We Jews are constantly faced with the dilemma of how to live our lives as Jews in a predominantly gentile society. Should we relegate our Judaism to the confines of our homes and Synagogues and try to assimilate when out in the street or workplace, or should we proudly proclaim our Judaism in public for all to see? Indeed, should we conduct ourselves in accordance with the motto of Moses Mendelssohn, the father of Jewish Secular Enlightenment, who coined the phrase, “Be a Jew in the home but a citizen in the street” or should we follow the exhortation of Rabbi Yoseph Kaaro, author of the Shulchan Aruch (The Code of Jewish Law) who begins his opus saying, “Pay no heed to the teasing of those who mock the service of G-d!” The story of our redemption from Egypt provides important insights into this vital question.
Our Holy Torah teaches that every year on Pesach we observe the mitzvah to eat matzos in commemoration of the day that Hashem took us out of Egypt some 3300 years ago. Specifically, the Torah stresses that Hashem took us out of Egypt “B’Etzem Hayom Hazeh” (in the middle of this day) and for this reason we are instructed to observe this day for all future generations. But what is the significance of the middle of this day? What difference does it make what time of day we left Egypt—and what lesson does this hold for us?
We find this same terminology “B’Etzem Hayom Hazeh - in the middle of this day” in connection with our forefather Avraham Avinu’s performance of the Mitzvah of Bris Milah, circumcision, at the age of 99. The great Biblical commentator Rashi explains that Avraham performed the mitzvah in the middle of the day, in broad daylight, to demonstrate the pride of his commitment to Hashem and a complete lack of fear of anyone who might deride him or, worse, try to prevent him from carrying out the holy commandment.
Similarly, Hashem took us out of Egypt in the middle of the day to clearly demonstrate that He alone controls every facet of the affairs of the world and no power in the universe can prevent the execution of His will. Thus, Hashem smote the Egyptians with ten plagues, harnessing the vast and mighty forces of nature to do His bidding at precisely the moment He decreed. And even though Pharaoh acquiesced at times, promising to allow the Jews to leave Egypt, Hashem deliberately hardened his heart to provide additional opportunities to demonstrate to the world His supremacy over the universe.
Hashem instructed the Jews to perform the Mitzvos of the Paschal sacrifice and Bris Milah whereby they would merit redemption. These mitzvos demanded great personal sacrifice as the lamb was the Egyptian deity and slaughtering it would surely arouse the wrath of the Egyptians. Moreover, circumcision clearly involves physical pain and would likely invite the derision of Egyptians.
Nevertheless, the Jews heeded Hashem’s command and proudly dedicated themselves to His service. And they did so openly, following the example of their forefather Abraham before them, confident in the divine protection of Hashem.
Thus, for religiously committed Jews the answer to our opening question is clear. Pesach teaches us that the Jewish people, even when enslaved in a hostile society, dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to the service of G-d and performed His mitzvos in public even at great peril. In turn, Hashem rewarded them and redeemed them from slavery “B’Etzem Hayom Hazeh - in the middle of this day,” showing the entire world that He chose us to be His holy nation. When we continue in the path of our forefathers, proudly and openly dedicating ourselves to Torah and Mitzvos, we prove ourselves to be worthy of the name G-dly Nation.
May Hashem bless you all with a Happy and Kosher Pesach and may we merit to see, once again, Hashem’s ultimate salvation “B’Etzem Hayom Hazeh - in the middle of this day.”
Special Thanks to: Rabbi Avraham Shalom Farber & Yehuda Leib Meth, for the Translation