11.4. The Passover Sacrifice, and the Retelling of the Passover Story to for the Generations (12:21-28)

(21) Moses then summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, pick out lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover offering.

(22) Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts. None of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning.

(23) For when the Lord goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the Lord will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home.

(24) “You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants.

(25) And when you enter the land that the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite.

(26) And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite?’

(27) you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’ ” The people then bowed low in homage.

(28) And the Israelites went and did so; just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.

(21) Moses then summoned all the elders of Israel: This is happening on the same day that God addressed Moses and Aaron, i.e., on the first day of the month of Nisan, two weeks before the Exodus.

Slaughter the passover offering: This means the Passover sacrifice, the Paschal Lamb.

(22) Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts: The point of the Passover sacrifice is not merely to slaughter it, but to proclaim its meaning to the entire world.

None of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning: Every aspect of the Passover sacrifice and its observance emphasizes unity and isolation: No participant may leave the house all night, its bones must not be broken but left whole, it must be completely consumed in the course of a single night, and any part of it that remains until morning must be burned.

But what is the meaning of this unity and isolation? We would suggest that it is the following. If the Jewish people are to influence humanity, they must “go home and stay at home,” concentrating first on themselves. That introspection is designed to clarify and strengthen the unique identity of the Jewish people. We must properly build our own lives before we can influence humanity. On the holiday commemorating the birth of the Jewish nation, Israel must therefore sit indoors, in the company of only their fellow Jews.

(23) For when the Lord goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the Lord will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home: Because the blood demonstrates trust in the Almighty’s instructions, it therefore has the power to save.

(24) “You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants: The Passover celebration has a unique ability to bind the Jewish nation across the generations.

(25) And when you enter the land that the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite: Passover is inextricably linked with the Land of Israel and, in the Diaspora, with the desire to return there (that is why, as we will shall see later, the “wilderness generation” – who by God’s decree died off in the wilderness and could not enter the Land of Israel – stopped celebrating Passover from the moment of that decree).

(26) And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite’?: Jewish tradition always encourages us to ask questions, rather than blindly accepting its assertions without discussion or critical assessment.

(27) You shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’: The telling and retelling of Jewish history is an integral part of the Jewish religion.

The people then bowed low in homage: The people fully accept the “nationalist” but not the “religious” version of the Exodus. They rejoice at hearing that they will have their own land, the Land of Israel, and that they will have many generations of future descendants.

(28) And the Israelites went and did so; just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did: The Children of Israel made their preparations for Passover and for the Exodus precisely as Moses and Aaron had commanded them.

And yet, matzah is nowhere mentioned throughout this passage. It is not entirely clear from the text of the Torah whether the commandment “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread” (v. 15) was then not yet established, and pertains only to the celebration of Passover in future times (“Passover for the generations”), or it was a requirement for this first Passover as well (the “Egyptian Passover”).

In other words, when the Jews left Egypt, were they allowed to take leavened dough with them? Or could they bring with them matzah exclusively, and it was only the “mixed multitude” who, upon joining the Jews at the Exodus, brought raw dough with them out of Egypt? (See v. 38-39 below).

The Torah is intentionally ambiguous on this point, since both possibilities are equally essential to our understanding of further events.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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