“Now there was one certain man of Ramosayim-Tzophim, of the hill-country of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Yerocham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tochu, the son of Tzuph, from the land of Ephraim” (Shmuel I 1:1). Was there only one man in the entire city? Why, then, does the Novi refer to him as “one man”? The Medrash tells us that when Hakadosh Boruch Hu sees a generation tarnished with sin, He searches for even one tzaddik whose merits can save the world. Elkanah was that individual, the one man who saved the people of his era.
Elkanah is also compared to Avrohom Avinu, for just as Avrohom Avinu publicized the name of Hashem to mankind, so did Elkanah return his people back to Hashem. The name Elkanah means to deliver to Hashem. Why was there a need for Elkanah to do this and how did he accomplish it?
“And this man would ascend from his city from year to year to bow down and bring sacrifices to Hashem Tzevakos in Shiloh…where the two sons of Eli – Chofni and Pinchos, were kohanim to Hashem” (ibid. 3). Although they were tzaddikim, they served in their position irresponsibly, for the kohanim under their watch abused the korbanos for their own gain. They would grab more sizeable portions of the sacrifices than they were entitled to and eat them before the fat was burned on the mizbei’ach. They would also procrastinate bringing the korbanos of women who had given birth, as there wasn’t much in it for them, thus delaying them from returning to their husbands; a grave sin.
By allowing this conduct to continue,Chofni and Pinchos showed a lack of respect for their exalted position and for the avodah. Understandably, this brought about a backlash on the part of the people. Feeling betrayed by their priests, they lost interest in making the pilgrimage to the Mishkan three times a year. Eventually, the people’s absence from the Mishkan on Yom Tov became widespread. Thus, the chillul Hashem was unfathomable.
This is where Elkanah stepped into the picture. We don’t know much about his life, except that he was a descendant of Korach and was part of a select group of prophets in his generation. This icon of spirit singlehandedly returned the crown to its old glory by influencing the people to once again make the trek to Mishkan Shiloh for the festivals. How did he accomplish this?
When he set out on his journey to Shiloh, he brought his wives, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters with him. Elkanah was interested in making a scene to draw attention to his entourage so that his people would be reawakened to this mitzvah. On the way to Shiloh, this group did not stay at a hotel. Instead, they camped outside on the street. When people noticed this, they asked, “Where are you headed to?” Elkanah answered, “To the house of Hashem from which Torah and mitzvos emanate. Why don’t you come along with us?” Moved by his sincerity and passion, tears flowed from their eyes. “Should we really come up with you?” they asked again. “Surely.”
Numerous families came along with him. He repeated this procession year after year, taking a different route each time to gather more followers. Eventually, the few became multitudes and the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel became widespread throughout all of Klal Yisroel like in the past. In this merit, Elkanah and his wife, Chana, were blessed with a son whom Chazal compare to Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Hakohein: Shmuel Hanovi (Eliyahu Rabbah 9).
One can’t help but be amazed and inspired by this story, says the Alter of Novardok, Rav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz. The mitzvah of aliyah l’regel was so forgotten that before Elkanah explained to the people about this journey they had no idea what he was doing. “What is this strange journey?” they wondered. An entire family going through the trouble of leaving home, climbing mountains, and depriving themselves of their regular amenities for this mitzvah. This must be a very special commandment. Slowly, but surely, through persistence, patience and pleasantness, a lost and forgotten mitzvah was revived.
How difficult is it for even one person to elevate his avodah when it involves a bit of discomfort? It’s like changing a routine of spending money. Certainly this is rare when it involves an entire neighborhood and surely an entire nation. Yet, here, what was once seemingly impossible became a reality that gladdened both Hashem and His people. One can well imagine that this mitzvah was only the beginning of better things to come, for being in the presence of the Shechinah influenced their lives spiritually and brought physical blessings throughout the year. How many people did it take to bring about this revolution? Just one man, Elkanah.
And what means did he use for this successful campaign? Did he spend money on advertisements, offer monetary rewards for those who followed him, or hold mass rallies for his cause with fiery oratory? None of the above. He simply served as a model of self sacrifice without any ulterior motives to reconnect his brethren with Hashem.
People are naturally attracted to sincerity and purity of heart. His piety and dedication to this mitzvah was the magnetic force that drew people to this cause. But it meant not sitting back and accepting things the way they were. That would have been easy. Instead, Elkanah took the harder road and, in this way, changed an entire people for the better. They were moved to tears, asking, “Shall we go with you?” And they did (Madreigos Ha’adam).
How special is the month of Nissan, the month in which “yeshuos bo makifos – salvation surrounds us” (Yotzer,Mussaf Parshas Hachodesh). The Sefas Emes points out that Nissan is not special because Yetzias Mitzrayim occurred in the month. Rather, the geulah took place in Nissan because this month is filled with kedushah and potential for miracles.
Already at the beginning of the month, a full two weeks before Pesach, there is a noteworthy event. On Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the inauguration of the Mishkan took place. On each of the first twelve days, a different nosi from each shevet brought his korbanos for the dedication of the mizbei’ach. The Medrash tells us that, in reality, the Mishkan was completed in Kislev. However, Hashem said to wait to have the inauguration until Nissan, the month in which Yitzchok Avinu was born. As consolation for Kislev, Hashem said that another chanukas hamizbei’ach would take place during Kislev when the Chashmonaim will retake the Bais Hamikdosh from the Yevonim. What is the special connection between the birth of Yitzchok and the chanukas hamizbei’ach?
