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'You shall celebrate this day (Passover) for a seven day period… throughout your generations.' (Ex. 12:14)
The main focus of this Parasha is the tenth plague - the killing of the Egyptian firstborn, and the associated celebration of Pesach (Passover).
The laws of Pesach are brought under two headings: Pesach Mitzrayim (Pesach in Egypt - the once-only commandments the Israelites observed on the brink of the Exodus from Egypt, and Pesach Ledorot (Pesach for the generations - the annual festive observation of Pesach). The laws of Pesach Mitzrayim differ from Pesach Ledorot. For example, Pesach Mitzrayim required blood being put on the doorposts so that the 'destroyer' would 'pass-over' - sparing the Israelite firstborn. Pesach Ledorot involved a seven day period of observance, with strict prohibition of any leaven. Both Pesach Mitzrayim include the eating of matzot and bitter herbs, and during Temple times, the Korban Pesach - the Passover offering.
However, the text jumps several times (12:14; 12:26, 12:42) from Pesach Mitzrayim to Pesach Ledorot, and afterwards returns to Pesach Mitzrayim (12:21; 12:28; 12:50). Why does the Torah interweave these two themes instead of first giving an account of the onset of the Exodus and Pesach Mitzrayim, and then bringing the laws of Pesach Ledorot? And then - at other points in the Torah - recount the laws of Pesach Ledorot. Logically, the Torah should first narrate Pesach Mitzrayim, and then state the laws of Pesach Ledorot.
In response, the Torah does not only state practices, but it is a force that makes people want observe the practices. This requires elaboration.
The Torah is not satisfied with mere observance. It idealizes mitzvot to be carried out 'with happiness and a good heart' (c.f. Deut. 28:47).
In the first section, the practices of Pesach Ledorot were given as the Israelites prepared Pesach Mitzrayim. There was their faith-fired enthusiasm preparing for the Exodus with the korban pesach, matzot, and maror all ready to depart - in a hurry. It was in the knowledge that that would be the key of all future freedom that they gladly took on the practices of Pesach Ledorot. Had they been already free, their redemption would have been an ever fading memory…
In the second section the Israelites in Egypt prepared Pesach by slaughtering the korban pesach and putting the blood on the doorposts with the faith and knowledge that it would bring redemption. They did so with enthusiasm and good will - no complaints (c.f. 12:28). When as a result they were saved from the final plague, 'the people bowed and prostrated themselves' (12:27) - out of gratitude to G-d's miraculous intervention on their behalf. They were not serving G-d because it was a burden to them, but genuinely and spontaneously - out of hakarat hatov - recognition of the good (c.f. Rashi ad loc): unadulterated gratitude. That was the moment they could enthusiastically take on the demanding laws of the observance of Pesach from generation to generation.
And the third section mentions that other non-Israelite people - the Erev Rav (12:38) joined them. That required some commitment to a change in lifestyle, to be compatible with the Israelites. And in the future, only a person who made a decision to change one's lifestyle - epitomized by circumcision (12:48) - would be able to take full place in the annual re-enactment of the Passover.
Initial enthusiasm sets the framework for Torah observance, but it is not enough. The Torah provides constant reminders - beginning in the next chapter: 'Remember this day that you went out of Egypt' (13:3)…
Thus we may learn from the arrangement of the content of this Parasha that when a person sees the Hand of G-d intervening in his favor, he should do acts of thanking G-d at once - not just plan a ceremony in the future when he can do so with more pomp and ceremony. And the same applies when he receives help from a fellow human being…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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