“What is this?” Asks the simple son. How do we answer him? Many would say, we are celebrating the fact that God killed the first born of all Egypt, and spared our first born. Yet Judaism teaches us to have compassion and pity for the Egyptians for the suffering they endured before our exodus. As for us, we must follow the teaching of Torah: “This month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house; And if the household is too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the souls; according to every man’s eating shall you make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year; you shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats; And you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, in which they shall eat it. And they shall eat the meat in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.” [Ex. 12:2-8]
The Torah, in the story of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt, informs us that the Egyptians abhorred sheep and did not partake of eating lamb. Yet, the Israelite slaves were commanded to take a lamb and keep it in their habitations for four days. At the end of that time they were to kill the lamb and mark their homes well - the two side-posts and the top-post, too. The taking and keeping of the lamb would certainly not be seen with favor by the Egyptians. Marking the doors with the blood of the lamb would have added to the Egyptians’ disdain.
Why did God ask for this action by his long persecuted flock? He did it to teach us a lesson that is well worth the learning: there is a price to be paid for the privilege of freedom. We are taught by our Torah that the price of freedom is dear, and the meaning of freedom is not anarchy but discipline. The Israelites who wished to be free had to take a great risk. They had to commit an act that would be abhorrent to the Egyptians - and would cause a break in their own mind from the mind-set of slaves who wish to please their masters.
Because this lesson is so important, and because the commitment has to be studied and experienced again and again, if it is to be internalized and understood, the Torah commanded us to repeat it every year at this time of year. It is meant to be a seminal part of our character as Jews: We are the people who were slaves, as all humans are slaves to all sorts of forces that affect and seem to control our lives. Yet, the Torah told us, we can, and need, to break free - and we do it by means of celebrating the “night of waiting” - the Passover, when we ourselves pass from being prisoners and slaves of the current of life that sweeps us from birth toward the inevitability of futility and death. We can, and we must, swim against the current, to reach the still waters of the river of grace and love that is love and pleasure of living in harmony with the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth.
Have a great Passover and a pleasurable Feast of Unleavened Bread.