The term ‘blood libel’ is one we are all familiar with. We’ve heard stories from all areas of the world, in generations past. The more recent stories and the ‘trials’ are recorded in history books and studied, while the more ancient stories are recounted in books that carry the tales of our leaders and gedolim of yesteryear. This past Pesach, one of my siblings reminded us of a story about my grandmother had referred to years ago, the story of her father and the blood libel and pogrom that he and the city of Shiraz faced.
You might say that even before my brother mentioned this, I had blood on my mind. My cousin made a Bris the day before Erev Pesach. As we repeated the possuk “ואומר לך בדמיך חיי” I was struck by the many connections between Bris Milah and Pesach. This week, the week of Pesach Shaini, we will study the connection and see what message and lesson of Pesach we can apply.
Pesach Shaini is a day when those who had been impure and unable to partake in the Korban Pesach were given a chance to make the Korban and partake of it. Chazal teach us that this even applies to those who were there and were pure but did not partake in the mitzvah for other reasons (legitimate or not). In and of itself, this is very unique: The power of teshuva and repentance are well known, and we even know that sins can turn into merits if teshuva is done correctly. But it’s not often that we are given a chance to change an action that was not done—missed opportunities, time wasted, are minutes we cannot usually regain. It seems that we are now given a path to correct a sin of omission.
Let’s examine Bris Milah and Korban Pesach, retell the story of the 1910 Blood Libel in Shiraz, and see what message and power from Pesach we are being given a second chance to tap into.
And I passed over you and saw you wallowing in your blood and I declared to you, by this blood you shall live, and I declared to you, by this blood you shall live.
We say this possuk from the navi Yechezkel at the Seder, as we portray the state of B’nai Yisrael. They had sunk to the lowest levels of impurity and were ready and ripe for salvation. Yet they lack the necessary merit to be redeemed. Hashem gave them two blood-related miztvos that they could gain life and redemption through: Bris Milah and the fulfillment of the Korban Pesach, which included spreading its blood on their doorposts.
What connects these two mitzvos?
Several aspects may stand out to you as you think about this: consider that Avraham Avinu was originally commanded to perform the Bris at Pesach time. An ערל, one who has not had Bris milah performed (even for legitimate reason), is only forbidden from partaking in one Korban—this one. These two mitzvos also are the only two מצוות עשה that have the din of כרת associated with them.
I’d like to explore the possible connection by learning a little about each mitzvah individually, and a little about who Eliyahu Hanavi is. Through this, we may be able to draw some conclusions and gain new understand just in time for Pesach Shaini.
When Hashem appears to Avraham after his Bris, the name with which he appears is different: whereas previously, He appeared to him as Elokim, He is now the called by His name יקוק. This change is demonstrative of the change in Avraham’s relationship with Hashem. Elokim is the name that refers to the natural order of the world and din. In contrast, יקוק is the name we use when referencing the intimate relationship and closeness we strive for with Hashem.
This level of closeness was the initial intention of Hashem in creating the world. With Adam’s sin this level was lost and only revived when Avraham accepted the Bris.
When Avraham was commanded regarding the Bris, we don’t see immediate fulfillment. Instead a dialogue takes place between Hashem and Avraham, where Avraham remarks on the possibility of a son being born to Sarah and asks too for Yishmael’s salvation. Hashem answers that Sarah will indeed have a son and through this son will the Bris and work of Avraham continue.
With this conversation, Avraham was seeking to understand the purpose of the Bris. The Midrash says that he was scared that once he would perform the Bris Milah, he would no longer be able to attract others to the service of Hashem. Until this point, this had been his life’s purpose and goal.
Hashem answers Avraham and affirms that the goal has changed. Avraham is no longer the father of many nations, meant to spread Hashem’s name far and wide. He is now Avraham, father of Yitzchak, and founder of a nation meant to be separate and apart.
Avraham’s mission was now to cultivate the עם סגולה, and attracting the approval of the masses was no longer a goal. The Bris set Avraham apart from the nations of the world and began the new mission of creating Am Yisrael. The mitzvah of Bris continues to have that gravity today. We make the bracha on the Bris and enter each new baby boy into the Bris of Avraham, forever binding him into this covenant, connecting him to all the generations before him all the way back to Avraham Avinu, and forever setting him apart from the other nations.
When Hashem told the Yidden to take the object of the Egyptian’s worship publicly to their houses, tie them on the bed posts and slaughter them as a Korban Pesach, a clear demarcation was made. Already, those who did not want to be redeemed had been punished by makas choshech, and yet this was a challenge still for those who remained. The Rambam writes that by spreading the blood of this Korban on to the doorposts, as a sign to both those in the house and outside the house, B’nai Yisrael showed that their faith and loyalty lied only with Hashem, and that no remnant desire to assimilate existed.
