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Pesach (Passover) (Exodus 12:21-51)

“That very day God freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, in their legions.” (Exodus 12:51)

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

Embedded within this gripping drama is an important but curious verse.  Its first half offers one reason for eating matzoh on Pesach:  “The people picked up its dough before it could become leavened…”  The second half of the verse, though, is less known:  “…Their leftovers bound up in their garments upon their shoulders.” (Exodus 12:34)   Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) reads this as a statement of how important the commandments of Pesach were to the Israelites; they loaded their valuables onto their pack animals, but the dough that would become matzoh and the bitter herbs they carried themselves.

Pesach is a wonderful holiday, but let’s face it:  it’s a lot of work to observe all the rituals of eliminating chametz (leavened foodstuffs).  The Israelite’s were running for their lives; they had no choice.  We’re not (mostly).  So why bother?

Understood symbolically, unleavened dough represents the unfulfilled aspirations we have for the world.  Carrying those aspirations on our shoulders represents our commitment to that vision.  Pesach then becomes a holiday not about searching for crumbs, but about finding our dreams.

Good Shabbos, Good Yontif/Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach,


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