By Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
A reading of the Passover Haggadah will bring one to the statement by Rabbi Gamaliel that he who does not make mention of the three elements of the Passover- the lamb, the matzot (unleavened bread), and the bitter herbs- has not done his duty.
Gamaliel, traditionally Rabbi Paul’s mentor, was, I’m sure, concerned about more than just having a good ceremony; the issue was and is getting to the heart, the guts, of the season. Scripture talks about observing Passover forever throughout our generations so that when our children ask what it means, we can give a substantive answer.
After all, ADONAI’s first instruction in Exodus 12’s institution of Pesach is to change the calendar, making the Passover season “the beginning of months”. What happens at Passover must, therefore, be vitally important if the accounting of time is so affected.
The 1st direction is that every household must take a one year-old lamb or kid on the 10th day of the month and keep it until the 14th day. By then, I’m certain, such a cute little creature had essentially become a pet, especially to the children in the home. On the 14th day, the lambs were to be slaughtered, with their blood being then splashed onto the lintels and posts of each house’s doors. ADONAI then says that He will cross through the land of Egypt that night and strike the firstborn child of every home without blood on the doorposts. “Raiti et-hadam uphasachti aleychem”, literally, “I will see the blood and I will pass over you.”. “Raiti” is the perfect tense of the verb “to see”. The perfect tense, rendering the sense of one point on timeline, give a decisiveness here as if to say, “I will definitely see the blood, I will not miss the blood”. “Pasachti”, also the perfect tense of “pasach”, also conveys the definite nuance. “If there is blood there, I will definitely see it and I will definitely pass by you without imposing on you the plague of the Egyptians.”
The narrative of the Exodus text goes on to describe the strike against the Egyptians, that there was not one Egyptian home where there was not one dead. But, Israel was completely spared.
Think about it: what if the Israelis had said that they thought putting blood on their doors was silly and they weren’t going to do it? There would have been Israeli deaths comparable to those experienced by the Egyptians. Conversely, what if the Egyptians, having seen the reliability of ADONAI’s words before, as well as how He had spared Israel from the previous plagues, had decided to also put the blood of lambs on their doorposts? Think of the Egyptian lives spared! A thin coat of blood was the difference between life and death, just as the presence of Yeshua’s atoning blood is the difference between everlasting life and death today.
The 2nd element is matzah, unleavened bread. The deliverance of ADONAI would be sudden; the people were to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice, not taking time to let their bread rise. They had to bake bread without the rising element of leaven, symbolic of sin. Sin slows us down and distracts from being the people God intends and receiving what Elohim purposes. Just as the lambs, indeed all the sacrificial animals, were to be flawless, so were we created to be so. And, Messiah, our substitutionary sacrifice, was so predicted to be. Isaiah 53:9 states that “He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” Yeshua was guilty of no overt or subtle sin, living an “unleavened” life.
The “maror”, or bitter herbs, remind us of the bitterness of slavery, but, also, the bitterness of sin and life prior to ADONAI’s intervention. If the Lord had not spoken to Moses from the burning bush and dispatched him to order Pharaoh to release us from Egyptian bondage, we might very well still be there, building who knows how many more pyramids and sphinxes! Our lot was so miserable. How miserable, also, is life without hope of reconciliation with God and of facing Him as Judge instead of gracious Father!
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.