Teaching about Sacrifice to our Children at the Seder

As we sit down at the Seder this year, what message should we strive to impart to our children, grandchildren, family and friends? If there to be is a singular theme of the Seder in 2019, what should it be?  I think it’s all about the sacrifice.  Though it may be very hard to relate to the idea of a Korban Pesach in 2019, the sacrificial lamb was the central Pesach ritual and the mechanism by which we were transformed from Pharaoh’s slaves to servants of God.  So let’s explore for a moment the nature of this sacrifice.

Sacrifices usually fall into one of two categories. Either a sacrifice is a korban yachid, brought by an individual, or it is a korban tzibbur, brought by a Kohen or Kohanim on behalf of the community. The Korban Pesach, however, has a rather peculiar status, not falling neatly into either one of these two categories.  On the one hand, in Parshat Bo, the Torah commands “v’yikchu lahem ish seh,” that every member should take a sheep to be sacrificed.  The commandment for every individual to bring his own korban would seem to indicate that this is a korban yachid. Yet the Torah also states, “v’shachatu oto kol khal adat Yisrael,” that the entire nation of Israel should slaughter the sacrifice.  This communal responsibility would suggest that this is in fact a korban tzibbur.  In his commentary to Masechet Zevachim, the Rambam characterizes the Korban Pesach as a “Korban yachid k’ein korban tzibbur,” an individual sacrifice that is similar to a communal sacrifice.  It is brought by every individual, but there are two characteristics of the Korban Pesach that make it seem like a communal offering: it overrides Shabbat prohibitions and it can be performed even if the entire nation is tamei, or ritually impure.  These two characteristics generally only apply to communal and not individual offerings.

Why, though, is the Korban Pesach this hybrid-type of sacrifice – part individual and part communal?  The Sefer Hachinuch explains that the Korban Pesach is a sign and commemoration of when we all entered the nation of God, when a group of individuals combined to become a nation.  Normally for a communal sacrifice, a representative, a Kohen, offers a sacrifice on the community’s behalf.  We might have expected such a communal sacrifice as we celebrated a national moment like commemorating the exodus.  However, perhaps the Torah is trying to convey that when it comes to our redemption, each one of is responsible for our share.  When it comes to the future of our people, each one of us has a stake. When it comes to Korban Pesach, the sacrifice to celebrate this event, each one of us is individually involved but we do it together as a nation.  The Korban Pesach becomes a korban yachid that is similar to a korban tzibbur.  That is why we offer it even if the 14th of Nissan fell out on Shabbat and even if a majority of the nation is tamei, because this was the moment when we celebrated how millions of individuals were transformed into a collective, thousands of years ago.

So what should be the singular message that we should strive to impart to our children, grandchildren, family and friends at the Seder in 2019?  The message is simple.  We are individuals, each with a stake in our future and a mission to carry out.  But we are also part of a collective, and our communal membership is as important to our identity as our individuality.  Nobody else can bring this sacrifice on our behalf, not even a Jewish leader like a Kohen. Had the Torah formulated the Korban Pesach as a korban tzibbur I might have argued that what I do is unimportant and ultimately all we need are good leaders.  However, the fact that every individual participates in the central ritual of this holiday means that every individual matters and the future of Judaism does not rest solely on the leaders, not on the Rabbis, but on every single person.  We must teach our children how important each one of them is to our destiny. We each have a role to play, and no one else can do it for us.

Many of us don’t want to sacrifice.  Many of us want to only do what is comfortable for us. We don’t want to push ourselves too much.  But sacrifice is ultimately the message of the Korban Pesach, the sacrifice to slaughter the god of the Egyptians in front of their eyes and not be afraid.  But it’s more than that.  It’s a recognition that, as Rav Soloveitchik has asserted, that the Torah’s description of sacrifice flies in the face of our modern sensibilities, undermining our commitment to autonomy, self-fulfillment and self-expression.  The Torah requires us to spend our lives working hard not just to earn a living and raise a family, but to work hard for God, to work hard to study His Torah, to work hard to pray to Him passionately, to work hard to perform acts of chessed,  and to work hard to refine our middot, because each one of us is so important in the destiny of our people.

So this Pesach, let’s tell stories of ordinary individuals who made a difference through sacrifice.  Tell them the story of Zvika Greengold who was home on leave when Syria launched a surprise attack to start the Yom Kippur War. Once he realized that war had broken out, Zvika went to the frontline and under the cover of darkness almost singlehandedly caused the confusing Syrians to withdraw.  Tell them the story of Sarah Schenirer, the pioneer of Jewish education for girls in the beginning of the 20th century in Poland.  To this day we have her to thank for forever changing the landscape of Jewish learning and engagement of Jewish women.  Within each of our own families, there are undoubtedly personal stories as well. Let’s animate our Seders with stories of parents, grandparents, or other relatives who came to this country with nothing and held firm to their faith.  Let’s honor those individuals who were passionate about their Jewish identity and sacrificed so that their children could attend yeshiva day school, creating families and generations of descendants who are now Torah observant.  This year, let’s fill our Seders with stories that highlight the power of every Jew to make a difference and the responsibility of every Jew to sacrifice.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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