“This month (Nissan) is the beginning of all months; it is the first of the months of the year to you.” The twelfth chapter of Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus, opens with what Rashi names as the first commandment given to Israel.That mitzvah is immediately followed by the quintessential mitzvah of identification with the people of Israel, the Korban Pesach (Paschal Lamb). Verses 43 through 49 make clear the fact that only Jews may, and all Jews must, take part in the Korban Pesach. There is a special relationship between the Jewish people and this mitzvah; it is unique to us. What does this say about the Jews as a people? Is there something unique about us? 

There is a phrase that appears repeatedly in this chapter to denote the people Israel: Adat Yisrael. If we study the Rabbinic literature that describes what constitutes a minyan, the minimum number of Jews gathered together that can represent the whole of Israel for the sanctification of God’s name, we see that the word edah is highly significant. The Talmud Bavli, Megilah 23b, teaches us what constitutes a minyan:

We do not publicly recite the Shma, we do not pray the Amidah publicly, they (the Kohanim) do not raise their hands (for the priestly blessing), and we do not read the Torah….How do we know all of this? Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: The verse says (Leviticus 22:32) I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel. This means that God’s name is not sanctified with fewer than ten. What is the meaning of what Rabbi Chiya taught? It is written “among” in two different places. Here, it is written I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel, and it is written there (Numbers 16:21; the story of Korach’s rebellion) Separate yourself from this assembly (“edah”). The word “edah” appears twice, as it is written there (Numbers 14:27) How long must I bear the complaints of this bad assembly (edah) (the ten spies, minus Yehoshua and Calev, who gave a bad report of the land)”.

From this sugya in the Talmud, we learn that the assembly, the edah, of Jews among whom the name of God is sanctified, is made of ten. Our parashah this week teaches us that we, the Jewish people, are the edah that was taken out of slavery in Egypt. We, as an edah, are not superior to other peoples. When we were first called an edah, we were slaves. The other edah whose numbers we are based on are people who lost faith, and doomed their generation to wandering the desert. Another edah was Korach and his followers; a mob taken in by a demagogue! What, then, is the nature of our uniqueness, and the source of our holiness? It is not, God forbid, any kind of ethnic superiority! Rather, our holiness comes from our capacity and obligation to become better, and to acknowledge the world’s sanctity by acknowledging the spirit that precedes and imbues it.

Shabbat Shalom!

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