13.2. Consecration of the Firstborns (13:1-2)

 (1) The Lord spoke further to Moses, saying,

(2) “Consecrate to Me every first-born; man and beast, the first issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine.”

(1) The Lord spoke further to Moses, saying: At the conclusion of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, a commandment is given to remember it.

(2) Consecrate to Me every first-born: The commandment to consecrate the firstborns is intended to serve as a reminder that the Jewish firstborns were spared during the tenth plague. It also emphasizes the idea of Israel’s spiritual primacy: “Thus says the Lord: Israel is My first-born son” (4:22).

13.3. Moses’ Concluding Passover Address (13:3-16)

(3) And Moses said to the people: Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of bondage, how the Lord freed you from it with a mighty hand: no leavened bread shall be eaten.

(4) You go free on this day, in the month of Abib.

(5) So, when the Lord has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall observe in this month the following practice:

(6) Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival of the Lord.

(7) Throughout the seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten; no leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in all your territory.

(8) And you shall explain to your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt.’

(9) And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead — in order that the Teaching of the Lord may be in your mouth — that with a mighty hand the Lord freed you from Egypt.

(10) You shall keep this institution at its set time from year to year.

(11) And when the Lord has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and has given it to you,

(12) you shall set apart for the Lord every first issue of the womb: every male firstling that your cattle drop shall be the Lord‘s.

(13) But every firstling ass you shall redeem with a sheep; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. And you must redeem every first-born male among your children.

(14) And when, in time to come, your son asks you, saying, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘It was with a mighty hand that the Lord brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage.

(15) When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord slew every first-born in the land of Egypt, the first-born of both man and beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord every first male issue of the womb, but redeem every first-born among my sons.’

(16) “And so it shall be as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead that with a mighty hand the Lord freed us from Egypt.”

(3) And Moses said to the people, “Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of bondage, how the Lord freed you from it with a mighty hand: no leavened bread shall be eaten: While giving the people the commandment to consecrate every firstborn, Moses also unites it in a single complex with the commandments to eat matzah and to retell the story of the Exodus, and with the yearning for the Land of Israel. All this is essential for the full integration of proselytes into the Jewish people, which must be based on their total acceptance of Judaism’s fundamental ideals and values.

How the Lord freed you from it with a mighty hand: no leavened bread shall be eaten: Matzah now becomes only a memory of the Exodus, a reminder that “they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had taken out of Egypt, for it was not leavened” (12:39).

(4) You go free on this day, in the month of Abib: Hebrew Aviv means “spring.” The spring of nature always occurs in synchrony with the Jewish “spring” – a new start for all of humanity. In later times the month of Aviv came to be called “Nisan,” which is how we know it today.

(5) So, when the Lord has brought you into the land of the Canaanites … you shall observe in this month the following practice: After the proselytes have joined the Jewish nation, it is important to emphasize once again the connection of Passover to the Exodus, and also to the Land of Israel, because the purpose of leaving Egypt was to come to Eretz Yisrael,the Land of Israel.” This point was not obvious to the proselytes. They were attracted to the personality of Moses and his new religious ideals, but initially felt no connection to the Land of Israel.

(7) Throughout the seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten; no leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in all your territory: This symbolizes that the Jews are being cleansed from the enslavement of Egyptian civilization. This complete ban on leaven (not only eating it, but even owning it) is added to the Passover laws after the accession of the Egyptian proselytes, for whom the cleansing from Egyptian attitudes must be yet deeper and more complete.

(8) And you shall explain to your son on that day: Explain it to your son, whether he asks or not. But if he asks (see below, v. 14), then explain it to him in even greater detail.

It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt: The purpose of the Exodus was not merely to give the Jews their freedom, but to connect them directly with the Almighty.

(9) “And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead — in order that the Teaching of the Lord may be in your mouth — that with a mighty hand the Lord freed you from Egypt: All your affairs, as well as your worldview, must derive from your perspective on the Exodus and your understanding of God’s teachings.

Jewish Tradition sees this verse as referring to the commandment to don tefillin (phylacteries, leather boxes containing excerpts from the Torah). The tefillin, which are worn on the forehead, must be perfectly square. Their straight lines symbolize Divine Providence, and in this regard they are like Moses’ staff (the Kabbalah calls these straight lines “rays”). The tefillin that are worn on the forehead, which are symbolic of Divine Providence, contrast with the image of the snake, the uraeus, which the Egyptian pharaohs wore on their foreheads[1]. In the terminology of the Kabbalah, circularity, as seen in a snake’s coils, is symbolic of the cycle of nature, which, unlike Divine Providence, has no inherent purpose or direction.

It should be noted that the Torah presents the tefillin here not only as a strictly religious attribute, but as a national “sign” that symbolizes and commemorates the Jewish victory over Egypt.

(11) And when the Lord has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and has given it to you: Full realization of the Torah and its commandments is possible only in the Land of Israel.

(12-13) You shall set apart for the Lord every first issue of the womb: every male firstling that your cattle drop … But every firstling ass you shall redeem with a sheep … You must redeem every first-born male: The wording of the commandment as given by God to Moses (v. 2) was more terse: “Consecrate to Me every first-born; man and beast.” But when Moses relays the same commandment to the Jews, he elaborates upon it. The firstborns of cattle are sacrificed upon the altar, the firstborns of unclean animals and human firstborns must be redeemed. The commandment to consecrate the firstborns is presented as a reminder of the Exodus, and emphasizes the importance of this commandment for driving one’s actions and shaping one’s worldview.

The counterpoint here of God’s original instructions versus Moses’ retelling of them very closely parallels the relationship of the Written Torah to the Oral Torah. The former presents only the most basic and essential principles of Jewish life, while the latter very greatly expands upon those principles, explaining how they are to be realized in actual practice.

(14) And when, in time to come, your son asks you, saying, ‘What does this mean?’: For the son who asks no questions, a shorter statement of the meaning of the Exodus suffices, as given above (v. 8). But if the son asks, the father’s answer must be more detailed, in order to give the child a better understanding of history and its contemporary relevance.

You shall say to him, ‘It was with a mighty hand that the Lord brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage’: This is the knowledge that the father is obliged to pass on to his more contemplative son: All of history is driven by the power of the Almighty’s hand.

(15) When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord slew every first-born in the land of Egypt: For the present and the future, this means that with Divine assistance, all obstacles and hindrances will be overcome.

Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord every first male issue of the womb, but redeem every first-born among my sons: A Jew must explain to his son the meaning of the commandments. In this case, the consecration and redemption of every firstborn expresses gratitude to the Almighty.

(16) And so it shall be as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead that with a mighty hand the Lord freed us from Egypt: In this verse the father continues to address his son: “This is how you are to see the world” (but also: “Understand the commandment of the tefillin as a daily remembrance of the Exodus”).

[1] See §5.8.

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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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