Bris Milah was a choice, a test for Avraham to show that he truly was differentiating himself and removing himself from the other nations. By literally slaughtering the idolatry of their neighbors, the Yidden made the same choice: they removed any lingering doubt and from their hearts and declared that they were one with the G-d of Avraham. Both the Bris and the Korban Pesach were actions intended to publicly declare allegiance to Hashem.
Both of these mitzvos were about choosing to be a Jew and choosing to stand apart from the Goyim. But why it that Eliyahu Hanavi is involved with both mitzvos?
Who Is Eliyahu Hanavi and Why Does He Come
If we study Eliyahu Hanavi’s appearances in the sifrai nevi’im we can perhaps learn what his role is. When we first see Eliyahu Hanavi (not as Pinchas, but by this name) he declares a three year drought and stages a public confrontation on Har Hakarmel. He demands that B’nai Yisrael stop jumping from side-to-side and tells them to discard their idolatry and to fearlessly declare allegiance to Hashem.
Eliyahu later flees for his life and has nevua in the desert, telling Hashem that he sought only to be zealous for His name. Hashem replies with a message of the קול דממה דקה, the soft voice in which Hashem can be heard, to tell him that it is not with harsh zealousness that the Yidden can be changed, but with a soft voice. Despite this, Eliyahu is unswerving, and cannot change his view. He repeats almost word for word “I was zealous for Hashem, for they have forsaken Your Bris…” and he defends his zealousness.
After this episode, we see Eliyahu continue in his zealotry and kill the soldiers of Achazya. He then is summoned to the merkava and goes to the Heavens alive, ever the zealot that he always was.
At the end of Sefer Malachi (in Tray Asar), Eliyahu is mentioned again. We’re told of a malach habris, the angel of the Bris who will come to hearken the final geula. The pessukim continue and name this malach:
Behold, I am sending for your Eliyahu Hanavi before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem
How is it that Eliyahu Hanavi, the zealot who seemed unable to absorb the message of theקול דממה דקה, who didn’t cease to declare before Hashem that B’nai Yisrael no longer were worthy, has now become the kindly presence that will declare the coming of Moshiach?
Chazal teach that it is because Eliyahu declared before Hashem that B’nai Yisrael have ceased to uphold the Bris that he is now sent to witness each Bris. Perhaps the change is only because Eliyahu has been to every Bris Milah and has held the baby placed in his chair as he was entered into the Bris of Avraham, and that he has gone from Seder to Seder, and has seen Yidden pine for the Korban Pesach. If we have kept the Bris and separated ourselves from the goyim around us, then Eliyahu can come, even as the zealot he has always been and announce the geula.
Was the Korban Pesach Really a Korban?
The word Korban refers specifically to an animal sacrificed on a mizbe’ach. There are laws that apply to animal sacrifices. For example, the animal brought must be without any physical flaw, and must be beneath a certain age. Meat from sacrifices may also not be left overnight and were only allowed to be eaten in designated areas.
The lamb of Pesach had these same requirements: a perfect yearling, eaten just in that night, only within the confines of the house, and the remainders were burned. In fact, the words in the possuk used to describe the process of roasting it mirror exactly the words in the Torah when talking about the Korban Chatas. But the Pesach was not brought on a mizbe’ach, one of the prerequisite factors. Was it even then a Korban?
What is the function of a mizbe’ach? The Korban is brought on it and the blood is sprinkled on its corners. The gemarah (Pesachim 96a) tells us that R’ Yosef taught that there were indeed three altars, three mizbechos, involved in the original Korban Pesach: the two door posts and the lintel of the Jewish house—the areas where the blood was spread.
The pessukim of course support this answer. Several of the commandments of the night centered around their houses. The protection of Hashem was on the entire house, as the mashchis would not enter and Hashem would “pass over” the house.
(Consider also that Chametz, which is forbidden year-round on the mizbe’ach, is forbidden in our houses on Pesach.)
The Korban Pesach was indeed a Korban, and our homes took the place of the mizbe’ach.
Pesach Shaini- A Message for Our Homes
A mizbe’ach is an alter for Hashem, where His fire descends and atonement and intimacy are gained. According to our kabbalah, Pesach Shaini begin a period of seven days in which the power of Pesach can be tapped into again, acting as a do-over for the seven day holiday. This week, we can tap into the powers of Korban Pesach anew. Let’s examine the halachos and take a lesson we can apply to our homes.
The Korban Pesach could only be eaten by those who had previously been counted and grouped together. There were no exceptions to this rule: once the Korban was offered, no one could move from one group to another, and anyone who had neglected to join a group lost out. This law adds even more exclusion to the already exclusive halachos of Korban Pesach.
