Ancient Egyptians felt toward sheep similarly to how the culture in India feels about cows: reverence.
Furthermore, the astrological sign of Nissan is Taleh/Aries—a lamb.
Nissan is considered the first of the months, so that makes Taleh/Aries the most powerful sign, and highly esteemed by ancient Egyptian idol-worshippers (Kli Yakar).
Ancient Egypt looked down on shepherds—yet another reason to despise Am Yisrael, a nation of shepherds whose greatest holy men worked as shepherds at some point.
Rabbi Dovid Kass at Neve Yerushalayim once described the dynamic of taking the pascal lamb and slaughtering it at that time as similar to a Jew burning the Nazi flag in front of the Nazis during the Holocaust.
So when we read about Am Yisrael taking the pascal lamb & slaughtering it, we need to understand the powerful context in which it occurred.
The Egyptian Demand for Safe Spaces!
And a terrible idea began to enter their minds: “Who knows what these depraved people are going to do to these sheep! They certainly don't worship them. Oh no! Could it be that it’s true what we’ve heard that the Hebrews do horrible things; they didn't do it in public, but secretly we hear that they eat sheep! The Hebrews are preparing for a sheep massacre!”
During these four days, the land of Egypt was in an uproar.
There were meetings about what to do, how to deal with the Hebrews. The fact that they didn’t make a massacre was a mofes in itself.
The Egyptians didn't make massacres by the way; they were civilized people but this was going too far already!
“To slaughter our god in front of our eyes?! And to do it with such brazenness?!”
You can picture the more activist & diplomatic members of Am Yisrael back then bending over backward to explain their controversial attitude toward sheep to Egyptian society in strenuous attempts to make shepherding & lamb chops more palatable to Egyptians.
Or the renegades of Am Yisrael who stand up & say, "I ALSO revere sheep! Even though our ancestors roasted lamb & shepherded sheep & made delicious cheese with their milk, many people find that offensive today. Just the phrase "braised lamb chops" triggers some people—how can we not be sensitive to that? Let's make safe spaces for sheep & those who worship sheep. We need to progress with the times!"
I don't know if anyone did, but they sure would today.
Anyway, this whole mitzvah caused tremendous anxiety for Am Yisrael.
Looking back, we know nothing happened during those tense days.
But Rav Miller notes that in real time, Am Yisrael lived in dread of mass pogroms & genocide carried out by triggered Egyptians.
The Value of Mishchu: It Protects Us from Getting Lost
He explains this on page 6 by using a modern-day example (Toras Avigdor gave it a very witty title: "Concealed Carry"):
It’s like the person who buys a lulav, and he’s traveling on the bus.
He went to Crown Heights to purchase a lulav and now he’s riding the bus back to Flatbush, a bus full of gentiles.
What does he do? He wraps it in paper so that people should think it’s a curtain rod.
He doesn’t have a backbone so he’s hiding it. He wants to fit in better with the Italians.
I once got on a bus with a lulav and esrog – I used to ride the bus to go to shul.
As soon as I got on the bus, all the Jews on the bus looked for a crack in the floor where they could hide from embarrassment.
I didn’t hide my arba minim like a curtain rod, you understand. It was killing them! And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every minute of it.
That was one of the most important lessons of mishchu ["pull"—as in the verse: "Pull and acquire for yourselves sheep."]
It means you should grow some backbone.
“Everybody get busy and do some pulling on your own; your job is to do it not secretly.”
And that’s why when this command came from Hakodosh Boruch Hu it was a very unwelcome kind of mitzvah.
It was a mitzvah that required readiness for martyrdom; it was actual mesiras nefesh.
Such a display breaks the slave mentality.
Interestingly, Rav Miller states that all those who refused to pull the sheep through the streets (rather than taken them quietly, disguising them, or taking them somewhere else for slaughter)—they ended up lost to the Jewish people.
Rav Miller brings more modern-day examples of this (page 7):
It’s like the Orthodox Jew who wears a big beard.
A beard is a flag.
You know, if you walk down the street waving an American flag, then you’re going to be the target of all the bums, of all the beatniks, of all the liberals.
Whereas if you carry the American flag inside, beneath your lapel, you might be a big patriot, but you’re not suffering for it.
A Jewish patriot is willing to suffer for it – it happened to me more than once.
Three times people spat in my face.
I was walking once up the subway stairs and a woman looks at me and spits directly into my face.
In those days people didn’t wear beards.
