This week’s parsha is a watershed in the different types of literature in the Torah. The narrative that we have gotten use to from the outset in Beraishit now moves over to introduce to us legal sections. In Perek 12 we find a long list of Mitzvot that Am Yisrael were to perform in Egypt in preparation for, and during, that fateful night of the exodus. Exact instructions are given as to how to prepare, eat and dispose of the Korban Pesach. (Of course we will return to narrative sections in this and other seforim, but this is really the first example of the legal elements of the Torah. This can be confirmed by examining the sefer hachinuch that lists only three mitzvot in all of the Torah up until this point).
This change has been noted by many, and Rashi even turned this into a question in his famous words in his first comments on the Torah. Rashi asks why the Torah did not open with Shemot perek 12 which contains the first mitzvot? Why bother with the long narrative if the purpose of the Torah is to guide us in this world? (For a discussion of this Rashi see our shiur at http://www.midreshetharova.org.il/breishit5761.htm ).
The Ramban at the end of this weeks parsha offers a unique insight that I believe gives new meaning to this shift in style.
The Ramban introduces his comments as “a rule that will explain many mitzvot”. He explains that since the creation of the world there have developed various heretical views. Some people deny God Himself while others, despite their acceptance of God, believe that He is not involved in the world any longer. In response to these groups, on certain occasions, He initiates a supernatural event proving to all of mankind that there is a higher authority. If the event is predicted by a prophet then the effect is all the greater.
If we take a look back at the events in Egypt we can notice that almost without exception in each and every plague the Torah says that the miraculous event will bring you to recognize God.
These miraculous events are great for belief in God but are not the standard operating procedure for the world. This is not simply for a “lack of budget” to perform miracles every day but primarily it is because if we did have a miracle every day it would not seem all that special. As a matter of fact we can easily claim that we do have daily miracles of many types and sizes but we use a different name for them as they happen so frequently- nature. The supernatural events are few and far between.
If this is the case what are we to do in order to bolster our faith, and what are we to do to represent to the world the truth of God’s “hashgacha pratit”?
The Mitzvot are the answer to the problem. We are commanded to do certain mitzvot in commemoration of certain miracles. The Ramban is commenting on teffilin which appears at the end of the parsha along with other mitzvot that are clearly to commemorate the exodus from Egypt.
By doing mitzvot, we, ourselves, represent all of the values that Hashem has created in this world. We are able to trigger memories of great miracles that have happened and increase all humanity’s faith in God.
The transfer from the narrative to the legal is not a simple change in literary style. This change is a mandate to us, the Jewish people, to do something about the narrative. We are not interested in “Bible stories” as fascinating as they may be. We are interested in representing God in this world. We are able to fulfill our function properly only if we can embody both of these elements together. We must be able to absorb the stories of the Avot, the stories of the clear hashgacha pratit in Egypt and therefore actualize the lessons learned by performing the mitzvot of the Torah. The narrative sections are critical as are the legal sections but the most crucial stage may be the ability to bridge the gap between the two and recognize that we live integrated lives with a single purpose.
Chazal tell us that while we wear teffilin that contain the pasuk of “Shema Yisrael….” Hashem “wears teffilin” that contain the pasuk “Me keamcha yisrael goi echad bearetz”.