Posted on January 24, 2024 by Michael Emerson
This week will be the 12th yahrzeit of my mother Rose Goldberg, Bryna Rayzel bat Avraham. She was active in local Jewish organizations including Bnai Brith, the Riverdale Jewish Community Council and UJA, cochairing Super Sunday for many years. But more than anything else, she dedicated her life to her children and her grandchildren.
Parshat Bo contains the first mitzvot given to Bnei Yisroel and many of these laws emphasize the importance of children. But even before that in the very first pasukim of the parsha, we learn that one of the major purposes of the ten plagues is that the knowledge of Hashem will be passed on to future generations, from parents to their children and grandchildren.
Hashem tells Moshe “Come to Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers so that I may display these signs among them and that you may recount in the hearing of your child and of your child’s child how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed my signs among them so that you may know that I am Hashem.” On three occasions later in the parsha, with regard to Korban Pesach, Chag HaMatzot and the redemption of the firstborn, the Torah emphasizes the importance of telling our children that these rituals remind us of how God brought us out from Egypt.
We all know that the seder in so many ways is oriented toward conveying a message to our children, but the very notion of a seder in the home shows the importance of the Jewish family. Especially after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, the Jewish home has become a major focus in ensuring the continuity of the Jewish people and their recognition of their obligation to be ambassadors of Hashem to the rest of humanity. We see this prominently in the ritual of the seder which commemorates the formative experience of the Jewish people. It is a family event that takes place not in the synagogue but in our homes.
As I noted in the Dvar Torah I wrote for this week’s The Collective Conversation the word Achal “to eat” appears 7 times in each section of Parshat Hachodesh (Ex. 12:1-20). In the first section, Pesach Mitzrayim, the focus is on the Korban Pesach. In the second section, Pesach HaDorot, the food is bread, either to be eaten (unleavened matza) or avoided (leavened chametz).
But there is another word that appears numerous times (7 total) in Parshat HaChodesh. The word is Bayit, “house,” sometimes translated more broadly as “household.” The importance of the family unit or household was emphasized from the very first bringing of what became the Korban Pesach. There are many similarities between the slaughter of the lamb in the Israelites’ houses on the 14th of Nissan and sacrifices later brought at the Beit HaMikdash. Indeed Rabbi Yosef in the Gemarra, Pesachim 96a, says that each of the three parts of the door on which the blood of the lamb was spread, the lintel and the two doorposts (the mezuzot) was like an altar in the Beit HaMikdash, upon which the blood of a sacrifice would be thrown. Another similarity is that, with rare exceptions, the meal offerings in the Beit HaMikdash were not allowed to be leavened. Also, like the altar in the Beit Hamikdash, the house that night provided a sanctuary for those seeking to escape judgment from the plague of the firstborn.
Throughout the year we aspire to make our homes our sanctuaries. The holiday of Pesach is seven days (eight in the Diaspora), a microcosm of the entire year during which we are able to live each day of the week on an elevated level. During this period, we are told twice in Parshat HaChodesh, having chametz in our house would be punishable by karet. There are many interpretations of what chametz represents. Whether it be excessive pride, indulgent luxury or other aspects of Egyptian and non-Jewish culture, Pesach encourages us to reflect on how we can make our homes more conducive to raising children who see themselves in relationship to Hashem.
I was fortunate to have parents who created such a home. While they themselves were not Shomer Shabbos, my mother brought me up not to write and not to use a scissors on Shabbos so I never did homework on Shabbos. When as I became more observant I stopped riding in cars in 11th grade, my mother joyfully made both seders at our home instead of going to relatives one night.
I am very grateful that my mother inspired me throughout my life and encouraged me on my Jewish journey. May her neshama have an aliyah every time that I learn Torah.