“This month shall be for you the beginnings of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year …”
A king might test the loyalty of his subjects by ascertaining how they feel towards him and whether they serve him with true dedication. Or he may test the loyalty of his subjects by ascertaining how they feel toward his children.
The Kedushas Levi, the Berditchever Rav, zt”l, explains that during the month of Tishrei, the Ribbono shel Olam judges the entire world as to whether they serve Him with love and fear. In the month of Nisan, though, the Ribbono shel Olam judges the world as to their feelings toward His children, Bnei Yisrael.
Therefore, it was in the month of Nisan that Hashem struck Pharaoh, who so mistreated Bnei Yisrael.
The Berditchever Rav explains our passuk homiletically, “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year…” Entirely for you! For in this month Hashem judges nations based on how they treat Bnei Yisrael, and those who mistreat us are punished…
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The first Dezher Rebbe related the following parable:
After a successful day at a fair in Leipzig, a Yid checked into a local inn for the night. To his dismay, he found that he had been assigned to share a room with a notorious thief. Racking his brain for a way to save his money from the thief, he thought of an ingenious solution. When his roommate wasn’t looking, he took his bundle of money and hid it in the thief’s wallet; then he went to sleep.
The thief wasted no time starting to search for the Yid’s money. He ransacked the room, even shaking out the tallis and tefillin bag for good measure, yet the money was nowhere to be found.
In the morning when the Yid awoke he made a scene. With the arrival of the police he loudly accused the thief of stealing his money, giving identifying signs. Upon investigation the police discovered the entire sum in the wallet of the astounded thief, and handed it back to the relieved Yid.
Yaakov Avinu and his descendants, the Rebbe explained, could have spent the mandatory years of exile in the house of Lavan. The Ribbono shel Olam knew, however, that Lavan, an icon of fraud and impurity, was capable of “stealing” every good trait that Bnei Yisrael possessed. So instead, Hashem sent Bnei Yisrael down to Egypt, the bastion of evil and spiritual filth, hiding them, so to speak, in the very wallet of the spiritual thief! There, in the epitome of degeneracy, it would not occur to the forces of evil symbolized by Lavan to victimize them.
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While Bnei Yisrael were thus rescued from the evil represented by Lavan, they were in grave spiritual danger nonetheless. They had already descended to the forty-ninth level of impurity; the Ribbono Shel Olam “hurried” to take them out of Mitzrayim before the set time arrived, in order to save them from spiritual annihilation.
Yet this came at a steep price. Only one-fifth of Bnei Yisrael merited to be taken out of Egypt (according to some Midrashim the percentage was far less). Poignantly, the meforshim explain that if Bnei Yisrael could have stayed in Mitzrayim the originally ordained amount of time, then all souls would have merited their tikkun. But it was too dangerous, and they had to be taken out prematurely.
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Harav Mordechai of Slonim, zt”l, related that for five hundred years tzaddikim beseeched Hashem that the neshamah of the Baal Shem Tov should come down to this world; but the soul refused to descend.
Then something occurred to force it to do so.
Tefillos offered for the Geulah caused a commotion in Shamayim. There were those who argued that it was not yet time for Moshiach to come, for too many neshamos had not merited their tikkun yet; if the Geulah would come they would lose their chance. But others argued that it was unfair to the rest of Klal Yisrael to suffer in their state of exile because of these souls.
In the end all agreed to ask the soul of the Baal Shem Tov, and he ruled that since the Torah states (Shmuel II, 14:14) l’vilti yidach mimenu nidach, we are obligated to wait until every soul merits a tikkun.
The others told him, “Klal Yisrael have suffered so much for so long! Until when will they suffer?” They demanded of him to descend to this world and help wayward souls find their tikkun.
Later, when the Baal Shem Tov pleaded for the Geulah he was told, “You yourself said that all the neshamos must have a tikkun; what do you want now?”
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Nisan is the month when Hashem judges our oppressors. In addition to physical threats against our people are the ever-present and far more dangerous spiritual threats. The majority of Klal Yisrael — through no fault of their own — live in a state of spiritual ignorance, and hence it is no wonder that assimilation and intermarriage are rampant.
We beseech the Ribbono shel Olam to send a ruach of teshuvah into the world. May every soul have its tikkun speedily in our time, and may we merit in this chodesh Nisan the Geulah sheleimah.