Throughout the history of mankind, no one had ever sacrificed of himself for Hakadosh Boruch Hu more than Yitzchok. Many were the people with good intentions that were never brought to fruition. Others realized their aspirations only partially, while numerous tzaddikim reached shleimus through toil and perseverance. But there was only one human olah temimah who sacrificed every fiber of his being, and that was Yitzchok Avinu. He was literally bound on the mizbei’ach and had a knife placed on his throat. And although Hashem told Avrohom, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad” (Bereishis 22:12), the sacrifice was considered brought and remains the greatest zechirah for Klal Yisroel throughout the generations.
Hashem constantly sees the ashes of Yitzchok gathered before Him on the mizbei’ach (Rashi,Vayikrah 26:42). Why did Hashem designate His Name upon Yitzchok, Elokei Yitzchok, even when he was still alive, a distinction not held by Avrohom or Yaakov during their lifetimes? Because having been sacrificed on the mizbei’ach, Yitzchok was considered deceased even while he was amongst the living (Zohar Hakadosh). He so willingly let himself be bound and so enthusiastically stretched out his neck to be sacrificed that, even without the knife cutting into him, the offering was complete. The ashes are gathered before Hashem.
This is why the chanukas haMishkan was done during the month of Nissan, for it is the month in which Yitzchok was born and the month in which he was sacrificed (Shemos Rabbah 15:11). His birth and self sacrifice so sanctified this zeman that there isn’t a more appropriate time to inaugurate the building where sacrifices were brought than Nissan. But do the Akeidah and the chanukas haMishkan have anything to do with Yetzias Mitzrayim or are they merely two separate milestones that happened to occur during the same month?
We know that in Yiddishkeit, there are no coincidences. Everything orchestrated by Hashem has an order. What, then, is the relationship between sacrifice and salvation?
Yitzchok Avinu had everything going for him. Raised in the home of Avrohom and Sarah, he was holy and impeccable in character. Hashem had already designated him as their natural heir when he told Avrohom, “Through Yitzchok your offspring will be considered yours” (Bereishis 21:12). Not only would he inherit their vast riches, but he would carry on their spiritual legacy in being mekadeish Sheim Shomayim. A bright future awaited him, many years of fruitful living to look forward to.
One day, unexpectedly, he was told by Avrohom that Hashem wants him to be sacrificed on Har Hamoriah. But what about his future role in history as the mentor to followers of Hashem, the riches and his promising career? These didn’t matter to him, for only one thing mattered: fulfilling the Will of Hashem. He marched with zeal to the altar, thus paving the way for all of the martyrs of future generations who willingly sacrificed their lives al kiddush Hashem.
His personal interests were not taken into account. Those cheshbonos of self concern are the chains that shackle a person within his own comfort zone, preventing him from rising to greater heights in serving Hashem. By ignoring expedience for the call of Hashem, Yitzchok essentially liberated himself from the prison of worldliness, the walls of physicality that act as a barrier to our connecting with Hashem. No wonder, then, that even in Yitzchok’s lifetime, Hashem was known as Elokei Yitzchok. For one who so totally heeds the call of Hashem has Hashem’s Name called upon him.
This is the connection between Yitzchok and Yetzias Mitzrayim. Yitzchok was the quintessential man of sacrifice who freed himself from the confines of his own personal interests that hindered his reaching his full spiritual potential. This was his own personal Yetzias Mitzrayim. The name Yitzchok is in the future tense, alluding to the simcha of Yemos HaMoshiach – total freedom to serve Hashem.
True redemption requires sacrifice. The Yidden in Mitzrayim could not leave until they slaughtered the lamb for the Korban Pesach, for until then, they feared the Egyptian and were enamored by him. By shechting his idol, they liberated themselves from the people who for centuries intimidated them and hindered their spirituality. This demolished a barrier between them and Hakadosh Boruch Hu and brought the redemption.
Four-fifths of the Bnei Yisroel died in Mitzrayim, while the Eirev Rav, who was so troublesome in the midbar, was part of the exodus. Were they so much better than eighty percent of the Jews? Not at all, says Rav Chatzkel Levenstein. But the Jews who died weren’t willing to leave their own comfort zone for the unknown. They remained imprisoned in Mitzrayim. The members of the Eirev Rav were willing to at least try and leave their present situation for a new beginning.
“And you shall perform this service in this month” (Shemos 13:5). While the Seder and the eating of the Korban Pesach take place on the night of Pesach, there is an avodah that applies to this entire month of liberation: preparation for geulah. This means internalizing what geulah represents. Everyone has his own personal Mitzrayim, says Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. For those who have difficulty with lashon harah, it is the Mitzrayim of the mouth. For those who find it hard to part with their money for tzedakah, it is the Mitzrayim of the pocket. For those who can’t find time for learning because of their burden of parnassah, it is the Mitzrayim of the job. How much of a salvation will we be zoche to this upcoming Pesach? It depends on just how much we are willing to sacrifice.