The Essence of Pesach & Our Job at the End of Tim

Is it possible to answer the question “What is the central message of the Pesach story”? Is there one such element? Certainly, faith in HaShem’s love of the Jewish people, trust in His goodness, and reliance on His strength are important. The long, rocky history of Israel, their relationship with the nations, anti-Semitism and national independence are crucial aspects of this celebration. The concepts of bondage and freedom must be explored and clarified, both on the personal and communal level. The obligation to thank HaShem for His kindness and blessings, to glorify His name, perform His commandments and study the holy Torah are all central elements of the chag. Is it possible to single out any of the above as the lode-star of the Passover experience, the point of reference for the other principles?

In this study, we shall consider three places in the Torah where the Passover offering is mentioned in relation to Matzah. In two of them, Maror is mentioned as well:
שמות פרק יב
(ח) וְאָכְלוּ אֶת הַבָּשָׂר בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה צְלִי אֵשׁ וּמַצּוֹת עַל מְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻהוּ :
8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

במדבר פרק ט
(יא) בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם יַעֲשׂוּ אֹתוֹ עַל מַצּוֹת וּמְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻהוּ:
11 in the second month on the fourteenth day at dusk they shall perform it (the Paschal offering); they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs;
דברים פרק טז(ב) וְזָבַחְתָּ פֶּסַח לַיקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ צֹאן וּבָקָר בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְקֹוָק לְשַׁכֵּן שְׁמוֹ שָׁם:(ג) לֹא תֹאכַל עָלָיו חָמֵץ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תֹּאכַל עָלָיו מַצּוֹת לֶחֶם עֹנִי כִּי בְחִפָּזוֹן יָצָאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ:
2 And you shall sacrifice the Passover-offering unto the LORD thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the LORD shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.
3 You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shall you eat unleavened bread therewith, the bread of poverty; for in haste did you come forth out of the land of Egypt; that you may remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.
The Netziv (Vayikrah 7;13) and Malbim (Shmot 12;8) point out that when the word “al” (meaning with) is used between two nouns, the latter, that is the one that the other is “upon” has precedence, either in time or in importance. With this principle in mind, we approach the verses of our study. First, though, we introduce the dictum of Rabban Gamliel concerning the connection between the foods that we are commanded to eat on Pesach night and the principles of the Passover story.
משנה מסכת פסחים פרק י

רבן גמליאל היה אומר כל שלא אמר שלשה דברים אלו בפסח לא יצא ידי חובתו ואלו הן פסח מצה ומרור פסח על שום שפסח המקום על בתי אבותינו במצרים מצה על שום שנגאלו אבותינו במצרים מרור על שום שמררו המצריים את חיי אבותינו במצרים
Rabban Gamliel used to say: Whoever didn’t say these three things on Pesach did not fulfill his obligation: Pesach, matzah, and maror. Pesach because G-d passed over our fathers’ houses in Egypt, Matzah because our fathers were redeemed, Maror because the Egyptians embittered our fathers’ lives in Egypt.

Rabban Gamliel taught us that the verbalization of three commandments and their meaning is essential to fulfilling the Pesach obligations: Pesach (the Paschal offering) Matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs) Slavery, freedom, and Divine Providence are the epicenters around which the Pesach story and ideas sometimes seem to wildly spin. In the three references at the beginning of this article, these mitzvot are juxtaposed in three ways. The Torah points to three different methods of ordering the Pesach-Matzah-Moror group, which stem from three historical-spiritual points of departure.

In Egypt, as depicted in Shmot 12, the people ate the Pesach and the matzah “al”, that is with, or in addition to the Maror. The bitters, which represent the bondage, were the starting point of the Pesach cognition and experience. In fact, people were still slaves. Though the plagues had been raging for many months, and the Egyptians were clearly ready to free the Jews, Pharoh was holding on, and had not yet issued the crucial command: “Leave!” Only in the later hours of that wondrous and mysterious night would death enter the Egyptian houses, and would Pharoh beseech Moshe to take the Jews into the desert. The sacrifice that year was offered as a promise and a prayer for the culmination of G-d’s intervention in the doings of man, along with the matzoh that represents the end of suffering.
A year later, Bnei Yisroel celebrated Pesach in the desert as free men. In the instructions concerning the sacrifice of Pesach Sheni for those who were unable to participate in the offering on the first Pesach in Nisan, there is a slight but significant change. No longer is the basis of self-awareness and historical identity the bondage alone. “Al matzot u’mrorim”- with freedom and bitterness, should the Paschal lamb be eaten. The people participate in an endeavor that is for them rooted in historical experience: the creation of the Nation of Israel. The process of establishing the nation is still underway. Torah, the “constitution” of this fledgling society has been given, the sanctuary has been constructed, but the promised land remains on the other side of the Jordan River, and the final dwelling place of the Divine Shechina has not been found. The Pesach, representing HaShem’s intervention in the historical process, and His ongoing and care for the people, is “al” – upon, after, alongside the historical process.

In both passages that we have considered so far, The Pesach is offered “al”, that is in addition to another element. Matzoh and maror stem from historical circumstance and experience, and they are the root of HaShem’s miraculous appearance and intervention. G-d enters into the world, as it were, to trump the natural flow of events and to raise Bnei Yisroel above the historical reality. Meeting the Shechina as an independent spiritual experience comes later.
The Pesach of Sefer Devarim is the celebration of freedom in the Beit HaMikdash, the holy temple in Yerushalayim – “in the place which the LORD shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.” We have reached the culmination of the events which began with the exodus, but which transcend a finite era. The Divine Presence dwells amongst us as in the days of the Avot, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Our religious experience draws directly from meeting the Shechinah, and it is that encounter which provides the spiritual energy to confront the challenges of our lives. The matzah, representing the freedom of belief and commitment, draws its meaning from the Pesach, and continues its function for seven days:
seven days shall you eat unleavened bread therewith, the bread of affliction; for in haste did you come forth out of the land of Egypt; that you may remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.
The conclusion of this verse is the very reference quoted in the Mishna that we recite at the beginning of the Haggadah as proof that the Exodus must be remembered and mentioned every evening.
משנה מסכת ברכות פרק א
מזכירין יציאת מצרים בלילות אמר ר’ אלעזר בן עזריה הרי אני כבן שבעים שנה ולא זכיתי שתאמר יציאת מצרים בלילות עד שדרשה בן זומא שנא’ (דברים טז) למען תזכור את יום צאתך מארץ מצרים כל ימי חייך ימי חייך הימים כל ימי חייך הלילות וחכ”א ימי חייך העולם הזה כל ימי חייך להביא לימות המשיח:
We mention the Exodus at night (in Kriat Shema). R. Elazar ben Azarya said: I am like seventy years of age and didn’t merit understanding why the exodus should be mentioned at night until Benzema explained the verse (Devarim 16;3) “so that you shall remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life” – “the days of your life” refers to days, “all the days of your life” includes the nights. The sages (disagreed and) explained “- “the days of your life” refers to this world, “all the days of your life” includes the Messianic era.

One explanation of the inclusion of this machine in the Haggadah is to emphasize the fact that remembering the exodus is a daily obligation, and therefore the obligation to tell the story Pesach night must include aspects which go beyond the daily requirements. With our understanding of the section in Devarim, we now see the fulfillment of the Pesach offering as the starting point of a life of freedom. We extend the Pesach idea throughout the holiday by eating matzah, and into the entire year by declaring HaShem’s eminence and accepting His rule in the Shema, as well as remembering always the exodus, which serves as the foundation of Jewish identity and worship.

We have seen how Pesach has been transformed. In the experience of the birth of the Jewish nation, G-d intervened in the normal history of the world and turned a tribe of slaves into a community of free men. In the Pesach of Eretz Yisroel, the celebration in the Beit Hamikdash, appearing before G-d in the temple provides the impetus for living a life of freedom. Through recognition of our special relationship with the Almighty, we gain the strength and will to bring His word and will into the world. Pesach becomes not only the celebration of the history of our national independence but the starting point of our personal freedom as well.-

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