The month of Nissan, called by the Torah "the first of your months" (Ex. 12:2), is referred to by our sages as "The Month of Redemption." It was in Nissan that the children of Israel marched forth from Egypt toward their destiny as "A kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Ex. 19:6). Likewise, Nissan will mark the beginning of the future redemption for Israel, and ultimately, the entire family of nations. The Passover festival is the celebration that marks the anniversary of our freedom. During the Seder we are commanded to relive our miraculous liberation from the bondage of Egypt and recount the story to our children. For we are not just the descendants of those who stepped from slavery to freedom; our very souls were among the six hundred thousand that emerged from the Egyptian crucible. Recalling and relating details to our children is not enough: we must re-experience our own participation in the exodus, and impart this "first hand experience" to our children.
But what does it mean to be truly free? To be able to do just as I please? This past week Jews around the world began reading the book of Vayikra (Leviticus). Called by our sages Torat Cohanim, (the book of the priests), sefer Vayikra teaches in detail the laws of purity and the bringing of korbanot - offerings - to the Holy Temple.
Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of all the Divine commandments, the bringing of animal offerings was, and will again be, a central component of the Divine service in the Holy Temple. The bringing of korbanot is a process of drawing closer - karov - to G-d. The offering service enabled man to access all levels of G-d"s created world in order to redeem creation and draw closer to Him. The inanimate, (salt), the vegetative, (meal-offerings), and the animal world were all included in the offerings of man at the altar. The ennobling effect of the offering is hard to appreciate in our cynical and detached times. The sages understood this, and therefore instructed that children, guileless and "pure of soul," are best equipped to absorb and understand the laws of purity taught in Vayikra, and should therefore embark upon their Torah studies with this very book.
The liberation from Egypt, and the Passover celebration of our freedom to serve G-d, were also marked by an offering: the korban Pesach, or pascal lamb. Today"s "post" Temple pre-Passover preparations and Seder night experience bear a scant resemblance to the Passover of Temple times. The week before Passover already saw thousands upon thousands of pilgrims converging on their way to Jerusalem. Having arrived from the furthest reaches of the diaspora, on Passover eve the families of pilgrims, (some years numbering over one million souls), would bring their Passover lamb up to The Holy Temple Courtyard to be offered by the priests. The subsequent Seder meal would focus around both this Pesach offering, as well as the festival chagigah offering.
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