In a few days’ time, Jews around the world will gather their children around the Seder table and recount the story of the Jewish people’s Exodus from the Land of Egypt. Within the Torah itself, the story is recounted in Sefer Shemot: Parshat Bo. In that portion, the verses relate the details of the final ten plagues and the mass exodus of a nation of slaves to a free people in the desert. Spread throughout this narrative are the first three divine commandments that were given to the people of Israel as a nation: sanctifying the new moon, “God said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year…” (Exodus 12:1); the Pesach holiday and its various laws, “For a seven day period shall you eat matzoth, but on the previous day you shall nullify the leaven from your homes…” (Exodus 12:15); and the redeeming of the first born, of man and beast, “Then you shall set apart every first issue of the womb to God and every first issue that is born to livestock… Every first-born donkey you shall redeem with a lamb…” (Exodus 13:11-13) In a Torah portion dedicated to one of the most climactic events in Jewish history – the Exodus – one cannot help but wonder if perhaps these important mitzvot fail to receive the introspection they deserve. It would behoove us to take pause in order to discover the deeper meaning behind these commandments, and more importantly, to understand the significance of why they were the first ones commanded to the Jewish people immediately preceding their departure from Egypt towards the Land of Israel.
I believe that a deeper look at each of these three unique commandments will reveal a common theme; namely, that these mitzvot respectively relate to the Land, the Torah and the People of Israel. Taken together and taken to heart, they guarantee the successful establishment and continuity of a vibrant Jewish State in the Land of Israel. And since the Exodus from Egypt was quite literally the first step towards the process of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel as we know it today, with these three commandments the Torah sought to provide us with a guidebook outlining how we can complete the journey. in our days, we need only embrace and internalize the importance of these lessons: the centrality of the Land, the primacy of the Torah, and the unique holiness of the people of Israel.
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