Ari Sacher
Ari Sacher

‘On That Very Day’ Pesach 5781

Pharaoh, battered by ten plagues, surrenders and relinquishes control of his Jewish slaves. Four hundred and thirty years after the exile is first predicted at the Covenant of the Pieces (Brit Bein HaBetarim), it is finally over [Shemot 12:41]: “At the end of the four hundred and thirtieth year, to the very day, all the ranks of G-d departed from the land of Egypt.” Rashi, the most famous of the medieval scholars, who lived in France in the eleventh century, explains that when the Torah uses the term “to the very day (b’etzem hayom hazeh)”, it means that the Jewish People were released from their bondage precisely at the appointed time and not even one microsecond later. In another location[1], Rashi notes that the Torah uses the term “to the very day” three times and each and every time it describes an action that was performed in broad daylight, as if to dare anyone to try to prevent it from happening. The Jewish People did not leave Egypt under the cover of darkness like fugitives fleeing their prison cells. They left in the middle of day with their heads held high. Just let Pharaoh try to stop us. Maybe he wants an eleventh plague…

Strangely enough, a nearly identical verse appears only ten verses later [Shemot 12:51]: “That very day (b’etzem hayom hazeh), G-d took out the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.” Some of the commentators explain the repetition by connecting this verse to the following section, dealing with the consecration of the first born, as if to say, “On that very day [G-d consecrated the first born of man and beast]”. This explanation is difficult in that the two sections are separated by a paragraph break[2], which typically thematically separates two successive topics.[3] The waters are muddied even further when we observe that the topic that separates the two occurrences of “that very day” discusses laws of the Paschal Lamb (Korban Pesach), mostly relating to eligibility – who may partake of the Paschal Lamb and who may not. The reason this is problematic is because these laws are chronologically out of place. The Paschal Lamb was commanded to Moshe on the first day of the month of Nissan along with a number of relevant rules and regulations: it should not be eaten raw or boiled, it should be eaten with matzo and bitter herbs (marror) and it should be completely finished without any leftovers. The Jewish People were given a well-defined timetable: On the tenth day of Nissan they were to take a goat or a lamb and to tie it to the bedpost until the fourteenth of the month, when they were to slaughter it and eat it after nightfall. At midnight on the fifteenth of the month, G-d killed the Egyptian firstborn, after which Pharaoh summarily ejected the Jewish People from Egypt. The second set of laws of the Paschal Lamb that appears after the exodus, appears one day too late. Rashi addresses this chronological mismatch by asserting that the laws in this section are out of place and were actually given on the fourteenth day of the month of Nissan. As we have seen in the past, Rashi is of the opinion that the Torah sometimes forgoes chronological continuity for thematic continuity. What we must identify is the thematic continuity that the Torah gains by pushing off the second set of laws of the Paschal lamb until after the exodus[4].

We can gain some traction if we notice that there are a number of subtle differences in the two “that very day” verses. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, known as the “Kli Yakar”, who served as the Rabbi of Prague in the early seventeenth century, identifies two key differences:

  1. In the first instance, the Jewish People “departed from the Land of Egypt”, as if they left on their own volition. In the second instance, G-d “took them out”.
  2. In the first instance, the people who left Egypt are called the “ranks of G-d (Tziv’ot Hashem)”. In the second instance, they are called the “Children of Israel”, who left “troop by troop (al tziv’otam)”. Ostensibly, the “ranks of G-d” are not the same as the “Children of Israel”.

The Kli Yakar explains the difference between the two verses by asserting that the first verse is referring to the “Erev Rav (Mixed Multitude)”, an amalgam of expatriates who left Egypt along with the Jewish People. In this lesson, we will suggest an alternate explanation, one that also addresses the chronological discontinuity in the scripture. This explanation is triggered by a comment made by Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, known as the Netziv, who served as the Headmaster (Rosh Yeshiva) of the prestigious Volozhn Yeshiva in the nineteenth century. Writing in the “Ha’Amek Davar”, the Netziv explains that the “ranks of G-d” in the first instance are Divine angels[5]. According to the Netziv, these angels left Egypt before the exodus to pave the way for the Jewish People, in order to ensure that everywhere they would go was infused with G-dliness.

I suggest that the Netziv is describing two phases of the process of redemption. In the first phase, G-d prepares the groundwork and then in the second phase, He carries out the redemption. The flow of scripture described by the two occurrences of “that very day” is actually describing the two phases of the process of redemption. The first phase is the preparation for the exodus, which culminates with angels setting out to prepare the infrastructure for the upcoming redemption. The second phase is the actual extraction of three million Jews from Egypt. Both of these phases are preceded by laws relating to the Paschal Lamb. The first phase is preceded by laws relating to the lamb itself – the mechanics of the redemption – while the second phase is preceded by laws relating to eligibility – the beneficiaries of the redemption.

According to the Netziv, the preparation for the redemption from Egypt was carried out by “angels”. Rabbi David Spitz, a teacher, a friend, and a neighbor for nearly thirty years, once taught us that an “angel” does not have to be a supernatural being with wings and a halo. According to Rabbi Spitz, anything that blindly carries out the Will of G-d, such as the force of gravity, is also an angel and a Divine Emissary. When combined with the explanation of the Netziv, Rabbi Spitz’s definition of a “angel” has crucial ramifications in our day and age. For the past two thousand years, the Jewish People have been waiting for G-d to redeem us – to rescue us from our exile and to return us to the Land of Israel. All too many of us are waiting for an angel in the form of a Third Temple (Beit HaMikdash) descending from heaven to herald the coming of the Third Commonwealth. But perhaps these people are looking for the wrong kind of angels. The past one hundred years have introduced us to other angels – from the Jews who inexplicably left Europe to settle an uninhabitable Land of Israel to the United Nations who somehow voted to establish the modern State of Israel to Iron Dome, a technological wonder that guards Israel against those who would do us harm.

Who is eligible for redemption? Who is eligible to eat of the Paschal Lamb? Only those people who recognize the angels sent by G-d to facilitate the process of redemption. Only those people who understand that the process of redemption is already taking place. On Pesach, on Z’man Heruteinu – the season of our freedom – let us thank G-d for His beneficence as we stand ready to march together to our destiny.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach v’Kasher,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5781

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Eli bat Ilana, and Iris bat Chana.

[1] Devarim [32:48]

[2] Known as a “parasha”.

[3] Further, the verse containing “b’etzem hayom hazeh” is the last verse in an aliya. Typically, the breaks between two aliyot are chosen to thematically separate between the two. Because this is often not the case,  this point has been relegated to a footnote.

[4] It is impossible to continue without mentioning a fascinating disagreement between Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, who lived in Spain in the twelfth century, and Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, the Ramban, a contemporary of the who lived in Spain. The Ibn Ezra makes a radical suggestion, that the laws of Paschal Lamb are actually referring to the yearly sacrifice that was commanded one full year later (Pesach dorot). While we know that the Ramban is a firm believer of chronological continuity in the Torah, the Ibn Ezra’s suggestion puts him over the edge. He writes, “This opinion [of the Ibn Ezra here] is a mistake”.

[5] See Malachi [2:7]

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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