity.
By eating the Pesach according to all of its laws, a Jew demonstrated
his unity with G-d. This is the unity which He invested in Israel and
thereby commanded them concerning the Pesach Offering.
(First published in B'Ohel Hatzadikim, Tzav 5759)