The Ethical Lessons of the KORBAN Pesach

March 23, 2012

It was none other than Rebbi ( Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, editor of the Mishnah, 2nd century CE) who told us that we do not know the reward for keeping the mitzvot.
In pirkei avot chapter 2 the first mishnah we read: “Be careful with a light mitzvah as with a heavy mitzvah because you do not know the reward for mitzvot?”

So, if we do not know the reward, how do we know what is a “light” mitzva and what is a heavy/serious mitzva?

We may not know the reward for keeping the mitzvot we DO know the punishment for breaking the negative mitzvot or not keeping the positive mitzvot.

Normally the punishment for breaking a mitzvah is much more than not keeping a positive mitzvah. For example – murder, adultery, idolatry are much more serious than not wearing ztiztit or not putting up a mezuzah.

After all, a person can argue that he didn’t know that there was a mitzvah of mezuzah, or that he hadn’t got around to it yet. Or that he was saving up, after all kosher mezuzot are not cheap. Not that I’m suggesting that one uses these excuses you understand. But all you have to do is sit in an armchair with your hands folded not to fulfil a positive mitzvah.

But what excuse will you give for murder or adultery despite the fact that all kinds of ologies have been invented to find excuses!!! That he didn’t know that murder was wrong?
To break a negative mitzva you have to get up and do something like eat on Yom Kippur or chametz on Pesach.

With many of the positive mitzvot, even if you haven’t fulfilled them yet, unless they are time-bound, you can fulfil at any moment. So, if you haven’t affixed a mezuzah, you can correct that by putting one up.
However, once you have transgressed a negative mitzvah, it’s done. If you’ve eaten non-kosher, you can’t reverse it, although one can and should always regret it, resolve never to do it again and ask HaShem for forgiveness.

The mishna keritot opens with this teaching. There are 36 keritot in the Torah. That is to say there are 36 mitzvot in the Torah out of the 613 that attract the most serious punishment of karet. Excision. Premature death. Losing the world to come. We are not sure exactly what karet is but it’s so serious that it is beyond the power of the Beth din to find a suitable punishment in this world!

Incest, idolatry, the public desecration of the sabbath etc etc
34 are negative and only two are positive mitzvot?

What are the two positive mitzvot that if you don’t keep them they attract such a terrible punishment?
Remember what we said about sins of omission generally not being so serious.


It is interesting that the Torah not only connects the two but also makes them interdependent.
Look at Shemot chapter 12.

What is the connection?

Well obviously Brit mila is the mitzva of Jewish identity at the most basic level. But that is individual identity.
KORBAN Pesach is the mitzva of communal Jewish identity. No man is an island.

The KORBAN Pesach was ish seh labayit levait avot seh labayit. Now in the case of the first KORBAN Pesach it was obvious. After all they had to smear the blood on the lintel and the door posts to mark the house out as a Jewish house.

The KORBAN Pesach was not an individual KORBAN. In verse 4 we read if the household is too small for a whole lamb then let him and his near neighbour join together in the KORBAN Pesach.

If any head of house had a son or even a manservant that had not had Brit MILAH then he could not offer a KORBAN Pesach. Why not?
He has fulfilled his mitzva of individual Jewish identity. What does the Torah care if those in his group have not?
But that is exactly the point. He is responsible for his family, for his near neighbour, for his community. He cannot shirk his responsibility for his family or his group. Nor can he say – with those far away I’m in sympathy. I’ll send money to darfur. It’s just the neighbours I can’t get on with.

Anybody who doesn’t have a Brit breaks the covenant between himself and HaShem. Anybody who doesn’t celebrate Passover properly reads himself out of the Jewish people.

Chag kasher vesameach

Rabbi Meir Wise


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