Pesach: Shomer Emunim
Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos all commemorate a significant milestone in the Jewish People’s journey towards becoming Hashem’s unique nation. Pesach, the first of the three festivals, lays the foundation upon which all the subsequent goals are to be achieved. “Emunah,” a basic element of Jewish faith, served a primary role throughout Yetziyat Mitzrayim. As a mitzvah, emunah refers to belief in Hashem; in general, it encompasses reliance and trust in the words of Hashem. Although sometimes weak, the emunah of the Jews in Egypt remained latent and was always ready to be expressed, and it is for this reason that the Jews were redeemed from Egypt.
How did the emunah expressed on Pesach affect the Jewish People as a nation? Perhaps a later national experience of redemption can help explain this initial redemption from Egypt. As the ten northern tribes finally returned to the gates of Jerusalem to resume their service in the Temple, they called out to the local city dwellers, “Open the gates and a righteous nation shall come, one that is Shomer Emunim” (Isaiah 26:2). What is this term “shomer emunim,” which literally translated means “guards the faith”? The Radak explains that the Jews, although exiled, had guarded themselves from idolatry. In a similar vein, Rashi explains that the Jews continued to anticipate and await redemption throughout the difficult exile. The Mahari Kra explains that according to this explanation, “shamar” should be translated as “to wait.” This translation of “shamar” is also found regarding Yaakov Avinu by “ve-Aviv shamar et ha-Davar,” which can be understood to mean that Yaakov “awaited” its fulfillment (see Rashi on Bereshit 37:11).
The term “shemira” may have an additional meaning. Throughout the laws of Pesach, the word “shemira” is found quite often. The law requiring that the Korban Pesach be designated and set aside for four days is described as “ve-Haya lecha le-Mishmeret” (Shemot 12:6). In addition, the commandment of “shemurah matza” is instructed as “u-Shemartem et ha-Matzot.” Finally, the mitzvah of “u-Shemartem et ha-Davar ha-Zeh,” refers to the entire corpus of the laws of Pesach and requires that all of the commandments be cared for in a meticulous manner (“nishmar”). Does shemira merely refer to guarding, meticulousness, and making sure that the end product is perfect, or is there something else as well? Rav Chaim HaLevi Soloveitchik Zt”l explains that there are two different elements to “shemiras matza.” One is the necessity to guard the dough from any miniscule amount of leavening, so that it should not become chametz. The second element is the guarding of the matzos in order to create “matza ha-Mishtameres le-Shem matza,” or matza with the unique status of matza shemura (see Pesachim 38b). Similarly, one may say that the Korban Pesach was separated four days prior to its slaughtering in order to certify that it had no blemishes and also to give it a unique status of Korban Pesach. Essentially, as in many areas of Jewish Law, the negative proscribed aspects often entail constructive and productive aspects as well.
Thus, as a nation returning from exile to the Beis Hamikdash, the Jewish People’s role as a shomer emunim was remarkable. It not only defined the Jewish People as a nation with unwavering emunah in Hashem, but also transformed a “goy kadosh” into a “goy tzaddik.” Leaving Mitzrayim, accepting the Torah, and thus separating ourselves from all other nations made the Jews a holy separated nation, or a “goy kadosh.” However, there is a unique dimension added by the character of emunah; being a shomer emunim made the Jewish People into a “goy tzaddik,” or a righteous nation. Such a nation is not only defined by its separation from negative pursuits, but also by its engagements and accomplishments.
This steadfast emunah of the Jews in Egypt and our unwavering emunah today is a significance aspect of Pesach. May we merit through our many types of shemira during Pesach and our intensification of our emunah to call out once again: “Open the gates and a righteous nation shall come, one that is Shomer Emunim.”