Moshe Kempinski
Moshe KempinskiCourtesy

TORAH PORTION BO Exodus 10:1–13:16

The very slavery that the Israelites endured in Egypt was actually part of a promise G-d made to Abraham. In that promise He promises the Land of Israel to Abraham’s descendants but implies that the formation of a people worthy of such a land will require a forging furnace. Egypt would be the furnace that would purify and transform the twelve tribes of Jacob into a people.

“Your children will sojourn in a land that is not theirs, and they will be enslaved and persecuted for four hundred years. After that they will leave with great wealth. And also the nation whom they will serve I shall judge.” (Genesis 15:13-14)

This process was set in motion when Jacob and his family arrived in Egypt to live under the patronage and protection of his son Joseph. But all the wealth and prosperity that Joseph and his brothers brought to Egypt was forgotten in time and the Israelites were enslaved.

That slavery, oppression and exile was meant to impact and teach the whole world powerful lessons of life and purpose , in addition to being the furnace kiln that would create the People of Israel. This was achieved through the plagues,the signs and all the preparations commanded prior to the actual Exodus from Egypt .

One of the more dramatic lesson was taught by the paschal lamb that the children of Israel were called to bring into their homes.

”Speak to the entire community of Israel, saying, "On the tenth of this month, let each one take a lamb for each parental home, a lamb for each household.”(Exodus 12:3)

In Torah thinking as opposed to many other cultures in the world, the lamb itself was not the issue but rather all the work and preparation surrounding it, was .

The lamb was not the issue but what it represented to the Egyptians was.

The Egyptians considered the lamb one of their pagan gods. Joseph gives us a hint of that pagan belief when he settled his kinsman in a region separate from the Egyptian people,

"And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and you shall say: What is your occupation? That you shall say: Thy servants have been keepers of cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and our fathers; that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians."(Exodus 46: 33-34)

And again we read

“And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said: Go ye, sacrifice to your G-d in the land. And Moses said: It is not meet to do so; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?” (ibid8: 21-2)

Yet Hashem tells the children of Israel; “On the tenth of this month, let each one take a lamb for each parental home,”(ibid 12:3). More importantly those lambs were kept in the house until the 14th day of the month. ”And you shall keep it for inspection until the fourteenth day of this month, and the entire congregation of the community of Israel shall slaughter it in the afternoon.”(ibid 6)

The very act of slaughtering an animal that the Egyptians considered one of their gods was an act of faith. For the people of Israel to begin their spiritual and psychological liberation before their physical one, they needed to act out of faith and courage.

It was at great risk that the Israelites sacrificed the lamb as a Passover sacrifice on the eve of their Exodus. They had to gather the lambs into their own home four days before their Exodus and the ensuing noise and ruckus was sure to arouse the attention of their past masters.

They were also told not to break or cut the animal before they put it whole in the fire. They were also told not to boil it but rather broil the animal. It was very clear for all to see that the animal being killed and broiled was the Egyptian pagan god. That burning and broiling alone made it obvious to all as the ensuing odor of these actions would permeate throughout the whole city.

It was clear to all, including their past slave masters, that they were preparing for the consumption of the pagan deity of the Egyptians.

Then they were asked to place the blood of that sacrifice on the entrance to their homes. G-d did not need to see the blood on the door. No door or wall would keep their actions from him. This was also not a sign that was to be done on the inside of their entrance nor was the blood gathered in a bowl and placed on the Seder table as a sign.

-It was the Egyptian masters who needed to see the blood.

-It was the Israelites who needed to have the courage to place it on the outside.

Their ability to act in faith was “a sign” for them that were capable of much more than they believed they were capable of. It was that act of faith and courage that was the sign for G-d to pass over.

"And the blood will be for you for a sign upon the houses where you will be, and I will see the blood and pass over you, and there will be no plague to destroy [you] when I smite the [people of the] land of Egypt."(Exodus 12:13).

That sign was “for you”. The children of Israel needed to see that after all these years of slavery the had within them the faith and the courage to become a “faithful People’/

What Hashem was empowering them to do ,was to take a courageous step into faith.

That is the first step into Spiritual redemption.

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.