Torah Readers Reflections

Personal and community budget and the "First Supper"

The Torah has many lessons for us, but in this week's portion of Bo, we find God teaching the children of Israel the first laws of budgeting and finance and how to achieve a state of mind of "what I have is more than what I need".
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Personal and community budget and the "First Supper"


The days following the new year gives many of us the opportunity to take a look at our personal finances, assess our expected personal and financial situation in the coming year and possibly build an updated budget.  Building a budget essentially deals with the question of how do I utilize the resources available to me in favor of the goals I want to achieve.

Reading this week's portion can shine a light on a different aspect of  building a budget and utilizing resources.


After hundreds of years of slavery, the people of Israel are set free. The first commandment to the children of Israel is to eat a feast before leaving Egypt - "Speak to the community leadership of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month each of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household." (Ex. 12:3).


Rabbi Hirsch comments that this is the first time in the lives of the slaves that they have property and are asked to do something with it. Up until now, they were slaves and as slaves had no property and were not able to decide what to eat. It’s possible to say that their initial "budget" was very limited - only enough for one meal. This could be the basis for starting  to teach the children of Israel basic budgeting and planning for their newly acquired possessions (possessions that are provided by their Egyptian neighbors as they left Egypt).


Immediately after the principle mitzvah about the meal, the specific instructional mitzvot appear in relation to the planned meal. Within these commandments appears a surprising instruction both in terms of the content of the meal and in terms of its presentation:


וְאִם־יִמְעַ֣ט הַבַּ֘יִת֮ מִהְי֣וֹת מִשֶּׂה֒ וְלָקַ֣ח ה֗וּא וּשְׁכֵנ֛וֹ הַקָּרֹ֥ב אֶל־בֵּית֖וֹ בְּמִכְסַ֣ת נְפָשֹׁ֑ת אִ֚ישׁ לְפִ֣י אׇכְל֔וֹ תָּכֹ֖סּוּ עַל־הַשֶּֽׂה׃

But if the household is too small for a lamb, let it share one with a neighbor who dwells nearby, in proportion to the number of persons: you shall contribute for the lamb according to what each household will eat. (Ex. 12:4)


The mitzvah of eating the lamb, on the eve of the Exodus is described as a family mitzvah, one where all the residents of the house eat together. In the quoted verse it is said that if there is such an amount of meat that the family cannot finish alone (if there is too much budget), they can help the neighbors in order to eat the lamb completely - without waste. Rabbi Hirsch sees this instruction as an education for a principled view of our relationship to others, to the community and to the people.


Rabbi Hirsch says that the usual and initial viewpoint for most people is that “I have too little”. This could be too little money, financial security, food, clothes, goods, etc. The question then becomes one of; how can I leverage another person so that it will help both of us (but mainly me). God’s commandment comes to provide a drastic revolution in the established relationship between a person and their property.


  1. The problem is not that there is too little but rather that there is too much - this even more so when we consider that previously we had nothing (as in the case of the children of Israel and often in our own personal lives.  

  2. The goal should always be, “how I give” and not “how I receive” from the general or private "pie". The best thing that can happen to a person is that he gets to be the giver, so much so that he should consider it a grace if someone is willing to take from him.




When thinking about a budget, personal or communal, the mitzvot of the Torah can guide us to build a budget in which the question is; “how will I manage to utilize my resources also for the benefit of others”. “How can I give from my/our great abundance to others, or to the community, in order to have the privilege of being God's partners.” 


The Torah transforms the situation from one of - where I need/must have resources for my existence, to a situation where I need/must have an objective to which I will devote my resources. This is the first lesson in economics that God imparts to the people of Israel.


Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Matan Shnaiweiss


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