Korban Pesach: A Mitzva Not to Pass Over

Rabbi Yosef Levinson


Pesach is perhaps the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday. For over three thousand and three hundred years, Jewish families have gathered to recall the suffering and anguish of the Egyptian servitude, and to re-tell the miracles and wonders that Hashem performed in saving the Jewish Nation from slavery. Yet despite its perennial and universal appeal, there is a key element that is sorely missing from our Sedarim - offering and eating the Korban Pesach. Though it has been more than nineteen hundred years since we last savored the meat of the Pesach, we have not forgotten the importance this korban plays in the commemoration of our freedom from slavery. We conclude maggid (the retelling of the Exodus) with a bracha (blessing) requesting Hashem to rebuild Yerushalayim, so that we may offer the Korban Pesach and eat its meat. Until that day, we will continue to lament our inability to do so. The Seder commences "kol ditzrich yeisei veyifsach (whoever is in need, come and celebrate Pesach)." This year we are in galus (exile) and we may invite all to join us, even as we begin the Seder. However, when the Beis Hamikdash stood, only those who were designated before the slaughtering of the Pesach could participate with us 1.

The significance placed on the Korban Pesach by the Torah is evident from the following fact: it is the only mitzva that Hashem offers us a second change to fulfil, if we are unable to do so at the proper time2. Why are we given a second chance to fulfil this mitzva and not other mitzvos? Even though we may not offer the Korban Pesach today, let us not pass over this mitzva. We can still learn its laws and reflect on its lessons.

The Sefer Hachinuch 3 writes that we bring the Pesach offering to recall the wondrous miracles that Hashem performed in redeeming us from Egyptian servitude. The plagues inflicted on the Egyptians, and the other miracles that took place, are irrefutable proof that G-d is the Creator of the world and that He controls all that happens 4. Additionally, through those miracles, Hashem acquired us as His servants. We enjoy hashgacha p'ratis (Divine Providence) and guidance in our lives, and we have the privilege of serving the Ribbono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe) through Torah and mitzvos. As the Torah states, "for they (Bnei Yisrael) are My servants, whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt 5."

The Korban Pesach is more than a means to recall our experiences in Egypt and our redemption from there; it was the vehicle through which we proved ourselves to be worthy of Hashem's deliverance. As the appointed time of Bnei Yisrael's release drew near, Hashem realised that they did not possess any mitzvos to merit freedom. Thus, Hashem gave them the mitzvos of Pesach and mila 6.

The Maharal explains 7 the significance of these two mitzvos. Through bris mila, we became servants of Hashem - all servants have a mark identifying them as belonging to their master 8; mila identifies us as Hashem's servants.

Hashem also gave us the mitzva of Pesach, which the Torah describes simply as 'avoda' 9. Hashem designated us as His avadim (servants), giving us the opportunity to serve Him; for how can we refer to one as an eved if he does not provide any service to his master?

Thus, through fulfillment of mila - which permanently marks us as Hashem's servants, and Pesach - which proves that we are indeed avdei Hashem, we demonstrate our dedication to Hashem's service and are deemed worthy of redemption.

We can understand how mila distinguishes us as Hashem's avadim. But what is the significance of the Korban Pesach? As Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner writes 10, any action that is done for the sake of Hashem may be called 'avodas Hashem', so why is it only when referring to the mitzva of Korban Pesach that the Torah uses the expression 'avoda'?

He explains that a servant can serve his master who acquired him many years before, and a servant can serve a master in order that the master should acquire him through his service 11. The same can be said about 'avodas Hashem'. We perform other mitzvos for Hashem, for we are already His avadim. However, the mitzva of Pesach initiate us into Hashem's service - we become His servants.

Though we have explained that through the Korban Pesach we entered Hashem's service, we have yet to clarify how the Pesach transformed us into avdei Hashem.

The late Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt"l, writes that of all the transgressions that are punishable by kareis (premature death), only two are for neglecting to fulfil a mitzvos asei (positive command), and both of these mitzvos distinguish us as Hashem's people. Circumcising one's flesh demonstrates that not only is the neshama (soul) of a Jew different to that of the other nations, his guf (physical body) is different as well 12. The Rambam writes that mila tempers man's desire and pleasure, and is a permanent reminder that a Jew must strive to perfect his character 13.

The Pesach is the other mitzva. It was a unique offering. Before yetzias Mitzrayim (exodus from Egypt), all korbanos were burnt completely on the mizbeach (altar). For man to attempt to eat that which was designated for Hashem would have been a desecration of the korban. The first meat of a korban that man was allowed to eat was the Pesach offering. Thus it was a declaration that Bnei Yisrael were 'a holy people' 14, whose bodies were elevated to the holiness of a mizbeach. Only they could eat that which was designated for Hashem; and when they did, it was considered as if the offering was burnt on the altar. This is why the Torah restricts our diet. Just as we may not desecrate the altar with an unacceptable offering, so too a Jew may not defile his body with food that the Torah deems unfit.

