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What Does It Mean To Be Chosen?
Video 8 of 8
So the tenth plague, as I mentioned to you before, was very different than all the others. There was no automatic immunity ; the Jews actually had to slaughter a goat and put blood on the door and if they didn’t do that, they would die like everyone else. And we asked, why is that the case?
So, it brings us back to something earlier. You know, way back at the beginning of the plagues, God said to Moses to tell Pharaoh ko amar Hashem beni bechori Yisrael, “my first born child is the Jews and tell Pharaoh send forth my first child and if you don’t send him out” hineh anochi horeg et-bincha bechorecha, “I am ultimately going to kill your first born child in this plague - the tenth plague.” It’s interesting that in the context of the tenth plague, the Jews are viewed as beni bechori Yisrael, “my firstborn child of Israel”. But when did Jews become the “first born child of Israel”? I would like to suggest to you that the answer is right now. God says all the bechorot, all firstborn, are going to be killed in this plague. Only those who become my first born are going to survive.”
What does it mean to call the Jews the “firstborn of God” and how did they become that “firstborn”? So, to understand that, we’ve got to talk about, in general, what does it mean to be a firstborn; forget the “firstborn of God”, that’s very theological. What does it mean to be a firstborn at all? Or to put it another way “ what unique role does a firstborn play within a family?”
And the answer is: “the firstborn is a kind of transition figure between the children and the parents”. You know, we say “well, first born is a kind of leader among children”. Why do I need a leader among children? The answer is “ because of something we are fond of calling the generation gap”. Every child wants to emulate their creator, every child wants to be like their parents. “But how do you be like my parents? My parents go to Board Meetings. How do I live the values of an entirely different world?” That’s where the first born comes in. The firstborn, when it works well, is the child that can take the values of the parents and translates them and live them in a child’s world. So you want to know what it looks like? Follow this example.
Well if we take this out of the human realm, we bring it back into the theological realm, parents are God. God loves all of his children and wants a relationship with all of his children just like any good parent loves all of the children in a family but there is a role for a first born. Because, a nation wants to be like God, “what does it means to be good? Means to be God-like? To do the Will of God? What does it means to do the Will of God ? I have no idea what that mean. God-you can’t touch him, you can’t feel him? What does it mean to be like God?” God says “ I need a nation to be my firstborn, to actually do what it is that God says needs to be done in the world then all the other nations can look at them and say ‘oh, that’s what it looks like to do God’s will. We get that.” I need somebody to do that for me.” God says. “Will you be my bechor? ”
The Jews becomes God’s bechor at the moment that they take the goat that the Egyptians worship and slaughter it and put their blood on the door and say “ the values of Egypt stops at this door. This is a monotheistic household.” The Jews dedicate themselves with the first act that signifies their commitment to monotheism - how a human being monotheistic acts in the world with the blood of the Passover offering. And it’s with that blood that they become the bechor of God .
So God passes over all the houses that have blood on the door and the holiday that commemorates this gets called ‘Passover’. Passover is not a little detail within the Ten Plagues; it’s the point of it all. It’s what it means to us. We were ‘passed over’ while all other bechor were killed . We as a Jews was born as a nation the way that no other nation was. The master of the universe came out with signs and wonders and through our Exodus from Egypt, made manifest that he is the Creator of the world . How did we respond? We stepped up to the plate and we said “we’ll be your bechor.” The God of love, the God who really needs nothing - what’ the only thing the God of love needs? A conduit to allow his love to reach the world;to transfer his values to his children. “We’ll be that conduit for you. We're human being; you’re not human God. We’’ show other human beings what’s it like to live a Godly life in this physical world.”
And that’s why the idea of bechor is in tefillin. Think about what tefillin is. These little black boxes that we wrap on our arm, begins with the recognition of monotheism. Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad. It then goes to a declaration of love. Because it’s one thing to cognitively think “wow, God is one.” But if you really believe that God is one, that God is your Creator, there is an emotion that comes from that. And that emotion is love. A creature loves their creator; a creator loves their creature. And therefore,the next part of tefillin is v’ahavta et Hashem Elokecha b’kol levavcha ubekol nafshecha ubekol meodecha, should love the Lord your God. But then, there is another part of tefillin - the idea of bechor. We remember the Exodus of Egypt because we remember our role as God’s bechor and we do things to commemorate that. It’s not just about knowing God is one ,it’s not even about feeling that God is one; it’s about doing it. It’s about acting in consonance with the will of our Creator in the world, sort of being his bechor in the world. The Gemara in tractate Berakhot 6a vav lamed aleph says a fascinating thing. It says “God wears tefillin, too.” What’s written in them?
It begins with umi keamcha Yisrael goy echad baaretz. Our tefillins begins with the recognition of the uniqueness of God. God’s tefillin begins with the recognition of the uniqueness of Israel. Who is like Israel? One nation in the land. It then goes on to verses that describe God’s love for us but then it goes to a verse that describe what God does for us. O hanisah elokim lavo lakachat lo goy mikerev goy bemasot beotot, “have you ever seen a time in world history where God had gotten involved with world nations and politics with signs and wonders and miracles and took one nation out of another nation?” That’s the verse that indicates God’s commitment to us; what God does to us. Because that’s the way love works. It’s that continuum of what I think in my head, what I feel in my heart and what I do with my hands. There is that continuum in God love for us that’s expressed in, so to speak, God’s tefillin; God’s recognition of our uniqueness, God’s love for us and God’s action and his commitment towards us and taking us out of Egypt. And then there is the way we reciprocated in our tefillin, the way we recognize God as unique, our love for him and our willingness to commit ourselves to be his bechor in the world. And that really is what it means to be chosen. It’s not that God loves us best, that God only cares about one child; a parent cares about a whole family. But in order to care about the whole family, you need to be able to transmit your values effectively to them, and that’s the special role we’re meant to play in the world.
All of this really gets down to one thing. As I sit down to my seder, what am I really trying to accomplish? If I am trying to live Pesach meaningfully what am I trying to get out of the holiday? And I think the real answer is that “ on our national birthday, on the day the we became a bechor, it means dedicating ourselves as an individual to be a part of a community that’s designed to bechor, that’s designed to be firstborns somehow in God’s family.” And that means that :
We care about the whole family - we don’t just care about ourselves, we care about the rest of the world; and
It also means that we’re dedicated to strengthening our relationship with a God that is not just a God among many, not just a powerful God, but a God of yud keh vav keh, a God that’s outside of space and time that is transcended. But then we can relate very tangibly through the actions that we perform in consonance with his will. A God whose love we recognise because he is the Creator of us all and when we dedicate ourselves to him with those timeless words shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad, “that God is the one monotheistic God”, the very next thing we say is v’ahavta et Hashem Elokeicha, that we should love God passionately, because when we really understand that that’s true, passionate love follows in it’s wake and passionate love can’t stay in the heart, passionate love has to express itself in action otherwise it dies. Which is why we are a nation that performs mitzvot.
When we commit ourselves to that continuum,to that understanding of who the God that we worship is, that he is the Creator God, We love him and that we want to respond to him , I think we are living up to what Pesach really asks of us. Have a happy Pesach.
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