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First Day of Pesach (Passover) (Exodus 12:21-51)

“You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants.” (Exodus 12:24)

Because the first day of Pesach falls on Shabbat, the regular cycle of parashot (Torah portions) is interrupted by a special holiday reading. Not surprisingly, it focuses on the night of the Exodus: God’s instructions to the Israelites to paint their doorposts (and lintels) with blood, the death of the Egyptian first-born, Pharoah’s surrender, and the Israelites’ escape to freedom.

The Torah describes how the blood on the doorposts will be a sign: “…the Lord will pass over (ufasach) the opening and not let the destroyer enter and smite your home.” (Ex. 12:23) This verse makes a play on words, with fasach referencing pesach, the name of the holiday. Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787–1859; a Hasidic rabbi and leader) reads this verse not only as narrative plot, but also as a commentary on revelation.

Throughout history, only special individuals merit prophetic vision, and even then, only under certain conditions. Often, it requires constant and significant devotion to spiritual practice. Most important, the individual must make the first move for God to respond (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 5:3). According to the Kotzker Rebbe, this verse indicates God waives this requirement on the first Passover and instead, reaches out (or passes over) to appear before and embrace each Israelite. This continues every Passover since.

The Torah reminds us constantly of God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm in liberating us from slavery in Egypt—a transcendent image of aggressive power and anger. The Kotzker reminds us God also offers an embracing arm and nurturing hand–an “up close and personal” image of love and spiritual uplift. How will you respond?

Gut Shabbos-Gut Yontif/Shabbat Shalom-Chag Sameach


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