13.1. The Laws of Passover, and the Accession of the Proselytes (12:43-51)

(43) The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: This is the law of the passover offering: No foreigner shall eat of it.

(44) But any slave a man has bought may eat of it once he has been circumcised.

(45) No bound or hired laborer shall eat of it.

(46) It shall be eaten in one house: you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house; nor shall you break a bone of it.

(47) The whole community of Israel shall offer it.

(48) If a stranger who dwells with you would offer the passover to the Lord, all his males must be circumcised; then he shall be admitted to offer it; he shall then be as a citizen of the country. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it.

(49) There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger who dwells among you.

(50) And all the Israelites did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.

(51) That very day the Lord freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.

(43) The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: The following laws, which include the accession of proselytes, were given to Moses and Aaron together, because proselytes combine two closely related aspects: attaching oneself to the Torah, and attaching oneself to the Jewish people, as represented by Moses and Aaron, respectively.

This is the law of the passover offering: No foreigner shall eat of it: The laws that govern how one joins the Jewish nation begin with highlighting the boundary between the Jewish people and all other nations. In order for the Jews to bring Divine light to all of mankind, they must first separate themselves from it.

(44) But any slave a man has bought may eat of it once he has been circumcised: Slaves in the Middle East were treated as members of the family. But the Torah emphasizes here that they attain that status only after fully accepting Jewish religious norms, as demonstrated by becoming circumcised.

(45) No bound or hired laborer shall eat of it: These are non-Jews who settle in Israel, or hired laborers, i.e., people having only an economic association with Judaism and Jewry. These are not considered family members.

(46) It shall be eaten in one house: you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house; nor shall you break a bone of it: As we noted earlier, all the Passover commandments are associated with the themes of unity, integrity, and “concentration.” Here, too, these principles are repeated in connection with the manner in which proselytes are accepted. Proselytes, rather than being allowed to become and remain isolated in distinct subethnicities, must along with their descendants be fully integrated in every respect into the one, unified Jewish nation.

(47) The whole community of Israel shall offer it: The commandment of participating in the the Passover sacrifice is obligatory for all Jews.

(48) If a stranger who dwells with you would offer the passover to the Lord, all his males must be circumcised; then he shall be admitted to offer it: Thus, we see two levels of “stranger”: The uncircumcised stranger, who is not a Jew and is therefore forbidden to partake of the Passover sacrifice, and the circumcised stranger, who thereby becomes a full-fledged member of the Jewish nation, and participates in in the Passover sacrifice like any other Jew.

All his males must be circumcised; then he shall be admitted to offer it; he shall then be as a citizen of the country: The laws that prescribe how proselytes should be incorporated into the Jewish nation are given in the context of two Jewish commandments of paramount importance: circumcision, and the Passover sacrifice. These correspond, respectively, to the two essential covenants in Judaism – the Abrahamic covenant and the Sinai covenant.

Becoming circumcised means joining the Abrahamic covenant. A person who does not fully subscribe to the ideals for which the Jewish people exist cannot become a part of the Jewish people.

Passover means joining in the birth of the Jewish people and in the Sinai covenant. No one can join the Jewish people who does not share in the Sinai Covenant and the common national memory of the Exodus.

The commandments of circumcision and the Passover sacrifice are very tightly connected, in that no uncircumcised man can eat of the Passover sacrifice. This demonstrates the inextricable link between the Abrahamic covenant and the Sinai covenant.

(During the two-century Jewish exile in Egypt, only a portion of the people continued to observe the tradition of circumcision. Those who had not done so where circumcised shortly before the Exodus. Circumcision is therefore not explicitly mentioned here with respect to the Jews, but only in connection with the accession of proselytes[1]).

(49) There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger: This again emphasizes that proselytes are completely absorbed into the Jewish people, and become full-fledged members of the nation in every respect.

(50) And all the Israelites did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did: The Children of Israel circumcised the “mixed multitude,” thus completing the process of their full inclusion in the Jewish fold.

(51) That very day the Lord freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop: This is the end result of all the preceding events. The “mixed multitude” and the Children of Israel now constitute a single, unified army.

[1] The Book of Joshua, however, does state explicitly that “All the people who had come out of Egypt, all the males … had been circumcised, [but] none of the people born after the exodus, during the desert wanderings, had been circumcised” (5:4).

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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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