Posted on March 23, 2011
by Cody Dydek
These days, a very big deal is made out of Jewish identity: what it means to be Jewish and how we, as Jews, should appear to those around us. What, basically, are the traits which make a strong Jewish identity? The Torah, as it should be expected, provides many insights into this matter. In Parshat Bo, we learn about two important traits that Jews should have. The first of these traits is humility. In the parsha, when God commands the people to make the Pesach offering and sprinkle its blood on their doors, he tells them to use a bundle of hyssop (Hebrew: ezov) to apply the blood. In the Torah, hyssop is often a symbol of humility–for example, it is used in the purification of the metzora (leper) to represent the metzora’s newfound humility. Similarly, the Hebrews’ use of this lowly bush to apply the blood to their doors shows their humility and their acknowledgment of God’s greatness and power (since only He could redeem them from slavery).
Another important trait we learn about in this parsha is inner commitment. When God commands the people concerning the Pesach sacrifice, He states, “V’haya ha-dam lachem l’ot”–“the blood will be a sign for you.” The rabbis interpreted the words “for you” to mean that the blood was to be placed on the inside of the door instead of the outside. This interpretation of the commandment shows the Hebrews’ willingness and devotion to God’s commandment. The blood becomes a symbol of the Jews’ inner commitment to do God’s will. According to R’ Bachya, “The blood did not prevent the plague, nor did its absence cause it. The Torah teaches that whoever truly put his trust in God…placed the Pesach offering’s blood on his door posts, thereby showing he was righteous and worthy of being protected from the plague.” Thus, it is humility and inner commitment that really saved the Jews from the killing of the firstborn and allowed them to pass safely out of Egypt.
According to the Sages, the experience of slavery had caused the Jews in Egypt to fall to the 49th level of impurity, only one level above complete worthlessness. It was the act of the Pesach offering which made them worthy to go out of Egypt. If this offering and the ideas it embodies were able to raise the Jews’ spiritual level so much, imagine what the qualities of humility and inner devotion can do for us! The Torah teaches us that the most valuable parts of our Judaism are the internal parts. Outward appearances are important, but what matters the most is how we feel and act inside. If we remain humble and inwardly committed to serving God, wonderful things will happen. We might not cause another Exodus, but we can make a difference. Let’s take the Torah’s teaching to heart and make our Jewish identities something that we truly feel on the inside.