Pesach is a holiday of true commitment. One cannot celebrate the holiday of Shavuos and accept the Torah without first having demonstrated his appreciation of the message of Pesach, i.e. the concept of commitment to whatever the Torah may command and unwavering loyalty to whatever a Torah life may entail.
Just prior to the giving of the torah, Hashem told Klal Yisroel, (Shemos 19:5) “V’atah im shamo’ah tishmi’u b’koli v’hiyeesem li segulah mikol ha’amim ki li kol ha’aretz– And now, if you hearken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples, for Mine is the entire world.” Rashi, on the idea of hearkening to G-d, comments, “If you will accept the Torah upon yourselves now, it will be pleasant for you because all beginnings are difficult.”
What message is Rashi trying to convey? What does accepting the Torah now have to do with beginnings being difficult?
The answer lies in understanding why beginnings are so difficult. Something new is foreign and eccentric because one is not familiar with it and, therefore, not completely dedicated to it. This lack of familiarity keeps a person from placing his complete heart and soul into whatever new item/concept he is now becoming involved in. However, as one becomes more acquainted, and the novelty loses its eccentricity, one feels more comfortable and applies himself to it more fully.
G-d was telling Klal Yisroel that with Torah there is no place for sluggishness – even at the beginning. One must accept the yoke of the Torah with gusto and complete devotion. How is it possible to jump “right in” to something new? “If you will accept it upon yourselves,’ i.e. one who understands that the word of G-d is complete truth and no matter what he is commanded he will adhere to, then observing the Torah becomes a pleasant experience because he is driven to observe what he knows to be the ultimate truth.
This dedication was ingrained into the hearts and minds of Klal Yisroel at the time of their exodus from Egypt and that is why Pesach must precede Shavuos.
The holiday of Pesach differentiates those who are completely dedicated from those who have a namby-pamby belief. The eighty percent of Klal Yisroel, some twelve million Jews, who were not completely dedicated never made it out of Egypt but perished during the plague of darkness.
When a gentile decides that he wants to convert to Judaism, we do not welcome him with open arms. Rather we develop an attitude of skepticism and we even seek to ‘push him off’. This is not because we are arrogant and do not wish to have any more members join the Chosen Nation, but we are afraid that the conversion may be based on ulterior motives. Until we are completely sure that the would-be-convert has genuinely pure motives, we do not allow the conversion to take place. Only those Jews, who are ready to sign our “Declaration of Independence,” i.e. to absorb and accept our ideas and appreciation of independence and freedom, can join our elite nation.
Going out of Egypt without accepting the Torah soon afterwards would have been a worthless endeavor! Pesach is indeed the ‘Time of our freedom’ but only if it immediately begins our ascension toward receiving the Torah on Shavuos.
About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.
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