Since these two mitzvos proclaim that the body of the Jew is to be devoted to Hashem, and that such a Jew is sacred, one who neglects them deserves severe retribution.

Furthermore, through these two mitzvos, we earned our freedom and entered Hashem's service. Mila and Pesach are the proclamations of our uniqueness, and remind us of our potential. We must strive to be as holy as the mizbeach that stood before Hashem. Since the purpose of our release from bondage was to serve Hashem, it is only fitting that we first demonstrated our readiness and willingness to be His servants.

The mitzva of matza contains a similar message. We eat matza to recall our suffering in Egypt, where it was all we had to eat. Matza also reminds us that we left Mitzrayim in great haste. Rabbi Miller adds that eating matza is another declaration that we are a holy people. All the menachos (flour offerings that the Kohanim offered and ate from) were baked as matza, except for some of the lachmei toda (breads of a thanksgiving offering) and the shtei halechem (two loave offering of Shavuos). By eating matza, we state that we are as holy as the Kohanim, who are dedicated to service of Hashem15.


Let's take this analogy a step further. The mizbeach always retains its kedusha (holiness), even when no korbanos are being consumed on it. It is a monument of dedication to avodas Hashem 16. Its only function is to be an instrument for our serving our Creator. So, too, every act that a Jew does should be for the sake of Hashem. His every deed should be imbued with holiness, distinguishing him as a servant of Hashem. Shlomo Hamelech exhorts us, "b'chol d'rachecha dei'eihu "(know Hashem in all your ways) 17.

This idea is reflected in the mitzvos of the Pesach. The Pesach must be roasted completely - not cooked in water or partially broiled. Hashem wants us to enjoy our food; and when done for His sake, it is a mitzva to eat. Hakaras hatov (gratitude), which eating tasty food engenders, is in itself an important form of avodas Hashem, and is also an effective means to achieve love of the Creator.

"V'chol ma'asecha yihiyu l'sheim shamayim (all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven)" 18. Every day, there are countless opportunities for us to serve Hashem. We can eat and sleep so that we may have the strength and energy to learn Torah, and fulfil mitzvos.

When Rebbetzin Nechama Kook, the grandmother of Rabbi Simcha Kook (Rav of Rechovot), was well advanced in years, she became ill and weak. When she was told that the halacha forbade her to fast on Yom Kippur due to her ill health, she broke down and cried. She said, "all my life I have been trained to eat for the sake of Heaven. When I was a child, I ate so that I could have strength to help my mother. When I got married, I ate in order to be able to be a good wife to my husband and mother to my children. Now, however, my husband is gone and my children are grown up. What purpose is there for my eating? I then consoled myself with the thought that I will eat during the year so that I will be strong enough to fast on Yom Kippur. However, now that I am not permitted to fast on Yom Kippur, what purpose will there be for my eating year round? It is for this that I cry!"19

Eating and deriving pleasure from this world afford us the opportunity to thank our spouses, families and everyone else that is kind enough to help us. In this way we compliment, encourage and cheer them, fostering ahavas Yisrael.

When we eat, we can reflect on the wonders of creation. Rabbi Miller made a career of discovering Hashem's greatness through the wonders of nature. We can concentrate on the intricacies and the miracles of the human body 20 we can observe Hashem's greatness by studying the food that we eat - even by examining the peel of an orange or apple.

1. The green color of the unripe fruit protects it by concealing the fruit amongst the leaves of the tree.

2. When the fruit ripens, the beautiful colour of the peel announces that it is fit to be eaten, and it makes the fruit conspicuous between the green leaves. It also makes the fruit attractive and appealing to eat.

3. The fruit's peel is coated in plastic, keeping the fruit airtight and waterproof. The fruit begins to decay as soon as it is peeled.

4. The peel's fragrance attracts eaters and adds to their pleasure.

5. The fruit peel is biodegradable; it eventually disintegrates and vanishes, unlike man-made packages.

6. The fruit peel is also recyclable; it turns into soil and fertiliser21.

We recite a bracha before we derive benefit from this world to remind us to eat for the sake of Hashem22. Chazal want us to express our gratitude and appreciation for the gifts that Hashem bestowed upon us. The brachos also remind us to reflect on the wonders that He created.

When we get dressed in the morning, we should remember that we are created in G-d's image (tzelem Elokim), and we are Hashem's children. As His representatives, our outer appearance is of utmost importance.

We can also serve Hashem in our chosen profession - by working to provide for our families so that both they and we have the means to learn Torah, fulfil the mitzvos and give tzedaka to support Torah institutions. Even when we take money from a customer, we should bear in mind that we are doing chessed with a fellow Jew. We need to earn a living. Our main concern, however, is to help our brethren23.

We can also fulfill the will of Hashem by using our natural talents. Even though letzanus (joking around) and levity are usually frowned upon, when used for the right purpose, they are considered great mitzvos.

Rabbi Beroka was once visited by Eliyahu HaNavi in the market place of Lefet. When R' Beroka asked Eliyahu, "is there anyone here who is destined for the world to come?" Eliyahu pointed to two people and said, "they are destined for the world to come." R' Beroka went and asked them what they did. They told him that they are comedians who cheer up those who are depressed. Also, whenever they see two people quarrelling, they strive to make peace between them 24.


'B'chol d'rachecha dei'eihu' (know Hashem in all your ways) is commonly perceived as the next step, after one fulfills the obligatory mitzvos. One who wants to come closer to Hashem will not be satisfied with fulfilling his duty. He will use every available opportunity to serve Hashem and come closer to Him.

Rabbi Hutner writes that 'b'chol d'rachecha dei'eih' can also be viewed in the opposite light. Man can perform the mitzvos because it is his duty to do so. If he completes his tasks, he is a free man and may do as he pleases (as long as his desires do not conflict with the will of Hashem). One who performs all his deeds for the sake of Heaven, however, does not perceive the mitzvos as a burden that must be completed. Rather, he considers himself a servant of Hashem. He has no domain of his own, and is always prepared to do his Master's bidding.

Shavuos is z'man matan Torahseinu - Hashem gave us the Torah and mitzvos so we may do His will. However, before we could accept the Ol (yoke) of mitzvos and Torah, we had to first accept Ol Malchus Shamayim (yoke of Heaven) 25. This happened on Pesach, z'man cheiruseinu - when Hashem freed us from slavery. Through the mitzvos of Pesach, which proclaim our uniqueness and kedusha, we became His servants. These mitzvos remind us that our sole desire should be to fulfill His will - thus 'b'chol d'rachecha dei'eihu' (know Hashem in all your ways) is the foundation and introduction to serving Hashem.

This is why Hashem gave us Pesach Sheni. Our Creator genuinely desires our service, and if one was unworthy on Pesach, he is granted another opportunity to declare his allegiance to Hashem. He can then continue on to Shavuos and Kabalas HaTorah (acceptance of the Torah). Just as Hashem acquired us to be His avadim when we left Egypt, so too every Pesach, as we re-live the geula, we become His servants. We renew our pact with Hashem through fulfilling the mitzvos of Pesach. Although we cannot partake of the Korban Pesach this year, we should see to it that we do not pass over its lessons. Let us remember our special status, dedicate our every deed to Him, and declare, "ana avdecha d'Kudsha Brich Hu."


1 Zevach Pesach; Ma'asei Hashem.
2 Bamidbar 9:10,11; Sefer Hachinuch mitzvos 380, 381.
3 Mitzva 5.
4 ibid, Mitzva 380.
5 Vayikra 25:42, see there with Malbim.
6 Rashi Shemos 12:6; See also Shemos 13:8 with Rashi and Da'as Torah.
7 Gur Aryeh, Shemos 12:6.
8 Shabbos 58a.
9 Shemos 12:26;13:5.
10 Pachad Yitzchak, Pesach Ma'amar 42.
11 See Kiddushin 23b.
12 Rabbi Miller The Beginning 17:14.
13 Moreh Nevuchim 3:49.
14 Shemos 19:6.
15 A Nation is Born 12:20.
16 See Gur Aryeh Shemos 20:22.
17 Mishlei 3:6. R' Avigdor Miller (Bamidbar 9:12) writes that this is also reflected in the mitzvos of the Pesach. We consume the entire Pesach, leaving nothing over. When one eats solely for his pleasure, he may choose one dish over another, leaving food over. Since we eat to fulfil Hashem's will and realise the potential of this mitzva, we refrain from other delicacies and completely consume the Pesach.
At the same time, we may not break a bone to eat the marrow, for one who does so demonstrates that he is motivated solely by appetite. The service of Hashem is achieved by eating the flesh; there is no mitzva to eat the marrow. By eating only the meat, he evinces his desire for the service of Hashem (R' Avigdor Miller ibid). We eat and enjoy our food, but we are not ravenous, so we do not over- eat.
18 Avos 2:12.
19 Retold by R' Mendel Weinbach, Mishlei Rabbi Eliezer Ginsburg, Artscroll.
20 Ralbag.
21 See The Universe Testifies P. 93.
22 Rabbi S.R. Hirsch Horeb 673; See also Meshech Chachma Devarim 8:10.
23 Michtav Me'Eliyahu vol. 1 p.34.
24 Ta'anis 22a.
25 Pachad Yitzchak Pesach 44, based on Mechilta,Yisro to 20:12.

Back to Yom Tov Homepage

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel