11.2. The Commandment to Slaughter and Eat the Paschal Lamb (12:3-13)
(3) Speak to the whole community 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.
(4) But if the household is too small for a lamb, let him 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.
(5) Your lamb shall be without blemish, a yearling male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.
(6) You shall keep watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month; and all the assembled congregation of the Israelites shall slaughter it at twilight.
(7) They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they are to eat it.
(8) They shall eat the flesh that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs.
(9) Do not eat any of it raw, or cooked in any way with water, but roasted — head, legs, and entrails — over the fire.
(10) You shall not leave any of it over until morning; if any of it is left until morning, you shall burn it.
(11) This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly: it is a passover offering to the Lord.
(12) For that night I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down every first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and I will mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt, I the Lord.
(13) And the blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you: when I see the blood I will pass over you, so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
(3) Speak to the whole community of Israel and say: So long as the plagues were underway Moses did not address himself to the Jews. It was a period of internal transformation, when the Jews gradually came to see themselves as a distinct nation. But now the time has come to translate national self-awareness into action.
(3-6) On the tenth of this month each of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household … You shall keep watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month: Keeping the lamb at home for four days was an important aspect of the Jews’ education. That lamb was a deity to the Egyptians, who could not bear the thought that the Jews were going to slaughter the lamb and eat it. Such defiant indifference demonstrated openly that the Jews had no fear whatsoever of Egyptian gods.
Guarding the lamb for four days was only a one-time requirement for the very first Passover observance at the Exodus itself. It did not apply to Passover observances in any later time.
A lamb to a household: The bedrock of society is the family.
(4) But if the household is too small for a lamb, let him share one with a neighbor: Uniting neighboring families is important for creating a sense of national solidarity.
(5) Your lamb shall be without blemish: The lamb must have no imperfections or deformities.
Without blemish a yearling male: There is symbolism in these three aspects of the Passover sacrifice. “Without blemish” represents unity, “a yearling” is symbolic of concentration or compression, and “male” – of independence.
A lamb from the sheep or from the goats: Hebrew seh is a general term for “a young animal of smaller horned livestock,” i.e., a sheep or a goat. In this commentary we follow the accepted translation, “lamb.”
(6) You shall keep watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month: That is, until the eve of the full moon, which occurs on the fifteenth of the lunar month. The moon, which symbolizes Israel, appears then in its full radiance (in Jewish tradition the Moon is symbolic of Israel, because, like the moon, which only reflects the light of the sun, so do the people of Israel illuminate the world not with their own light, but with the light that they receive from God).
And all the assembled congregation of the Israelites shall slaughter it at twilight: Literally, “between the two evenings,” i.e., between the two temporal boundaries that delineate the last part of the day: noon and sunset. The Passover lamb was to be slaughtered sometime during the interval between those two.
(7) They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they are to eat it: Thus the Jews’ declare that they are an independent nation that holds itself distinct from the Egyptians.
In later generations, the blood of the Passover sacrifice (and other sacrifices generally) was sprinkled upon the altar. Each Jewish house here functions as a Temple. The Jewish practice of affixing a Mezuzah to each doorpost, as required by the Torah (Deut. 6:9, 11:20), is, inter alia, a remembrance of the doorposts (“mezuzot”) that featured prominently here in the Exodus story.
The Midrash adds that at that time (two weeks before the Exodus) the Jews also received the commandment of circumcision, because the uncircumcised are forbidden to eat the Passover sacrifice (see 13.3, commentary on v. 12:48). Thus, the blood on the doorposts is also associated with the blood of circumcision.
(8) With unleavened bread: Later we will learn that the obligation to eat matzah (unleavened bread) is connected with the swiftness of the Exodus. The Exodus happened so quickly and suddenly that the dough that had been prepared the day before to rise had no time to ferment (12:39). But this commandment was given even before the Exodus occurred, which implies that the historical justification of matzah – that the dough did not have time to ferment – was all part of the original Divine plan, and not just an accident of the Exodus story.
With unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it: Matzah and bitter herbs are the symbols of freedom and slavery, respectively. The commandment to eat them together symbolizes acceptance of the unity of the Creator, Who is the author of both freedom and slavery.
(9) Do not eat any of it raw, or cooked in any way with water, but roasted — head, legs, and entrails — over the fire: When meat is cooked in water, it falls apart, but when roasted, it becomes more concentrated. These laws concerning the preparation of the Passover sacrifice, with its “head, legs, and entrails,” further emphasize unity and concentration.
(10) You shall not leave any of it over until morning; if any of it is left until morning, you shall burn it: Here too we see in the Passover Seder the emphasis on the theme of concentration. First in concentration of time: “You shall not leave any of it over until morning,” and later (v. 22) in concentration of place: “None of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning”
(11) This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand: This demonstrates Israel’s readiness for the Exodus, which must happen quickly and without delay.
And you shall eat it hurriedly: Haste is an essential theme of the Exodus, emphasizing that the entire Exodus is miraculous in nature. Natural processes need time for both their preparation and implementation, but miracles require neither. The haste of the Exodus underscores this point.
It is a passover offering to the Lord: In the Hebrew this is, simply, Pesach hu la-Shem, “It is a Passover for the Lord.” The word “offering” (i.e., sacrifice) is implied.
As the Torah itself explains below (v. 27), when the Lord smote the Egyptians, He “passed over” – pasach – the Jewish houses, leaving their inhabitants unharmed. Hence the Hebrew word Pesach, “Passover,” a noun derived from the verb pasach.
(12) For that night I will go through the land of Egypt: We noted earlier that the Exodus has the character of direct Divine intervention. God directly intervened in history to perform the Exodus Himself, rather than having it done through angels, or other agents at His disposal. This demonstrates that the Exodus transcended the very the laws of nature. Angels must act within the confines of natural law, but direct Divine intervention by the Almighty Himself respects no such limitation.
And strike down every first-born in the land of Egypt … mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt: The effect of the plague of the firstborn was to defeat the Egyptian deities. Thus, with this plague Israel is finally and completely liberated from subjugation to Egypt and its gods.
(13) And the blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you: “A sign for you” – that is, for the Jews themselves, and not for God. In order to be saved, the Children of Israel had to acknowledge their Jewishness, their unique connection with God.
When I see the blood, I will pass over you: The blood smeared on the doorpost demonstrates that the house is a Jewish house, and its inhabitants identify with the Jewish people.