Nissan: Hold your Head High
Long ago, a nation of princes was enslaved. Employed in backbreaking labor and subjugated with harsh abuse, beatings, and even deaths, they were forced to build cities and serve their captors. Day after day, year after year the oppression grew upon them, until they no longer recalled their lofty roots.
Until one day, a strange man appeared and told them, ‘I have a message from G-d. He is going to free you from this country amidst many wonders and miracles. And then He’s going to give you the land that He promised to your fathers.’ Yet they couldn’t hear him through their sorrow and suffering.
But then lo and behold, miracles did occur. The river turned to blood, frogs exploded everywhere, and the Jewish nation realized that there was indeed an all-powerful G-d, who loved them and would take them out. And so He did, after one last dreadful plague where every eldest son in Egypt died.
Finally, after these awe-inspiring miracles, the Jews left Egypt. They set out through the desert to receive the Torah and reach their promised land, and these former battered slaves now held their heads up with pride. They knew that they had a G-d who would do anything for them, even split the sea if need be, and they accepted His reign over them. They were a nation born.
And indeed, this month of Nissan which always occurs in the spring is one of growth and rebirth. It is the first month in our counting of the months of the year, and it signifies the birth of our nation as believers in G-d. This Emunah – belief - that the Jews acquired throughout the redemption is what formed them into the Jewish nation and what readied them to follow G-d’s every word and commandment.
For at the beginning of everything is Emuna. It’s the first step to leading a Jewish life and it’s based on the fact that we saw the miracles that G-d did for us in Egypt and His revelation to us at Mount Sinai. It’s a belief so strong that we were ready to follow G-d faithfully around the desert for forty years and accept every word of His Torah without questioning, because we know that He is there.
As we know, the zodiac symbol of the month of Nissan is a lamb, and it is also a lamb that we are commanded to bring as a Passover sacrifice. Although we associate sheep with being passive followers, it seems that they have reason to be so. Sheep know that they have a shepherd who looks after them and they trust him. They know that they are better off when they follow their shepherd who feeds them and gives them to drink and wards off the wolf who lurks in the shadows.
We too have a shepherd who watches over us constantly. King David wrote in true beautiful simplicity, ‘Hashem Roi Lo Echsar’ – ‘G-d is my shepherd and I will not want.’ He continues with the beautiful words, ‘Gam ki elech begei tzalmavet lo irah ra ki atta imadi.’ ‘Therefore, even when I walk through the valley of deepest shadows I will not fear evil because You are with me.’
It is not a passive, easy act to follow G-d and accept His leadership upon yourself. In fact, it takes great courage, determination, and perseverance in the face of a world which is telling you to just let it go. To relinquish control of your life and hand over the reins to a higher power. Yet when we draw upon our belief in G-d and His might, and the miracles He has performed for us so many times throughout our history, we can rely on this faith to pull us through.
Nissan is therefore the month of belief, a month of establishing our faith in our G-d and then acting upon it. There are so many Jews who are otherwise secular yet they still hark back to Pesach, year after year. Because in their hearts, they still carry that belief in G-d. And perhaps this is why it is on Pesach that we have the specific mitzvah of telling our children about the slavery in Egypt and of passing down our legacy. Because when you believe it until it hurts, then you will pass it on to your children. You will care enough to instill it into their hearts, and to make sure that they too follow their shepherd.
This Pesach as we celebrate our freedom, let us remember; We’ve chosen our G-d, we’ve seen His miracles and we’ve accepted His Torah. Now let’s hold up our heads and be proud of it.