- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Passover is the holiday where commemoration functions as
the primary command, as this is the holiday of 'transmission',
passing down the Mesora - tradition - to the next generation.
Recalling the Exodus forms the basis of innumerable other commands,
even the basis of the other holidays. A Rabbi pointed out that
we count from Passover to Shavuos, and we refer to the Succot
holiday as a remembrance of the Exodus. We read in the Passover
Hagadda of the command to discuss the story of the Exodus, even
if we are wise men, and even if we are alone.
- With such importance attached to Passover, I would like to
enumerate some questions and offer some answers:
- 1) Why is matzoh, unleavened bread, essential to the Passover
holiday? What is the concept behind it? Additionally, what is
the significance of the Paschal Lamb and the bitter herbs, all
three of which are so essential, that their omission from our
discussion causes us not to fulfill our obligation?
- 2) Why does the passage in the Torah command us not to have
leavened foods existing at the commencement of the slaughter
of the paschal lamb? It is not yet Passover, so why should leaven
- 3) Why must the Paschal Lamb be eaten together with matzoh
and bitter herbs? What is the concept behind this law?
- 4) We constantly find commands which read "do such and
such, it is a remembrance of the Egyptian Exodus". Why is
the focal point of so many laws the Exodus of Egypt, as opposed
to the inheritance of Israel?
- 5) We read, "masscheel b'gnuss u'misayame b'shevach",
"commence with degrading statements and conclude with praise".
What is the concept that our recounting the story of the Exodus
begin with our degradation, and conclude with praise?
- To answer these questions, it is important the we clarify
the events. The Jews were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years,
during which time many Jews adopted Egyptian beliefs. This culture
was essentially idolatrous, as they raised the lamb and many
other objects to a deified status and worshiped it as a god.
We recall the Rashi on the passage discussing the plague of darkness,
that four fifths of the Jewish people were killed during that
plague in order that the Egyptians wouldn't witness it. The reason
for their deaths was that they had abandoned living correct philosophical
lives in favor of following the corrupt Egyptian culture.
- God planned to redeem the Jews so as to give them the Torah,
but to do so, they had to recognize Who was actually giving
the Torah. By definition, the Torah only has value as a means
to recognize God if God's existence is a reality to the recipients.
Jews who deified the lamb were not worthy of accepting the Torah.
God therefore commanded the Jews to take the lamb, and hold it
four days until the day of slaughter. The purpose of holding
the lamb publicly was to denounce idolatry in the face of the
idolaters. This would be a demonstration of a strong conviction
of God's ultimate superiority over Egyptian gods.
- The Jews were commanded to place the blood of the lamb on
their doorposts, on the inside. One reason was that the doorpost
is the part of the house most seen, as all must pass through
to exit and enter. But primarily, it was placed inside for the
Jews themselves to see, not for the Egyptians. They needed to
ponder that 'blood' was the cause of their redemption. We refer
to both the blood of the Paschal Lamb, and the blood of circumcision,
which was commanded as well at that time. These two bloods taught
those Jews two concepts; 1) Circumcision reminds us that the
life of physical enjoyment, Hedonism, is contrary to the Torah's
goal of indulging in wisdom, and 2) the Paschal blood reminds
one that succumbing to imagined, psychological crutches such
as idolatry are diametrically opposed to accepting reality and
- Study of reality dictates that there is only One Creator,
One Source for all that is real and true. These two concepts
needed to be accepted for God to save any soul. It is for this
reason that God states, (Exod. 12:13) "...and will see the
blood and I will pass over you and there will be no plague to
destroy when I smite the land of Egypt".
- As the Jews followed these commands, they were spared. But
as a Rabbi once stated, the Egyptians' firstborns were killed
in order to wipe out those who promulgate that culture. As they
were horrified at the deaths, the remaining Egyptians feared
for their lives and ousted the Jews in a hurried panic (Exod.
12:33). So fast were the Jews urged to leave that the dough had
not time to rise. They later baked it into matzoh, unleavened
- The Ibn Ezra points out that had the Jews been given longer
time to tarry, the dough would have leavened. Interesting that
Ibn Ezra spends ink on this point. But for good reason. This
statement teaches us the entire concept behind chametz, or leavened
foods. Ibn Ezra is teaching that chametz by definition would
be that substance which would have emerged had the "Jews
tarried in Egypt". Chametz is that which is antithetical
to the Exodus. It represents a lingering in the Egyptian culture.
Therefore we are commanded to remove all chametz, meaning, we
are to recognize how mutually exclusive the idolatrous life is
to Judaism. Judaism teaches the acceptance of reality, where
man must change himself to be in accord with what is true and
real. Idolatry is the opposite - the projection of man's wishes
onto reality, creating a psychologically protected universe where
all man's wishes are 'true'. Idolatry caters to the infantile,
psychological crutches which man has yet to see as false and
remove himself from. The Rabbis of blessed memory state, "a
righteous person changes himself to be in accord with reality,
and a wicked person changes reality to be in accord with himself".
- We destroy the Egyptians' God and use it in service to the
Only Real God. (See my understanding
of Maimonides on this point) We also must not have any chametz
around at the point of slaughter, even though it is not yet Passover.
The reason is that since acceptance of God is mutually exclusive
to idolatry, all remnants of idolatrous life must not coexist.
So at the very moment we declare idolatry as false by killing
the Egyptian god, we must not have that which represents our
desire to linger in Egypt, that being chametz.
- This also explains why the Paschal lamb was to be eaten together
with matzoh. The eating together means that matzoh "qualifies"
the lamb. How so? If we were to simply eat the lamb without the
matzoh, we would not be stating that the lamb's purpose is to
be redirected towards God. The matzoh represents the act of
redemption, as its existence emerged at the precise moment of
the redemption. Matzoh therefore represents "Ge-ula",
or redemption for this very reason of serving God. Therefore,
we eat the matzoh at the moment we eat the lamb, thereby showing
that the lamb is not a god, but the God Who orchestrated the
Exodus is God. Eating the lamb without matzoh would mean to say
that abolishing idolatry without recognizing God is sufficient.
This however is not so, and we must always tie hand in hand the
ideas that, idolatry is false, and simultaneously state, monotheism
is truth. Our commands must always eventuate in our recognition
of the One Who commanded us. Otherwise, we are missing the main
- Someone had asked, "When the Messiah is here, what will
be the purpose to the temple sacrifices?" I say that although
idolatry is gone at that point, we still must commemorate how
wrong are the false ideas of lost cultures. Although lost, the
seeds of that culture which brought forth idolatry are in every
man, forever. We therefore require constant recognition of those
drives and notions which are idolatrous, destructive and antithetical
- We asked why we refer to so many commands, as a "remembrance
of the Exodus". We now see that the Exodus per se is that
event which removed us from idolatry. It is not the "being
out of Egypt', or the entrance into Israel which holds such significance.
The very act of the Exodus was the event which embodies
"leaving" idolatry. Additionally, the Rabbi taught
that the Exodus is that which engenders in us an appreciation
for God. It is then essential that as Jews, we constantly appreciate
God's acts of kindness which allow us to involve ourselves in
Torah study, the most enjoyable act, and our lifelong goal. Commencing
with our degraded status and remembering our bitterness via the
bitter herbs, followed by a conclusion of our state of grandeur
engenders such an appreciation,........and an apropos point to
- Happy holiday.