2004In this week's Torah portion the Jewish people are commanded their first mitzvah as a nation. In order to leave Egypt in the morning, the previous night all the Jews had to bring a Passover offering. According to the Medrash the Jews were almost completely assimilated into Egyptian culture, and so God wanted the Jews to slaughter and eat a lamb, one of the main Egyptian gods to show their willingness to separate from Egypt. It specifically had to be barbecued, so that their oppressors could smell what they were doing, forcing the Jewish people to be public about their rebellion.
Lambasting the Egyptian God
Exodus Chapter 12
3. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house;
4. And if the household is too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the souls; according to every person's eating shall you make your count for the lamb.
5. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year; you shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats;
6. And you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.
7. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, in which they shall eat it.
8. And they shall eat the meat in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.
9. Eat it not raw, nor boil with water, but roast it with fire; its head with its legs, and with its inner parts.
10. And you shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remains of it until the morning you shall burn with fire.
11. And thus shall you eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste; it is the Lord's Passover.
Your Torah navigator:
1. If God is trying to separate the Jews from their Egyptian idol worship, isn't telling them to take the god they have been worshiping for 250 years into their houses for a religious ceremony a dangerous proposition? Why not just take them out quickly instead of giving them one last night eating their favorite god?
2. Why all the rules? What would be wrong with eating it alone, leaving some over till the next day (mmmm...cold lamb sandwiches), or breaking one of the bones?
3. If you were choosing a mitzvah to give the Jewish people to would prepare them for their new freedom what would it be?
Perhaps part of the point of this mitzvah is to teach the Jewish people not to reject their past but to learn how to use it in a holy way. Had God just taken them out, torn them from their enslavement and culture, the process would have been simpler but we would have missed one of Judaism's main messages, that we reject nothing in this world, but have guidelines on how to utilize such things for holiness.
Slaves probably never eat in an organized communal fashion; they eat on the go when they have food (much like 21st century Americans). Now the Jews had to create pre-set communities in which to eat the lamb. It had to all be eaten; none saved for a future time in which there might be no food, complete trust in Hashem was required. They could not break the bones. This is a meal of transition, eaten in hasty leaving, yet respect for it matters. To a slave this is a new notion. This lamb is for free people, not just a food, but conscious respectful communal ritual.
Prepared by Rabbi Hyim Shafner, campus rabbi, St. Louis Hillel at Washington University.
Additional commentaries and text studies on Parshat Bo at MyJewishLearning.com.