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 that 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 and the Israelites were enslaved. In the year 2448 ( according to the Jewish calendar), after a series of miraculous events, G-d instructs that each family should bring prepare a sheep for the special Passover sacrifice that was to be offered. This was commanded on the tenth day of Nisan. On the 14th day of Nisan, each Israelite family offered the Pesach sacrifice and shared of its meat in a festive meal. The very act of slaughtering an animal that the Egyptians considered one of their gods was itself an act of faith. 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)
In order 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. That act alone made it obvious to all as the odor of their 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 lintel. Yet this was note done on the inside nor was the blood gathered in a bowl and placed on the Seder table as a sign. G-d did not need to see the blood on the door. No door or wall would keep their actions from him. 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)
Yet there was more. Instead of gathering as a nation in the Tachrir square in Cairo to celebrate and declare their impending release, every family was told to go into their family home, close the door and rejoice. That was the beginning of the building block that would form the social framework of this nation, the focus on the family.
Yet more important than that was the fact that were rejoicing and celebrating an event that had not yet occurred. That joy of the promise was to be a powerful tool of redemption.
That would be the framework of faith that would keep this people vibrant and hopeful through all the situations they would need to experience and endure throughout the ages.
A classic example of that power was revealed again in the time of Hezekiah the righteous king.
Although the Passover festival was kept continually by the people since their arrival in the land following the conquest of Joshua, we read of several “Public” festival gatherings. One of the most dramatic was the decreed by the King Hezekiah after cleansing the land from the idolatrous practices that had become widespread in the reign of his father.
And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, to keep the Passover unto the LORD God of Israel. For the king had taken counsel, and his princes, and all the congregation in Jerusalem, to keep the Passover in the second month. For they could not keep it at that time, because the priests had not sanctified themselves sufficiently, neither had the people gathered themselves together to Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 30 :1-4)
What is important to note is that this Passover was not even held on the correct date but was celebrated “on the second month” because the people and the place had not yet been made spiritually ready.
Yet more importantly this event occurred as the armies of Sancheriv (Sennacherib ) were surrounding Jerusalem to destroy it. Yet in spite of that ominous danger we read the following;
So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem. Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even unto heaven. ( 2 Chronicles 30:27)
As a result of that rejoicing of the people on the rooftops on that ominous night “their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even unto heaven.”. As a consequence of that faithful joy in the middle of the night, an angel smote the army of Assyria and 185,000 died from a plague (II Kings 19:35).
That is the power of Hashem’s promise but that is also the power of the joy and celebration that opens the gates for that promise.
May we all be blessed with a joyful, uplifting and fulfilling Pesach for us and all of our families.
LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved