By Rabbi Howard Wolk
This Shabbat, 6 Shevat/Jan. 28, is the third yahrzeit of my wife Rebbetzin Annette Wolk, Chanah Bayla bas Yehoshua, z”l. These words are offered in her memory.
Pharaoh, at times, seems like a sympathetic soul. G-d tells Moses that the purpose of the Ten Plagues is V’yadu Mitzrayim ki Ani Hashem — that Egypt will know that I am Hashem.
After several of the Plagues, Pharaoh utters statements that indicate he has learned that lesson.
Etsbah Elokim hee — It is the finger of G-d.
Hatahtee hapa’am — I have sinned this time.
Hashem ha’tsadik — The Lo-rd is the righteous one.
Aren’t all these admissions by the king of Egypt enough for Hashem? What more is required of Pharaoh?
The answer comes in the very first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a whole. It appears in this week’s Torah portion.
“Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodoshim — This month is for you the head (first) of all the months.” That the month in which the Israelites left Egypt (Nisan) will be the first of all the months of the year.
What do the Exodus from Egypt and the month of Nisan represent? What kind of connection is there between Pharaoh and declaring Nisan as the head of months?
The connection teaches us that G-d is involved in the lives of His people. Nisan demonstrates Hashem’s ongoing relationship with His nation.
One level of belief, a foundational belief, is Hashem as Creator. That is why the Torah begins with the Creation story. The rabbinic commentator, Rashi, cites a verse from Psalms: “Koach maah’sahv hi’gid l’amo — He wished to teach His people the power of His actions.”
From Genesis we learn that G-d created the world in a purposeful manner.
But this type of belief alone is not sufficient. There are many Jews and non-Jews who believe in G-d as Creator. But they do not perceive Him as being vital in their daily lives.
There are people who view G-d as the Grand Watchmaker. Upon completing his work, He gives a push to the mainspring. The world began to function. But He maintains no relationship with His handiwork.
Our belief is that G-d has an ongoing relationship with each person. We enjoy an “I-Thou” connection with Hashem.
Pharaoh could see G-d as Creator, not as one who battles on behalf of the Children of Israel.
The Exodus story shows us that G-d does concern Himself with us.
Therefore, “This month is for you, the head of all the months.” This is the month in which His concern for the people of Israel became manifest. That is why Nisan is the first month and consecrating it is the first mitzvah.
Pharaoh did not possess this type of realization. He denied this reality. Therefore, he was punished.
The month of Passover is the first of the calendar months as an instructive lesson to us of G-d’s ongoing concern for us and His involvement in our lives.
Annette, z”l, was always keenly aware of Hashem’s presence in her life. This was always manifest in her life teachings — to her children, grandchildren and me. Likewise, she brought the spark of G-d’s presence to all her many students.
May her memory always be for a blessing.
Rabbi Howard Wolk is community chaplain of Jewish Family Service of Dallas, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shaare-Tefilla and a past president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.