“Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread,
and on the seventh day there shall be a festival of the Lord.” (Exodus 13:6)
Parashat Bo rachets up the drama of the plagues with locusts, darkness, and Pharoah’s continued intransigence. Then God informs Moses of the final, awful plague. But something curious happens: God interrupts the narrative to give detailed instructions for two rituals: pesach mitzrayim, the original, one-time-only paschal sacrifice, and chag hamatzot, or the annual holiday of matzah. Only then does the story resume with the actual slaying of every Egyptian first born.
God tells Moses and Aaron, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months…” (Ex. 12:2). The Exodus becomes the center around which Jewish time circles. So while Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the calendar year, Pesach is the first holiday in the annual cycle. Moses and Aaron are further instructed to relay this commandment to kol adat yisrael, the entire community of Israel (Ex. 12:3). This is the first time this designation is used in the Torah. Thus, the Exodus from Egypt creates Jewish time while also constituting the Jewish people. Sacred time unites the Jewish people, both before and after the destruction of the Temple.
The Exodus from Egypt is the paradigmatic example of God’s goodness to the Israelites. Accordingly, no foreigners are permitted to eat from that first paschal sacrifice (Ex. 12:43); the Exodus is the beginning of the fulfillment of the brit, or covenantal promise made to Abraham and pesach mitzrayim is prescribed “for family members only.” Chag hamatzot, though, is commanded for all time as the paradigmatic symbol of the Exodus (Ex. 12:14). Its message is something we share with all who care to listen.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom