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Home » Passover, Tzav

Tzav: Transformation From Within

Submitted by on April 2, 2006 – 9:04 pmNo Comment | 6,133 views

In Love

A young man was set up on a “shidduch” date. After the first date he told his mother that he was impressed with the young lady’s character, but not with the shape of her nose. After several further dates the young man fell in love. When his mother asked about the nose, he replied, “When I look at her I see a lovely face, not a long nose.”

For the first few months the young groom didn’t notice the shape of his wife’s nose, but soon he began to notice it again. Only this time he surprised himself when he actually came to adore it.

First his love blinded him to the faults in her appearance and he subconsciously learned to ignore them. Then he came to love her so much that he was infatuated with her every attribute. The unappealing became appealing. The long nose was transformed into a conduit for even greater love.


The love between husband and wife is a metaphor for the love between ourselves and G-d. G-d instructed our ancestors to build an altar in the tabernacle and maintain a continuous fire upon it. As the Torah puts it, “The flame may not be extinguished.” (1)

The mystics rendered this instruction in a slightly different manner. The altar represents our hearts and the fire, our love for G-d. We must keep our love for G-d aflame, palpable in our hearts at all times, and when we do, “The not will be extinguished .” (2)

The not, is our desire to refuse G-d’s wishes periodically. This not is stimulated by our attraction to worldly pleasures. Nurturing a continuous love for G-d reduces our attraction to worldly pleasures, thus also extinguishing our not, our desire to say no to G-d.

The first step is to extinguish the not. The second step is to turn the not into a shall by harnessing our desire for worldly pleasures to the service of G-d. When our passion for worldly pleasures becomes a passion for G-d, when the desire to avoid G-d becomes a desire to embrace him then we, like the young groom, have experienced a transformation from within; we have turned a formerly unappealing attribute trnansformation from within - innerstreaminto a conduit for greater love.

A Great Miracle

The last Shabbat before our ancestors left Egypt they designated lambs for the upcoming Passover Sacrifice. (3)

They explained to their Egyptian neighbors that they were instructed by G-d to offer up a sacrifice because the night of their redemption was at hand. “On that night,” they told their neighbors, “all first-born Egyptian men would die.

Upon hearing this, the Egyptian first-born men pleaded with Pharaoh to liberate the Jews, but Pharaoh refused and an armed clash erupted between an army of first-born Egyptians and the royal forces. Many died in this battle, but Pharaoh’s forces ultimately prevailed. (4)

This revolt was titled a great miracle and it is commemorated every year on the Shabbat before Passover. The astute reader will ask, “Where is the miracle?” The revolt was a completely natural occurrence, and furthermore, it failed. What is there to celebrate?

Opposition Transformed

The miracle lay not in the outcome of the battle, but in the very fact that it was waged. For many years Egypt enslaved our ancestors and expended its resources on persecuting them. The first-born were the most revered in all Egypt. They were also the principle taskmasters and antagonizers of our people.

For nine long plagues the Egyptians held out. They scoffed at G-d and opposed his demand to liberate our people.

As the young groom silenced his ambivalence in order to love his bride, G-d silenced the voices of Egyptian opposition in order to liberate his people. The tenth and final plague miraculously accomplished this goal. It terminated Egypt’s opposition to G-d and to His demand to liberate our people.

The civil war, however, went beyond this step. It not only stopped the opposition, but also turned the oppressors into supporters. For the first time Egyptians rallied in support of the Jewish cause. This was a transformation from within; the forces arrayed against G-d crossed the line in support of G-d.

This was a miracle. Not a simple miracle, but a “great miracle.” Most miracles change the natural order by forcing the natural order to work against itself. Rarely does the natural order experience a transformation from within to the point that it desires and embraces the change that G-d wants. This time it did.

A miracle usually occurs when someone wishes harm on another and G-d protects the victim despite the aggressor’s will. But this miracle was different because in this case the Egyptians wanted the Jews liberated. The aggressors became enthusiastic supporters. (5)

It was the Egyptians’ natural inclination to deny the existence of G‑d despite all evidence to the contrary. (6) But the civil war erupted because the firstborn’s natural opposition to G-d changed into an inclination to embrace G-d and His instruction to liberate the Jews. This transformation was not foisted on them by supernatural force against their will. Their natural inclination simply changed when they realized that supporting the Jews would enable their own survival and is thus in their best interest. (7)

Like the young man whose ambivalence was ultimately turned by his love into a conduit for greater love, so did their realization transform their opposition to G-d into faith and advocacy for His people. (8)



  1. Leviticus 6: 6.
  2. Maggid of Mezritch (R. Dov Ber, Mezritch, 1700-1772) Hayom Yom, Kehot Publication Society, 1943, 20 Adar II.
  3. 3.    Tur Shulchan Aruch, ch. 430. (R.Yaakov ben Asher, Toledo, 1270 – 1340)
  4. Beis Yosef, ch. 430 (R. Yoseph Karo, Safed Israel, 1488-1575).
  5. Consider the splitting of the Red Sea. By nature water is meant to flow in liquid form. That the Red Sea parted and stood upright was a miracle superimposed upon nature. The nature of the water did not change. It was subdued, and as soon as the miracle ended, the waters reverted to their natural state. This implies that forced, as they were, to act against their nature, the waters stood in protest throughout the duration of the miracle as opposed to the Egyptian first-born who did not protest their newfound faith. They embraced it and thereby transformed their very nature.
  6. The Torah (Genesis 42: 9 and 12) refers to Egypt as a land of vulnerabilities. The mystics translated this vulnerability as immorality.
  7. This explains why we refer to the Shabbos that commemorates this great miracle as the great Shabbos. Shabbos is about escaping the tangled web of worldly affairs. G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Similarly we are required to rest from our worldly affairs on the seventh day and concentrate on G-d. In a sense we silence the voices of the distracting world so that we can devote ourselves to G-d. But on this Shabbos we go one step further. Instead of silencing the world we celebrate it. Rather than escaping the world on this Shabbos, we highlight its divine origin. As the Egyptian first-born did, we recognize that the weekday world was also created by G-d and rather than view it as a possible distraction, we invite it to worship in Shabbos-style devotion. Among Shabboses this one is great because it integrates the world with G-d, enabling all other Shabboses to influence the weekday world that is ushered in behind them.
  8. This essay is based on a talk given by given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on 10 Nissan 5758.

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