Pesach 5779

April 18th, 2019

Well here we are Pesach again, and despite being later than usual, the rain and cold is still with us, perhaps till we stop asking for the rain in our daily prayers. For a few minutes let’s review the exodus as described in Shemot Chapter 12, which opens with Hashem preparing Bnei Yisrael for the big day. Hashem requests specific preparations, taking a lamb per family, putting the blood on the doorpost and then roasting it and eating it with matza and bitter herbs being dressed ready to leave.

A well laid out plan for an organized departure, which when it comes to the execution, as we read later in the chapter, doesn’t appear to work according to the plan and we are told in v39 that they baked the dough into matzot as there was no time for it to leaven as they were forced out of Egypt, and they had not made provisions for themselves, which seems puzzling as they had been told to prepare. In fact, in the Hagada in the name of Rabbi Gamliel we say the reason for eating matza being that we were rushed out of Egypt quoting the verse mentioned above.

Added to this, we open the Hagada with “Ha lachma anya,” saying that this is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt, so we seem to have several reasons for eating matza all seemingly related to pressure and lack of time. We ate in in Egypt as we were under pressure from slavery, and now at the beginning of the month Hashem told us to prepare to be ready to leave at any moment, and when it came to the crunch that what was what was eaten when they left Egypt.

In reality, leaving Egypt was probably more of a scramble than planned, at midnight when the Egyptian firstborn starting dying ,the Egyptians became so panic stricken that they would soon all be dead, that they forced Bnei Yisrael to move out immediately. No hanging around, and so in fact the description is correct when it says that when they arrived at the first stop at “Succot” they baked the dough they had already prepared before they left into matzot, as they did not have the time to do it before they left.

Interestingly, in the previous sentence, just before they bake the dough, we are told that a mixed multitude (erev rav) came with them, and Rashi tells us that many Egyptians decided to join them, but perhaps these were not Egyptians but our fellow Hebrews. Bnei Yisrael had lived a long time in Egypt and those who were slaves listened to Moshe and wanted to leave, but there were others who had integrated into Egyptian life. All through the wanderings in the desert there were those complained of the good life they missed from Egypt and usually we see them referred to in the Torah as the people “am” rather than Bnei Yisrael. Here in v34 it actually says “and the people (am) picked up the dough before it could become leavened.”

So possibly what we have here is part of Beni Yisrael having listened to Moshe and being ready to leave, but a good number thinking they were safe as part of Egyptian society expecting to stay. So possibly they had put blood on the doorposts to be safe, but they were not expecting to move out and it was their Egyptian neighbours who forced them to go.

Maybe we need to expand the meaning of eating matza to think of the wider context of all our nation, those who keep to all the fine details of Pesach and those who see this as a traditional national holiday and you see them in the supermarket as well checking for the Kosher for Pesach labels on the food. In Egypt, you all of a sudden were a Jew again and thrown out despite having forgotten your legacy, and sadly we saw this is again in the Holocaust, and we are seeing it again with the rise of antisemitism around the world. Pesach is an all encompassing festival of freedom for all celebrate hoping for a better accepting society.