The message we can learn here for our homes is essential: Our homes are our mizbe’ach. It is there that we foster our children and give them the education that will continue them on the path of Avraham Avinu. In this sacred area it is our right and our duty to be discriminatory and exclusionary—only that which we have judged and counted as part of our group shall be allowed in.
In a generation and a culture that teaches and preaches that everything is acceptable and anything goes, we guard our values and our position as B’nai Yisrael by not allowing everything and everyone in. We have an obligation taught to us by the laws of the Korban Pesach to at times confidently and shamelessly say that something is simply not for us.
As a nation that has decreed itself separate and apart from all the other nations, and as a nation that has suffered for this declaration, we have persisted through endless persecution and suffering. It is only through our determination to stick to the Bris of Avraham and stay adamantly apart from the goyim that we have survived.
The Blood Libel and Pogrom of 1910 In Shiraz
My Great-Grandfather (pictured in the heading) was the 7th in a line of dayanim, religious arbitrators and leaders, that had led the city of Shiraz. He led after his father, who had taken over for his father, and so on in an unbroken chain of 7 generations. He had corresponded in learning with the chachomim in the Yeshiva in Iraq, and his advice and council was sought. He lived at a time where the immediate Muslim leaders of the community respected him for his knowledge and holiness, and seemed to have promised to help defend the community on various occasions, but they could not always control the mob.
This incident started when workers who were cleaning sewers in the Jewish areas claimed to find desecrated Islamic books in the sewers. Shortly thereafter, a veiled Muslim lady was seen throwing a stack of old papers into a Jewish courtyard, which again turned out to be torn pages from their religious books. These two incidents started off a series of investigations and brought about a wind of ill-feeling and resentment from their neighbors.
What followed over the next days was one of the worst pogroms and blood libels Shiraz had seen in recent times, the of Blood Libel and Pogrom of 1910. The claim seems to have first been brought to the house of my great-grandfather, in his role as the chief Rabbi. A Muslim merchant claimed that his 4- year-old daughter had been playing near the Jewish Quarter when she had last been seen. The man claimed that he was sure that the Jews had killed her to use her blood for their rituals. The chief Rabbis tried to calm him and see what the community would need to do to “prove their innocence” and hold off the mob. They managed to buy time until the next day, and the Rabbanim immediately sent a request for help. (My grandmother still recalls that the Muslim leader in Shiraz respected her father greatly, even giving her mother, as his spouse, much respect and honor.) Soldiers were dispatched to come to the aid of the Jewish community. In the end, this would not help.
The next day, a body was found behind a house, about a mile out of the Jewish Quarter. (Later, this was found by British investigators to be the body of an 8-year-old Jewish boy who had been buried days earlier, but this “discovery” and was all the “proof” the mob needed.)
My grandmother, who originally mentioned this story years ago, no longer recalls these details, but they are documented in English history books by eye-witnesses in horrific detail.
Together with the soldiers who were meant to be protecting the community, the mob descended on the community and began its destruction. They looted and destroyed the entire village. Those who tried to stand in their way were murdered, and many others sustained serious injuries as countless men, women, and children were assaulted. In a matter of hours, the city was destroyed, as over 6,000 people lost their homes and livelihoods.
I don’t know anything really about the aftermath of the pogrom, other than the fact that funds were sent in from an organization called Alliance Israélite Universelle through the British consul to help rebuild the community. What I do know is that the community survived to see another day and another generation, and rebuilt itself as Yidden have done generation after generation.
In the cycle of galus, we who are living now are perhaps the most fortunate. We have freedoms and opportunities that previous generations could not even have imagined. Perhaps more than ever we have settled comfortably into America and it’s melting-pot culture of inclusivity and its ‘anything goes’ mentality. It is our obligation to remember that we have persevered only through the sacrifices and korbanos brought of the persecution and deaths in the generations before us. We have paid the price many time over and can not be convinced to succumb to the melting-pot of America. It is with that confident knowledge that we guard our doorways from all that is not accounted for. We stand apart and enter our sons into the Bris of Avraham knowing that our strength is in our separation.
The laws of Korban Pesach were of course part of the eternal Torah, but they were not taught until a group of men requested that they too wanted to partake of it:
Why are we held back from bringing the Korban of Hashem at its time, among B’nai Yisrael
They asked, why should we miss out on a mitzvah that is so essential to our being counted among our nation? Let us be included, let us stand up and take the side of Avraham Avinu and publicly shun all else.
This Pesach Shaini lets us absorb this message:
Let us stand clearly on the side of Elokai Avraham and place our trust and confidence only in Him;
Let us heed the words spoken on Har Hakarmel and cease jumping from side to side;
Let us not be scared or hesitant to openly declare that something does not belong in our homes.
And through this
May we merit to greet the zealous Eliyahu Hanavi, confident in our fulfillment of the Bris.
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