Today, meshugaim also wear beards, but in those days it was different....Stones have been thrown at me.
Once I was bruised! All because of the beard.
Now, you think I would sell that? I wouldn’t sell any one of these incidents!
It could be that if you offered me a very big sum I might weaken, but for a mere five hundred dollars I wouldn’t sell it because that’s what it means to be a proud eved Hashem.
That’s the lesson of mishchu; it means that if you're interested in being redeemed from Egypt, if you don't want to be destroyed when the destroyer passes over the land, you'll have to be willing to stick your neck out for Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
And all the people who keep their necks inside their collars and try to hide, those who are only interested in their own protection, the end will be that they will go lost.
The Struggle to Maintain a Torah-Based Identity
- We kept our Hebrew names.
- We kept our modest, dignified Hebrew dress.
- We spoke our holy Hebrew language (not modern Hebrew polluted by secular Leftists, but authentic, uplifting, refined Hebrew).
Yet Rav Miller notes that Egyptian culture influenced Am Yisrael in other ways.
He compares the length of time Am Yisrael remained in Egypt to a Jewish family in America from 1770 to 1980.
(Or in the current time, from 1811 to 2021.)
The fact is that Jew arrived in America in 1811 and before.
Yet where are those families now?
So Rav Miller notes that whatever Am Yisrael preserved of their core identity, wisps of Egyptian culture still seeped in.
The whole episode with the pascal lamb helped uproot these wisps from the hearts of Am Yisrael.
Rav Miller again uses a modern example (page 9):
It’s like the shomer Shabbos Jew who walks out of his house on a Sunday morning and he's happy; it's so peaceful and quiet.
The factories are closed, the streets are quiet and he enjoys the peace.
Sunday is a part of his life; it could be he gets up a little later for davening; other things too.
That's a good thing about going to Eretz Yisroel; the first thing you notice in Eretz Yisroel is that there's no Sunday.
But if you walk on the street in Flatbush or even in Williamsburg on a Sunday so you appreciate it; it’s a nice quiet holiday.
It’s like the man who says, “I don't have, let’s say, a Christmas tree in my house. Never!”
But as he passes by the stores and he hears the holiday music coming out of the stores; they play it in order entice the customers in order to buy gifts for the season; so the carols are coming out of the stores and it's hard not to have some sentiment about it; you become sentimental about the season.
So even though you certainly are a religious Jew; you don’t subscribe to that at all, but a certain sentiment you have.
But that's also idolatry; if you have some respect for the gilulim of the ovdei avodah zarah, the abominations that they worship, the ideals and attitudes that they live with, that’s already a mistake.
“I don't subscribe to it,” you’ll say, “but there's a certain beauty, a certain poetry in it.”
Ooh, once you say that, you're hooked – you’re in trouble.
Authentically Kosher Jewish Humor
(After I became frum, life became so much funnier; there was more opportunity to find things amusing; I thought maybe it was just me, but others said it too: Life becomes more amusing when you become frum!)
Yet despite our ready humor, Judaism frowns sternly on leitzanut: mockery, ridicule, joking around, making fun, and the like.
In modern society—in which leitzanut earns you popularity, likes, retweets, and even money—this utter contempt of leitzanut sounds strange.
Yet even leitzanut can be used for holy purposes: to fight avodah zarah—idolatry, the occult. Rav Miller includes in this definition: wrong ideas, wicked ideas, and lies.
And that's exactly what Rav Miller does on page 4:
That’s the way of the Torah when it speaks about idols; it degrades them.
It calls them elilim from the word al – the nothing gods.
Or gilulim, like gelalim, manure.
Because that's exactly what it is; bowing down to an idol is like bowing down to a full chamber pot of feces.
How to Live Forever
I couldn't help myself. It just flowed like that.
So let's end with this final idea (in Rav Miller's own words yet again), which applies so strongly to us today, wherever we live, especially in this oppressive darkness of cancel culture:
You know, when you have to fight back against the public so you gain a certain hardiness.
And you need that to survive because there’s a lot of propaganda; the poor Jew is kicked around and scorned.
And if an Orthodox Jew maintains his principles in the face of all of that, that's one of the greatest achievements of life; that’s why we’re going to have a kiyum [existence] – that’s why the Am Yisroel will survive.
Everyone else, every nation, every country will go lost one day, but the Am Yisroel, the ones who have backbone, will remain forever and walk on their ruins.
Don't forget to check out their practical tip on page 15!