Thoughts on Passover
Passover is the holiday where commemoration functions as the primary command, as this is the holiday of 'transmission', passing down the Mesora or tradition to the next generation. Recalling the Exodus forms the basis of innumerable other commands, even the basis of the other holidays as we count from Passover to Shavuos, and we refer to the Succot holiday as a remembrance of the Exodus. We read in the Passover Hagadda of the command to discuss the story of the Exodus, even if we are wise men, and even if we are alone.
With such importance attached to Passover, I would like to answer some of your questions now:
1) Why is matzoh, unleavened bread, essential to the Passover holiday? What is the concept behind it? Additionally, what is the significance of the Paschal Lamb and the bitter herbs, all three of which are so essential, that their omission from our discussion causes us not to fulfill our obligation?
2) Why does the passage in the Torah command us not to have leavened foods existing at the commencement of the slaughter of the paschal lamb? It is not yet Passover, so why should leaven be prohibited?
3) Why must the Paschal Lamb be eaten together with matzoh and bitter herbs? What is the concept behind this law?
4) We constantly find commands which read "do such and such, it is a remembrance of the Egyptian Exodus". Why is the focal point of so many laws the Exodus of Egypt, as opposed to the inheritance of Israel?
5) We read, "masscheel b'gnuss u'misayame b'shevach", "commence with degrading statements and conclude with praise". What is the concept behind the edict that the story of the Exodus must begin with our degradation, and conclude with praise?
To answer these questions, it is important the we clarify the events. The Jews were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, during which time many had adopted the Egyptian culture. This culture was essentially idolatrous, as they raised the lamb and many other objects to a deified status and worshiped it as a god. We recall the moment when Moshe came down from Mount Sinia and found them worshiping a golden cow; at that moment the earth opened up and many perished. The reason for their deaths was that they had abandoned living correct philosophical lives in favor of following the corrupt Egyptian culture.
G-d had planned to redeem the Jews to give them the Torah, but to do so, they had to recognize Who was actually giving the Torah. By definition, the Torah only has value as a means to recognize G-d if G-d's existence is a reality to the recipients. Jews who deified the lamb were not worthy of accepting the Torah. G-d therefore commanded the Jews to take the lamb, and hold it four days until the day of slaughter. The purpose of holding the lamb publicly was to denounce idolatry in the face of the idolaters. This would be demonstration of a strong conviction in G-d's rule, not the Egyptian's god.
The Jews were commanded to place the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, on the inside. The reason for this was firstly, the doorpost is the part of the house most seen, as all must pass through to exit and enter. Secondly and primarily, it was placed inside for the Jews themselves to see, not for the Egyptians. They needed to ponder the fact that 'blood' was the cause of their redemption. We refer to both the blood of the Paschal Lamb, and the blood of circumcision, which was commanded as well a that time. These two bloods teach two concepts;
1) Circumcision reminds us that the life of physical enjoyment, Hedonism, is contrary to the Torah's goal of indulging in wisdom, and
2) the Paschal blood reminds one that succumbing to imagined, psychological crutches such as idolatry are diametrically opposed to accepting reality and monotheism.
Study of reality dictates that there is only One Creator, One Source for all that is real and true. These two concepts needed to be accepted for G-d to save any soul. It is for this reason that G-d states, (Exod. 12:13) "...and will see the blood and I will pass over you and there will be no plague to destroy when I smite the land of Egypt".
As the Jews followed these commands, there were spared. But the Egyptians' firstborns were killed in order to wipe out those who promulgate that culture. (1) As they were horrified at the deaths, the remaining Egyptians feared for their lives and ousted the Jews in a hurry and panic (Exod. 12:33). So fast were the Jews urged to leave that the dough on their backs had not time to rise. They later baked it into matzoh, unleavened bread.
The Ibn Ezra (2) points out that had the Jews been given longer time to tarry, the dough would have leavened. Interesting that Ibn Ezra spends ink on this point. But for good reason. This statement teaches us the entire concept behind chametz, or leavened foods.
Ibn Ezra is teaching that chametz by definition would be that substance which would have emerged had the "Jews tarried in Egypt". Chametz is that which is antithetical to the Exodus. It represents a lingering in the Egyptian culture. Therefore we are commanded to remove all chametz (leaven from our lives) meaning, we are to recognize how mutually exclusive the idolatrous life is to our faith. Judaism teaches the acceptance of reality, where man must change himself to be in accord with what is true and real. While idolatry is the opposite - the projection of man's wishes onto reality, creating a psychologically protected universe where all man's wishes are "true". Idolatry caters to the infantile, psychological crutches which man has yet to see as false and remove himself from.
There is a saying, "a righteous person changes himself to be in accord with reality, and a wicked person changes reality to be in accord with himself".
As such, we destroy the Egyptians' god and use it in service to the Only Real G-d. We also must not have any chametz around at the point of slaughter, even though it is not yet Passover. The reason is that since acceptance of G-d is mutually exclusive to idolatry, all remnants of idolatrous life must not coexist. So at the very moment we declare idolatry as false by killing the Egyptian god, we must not have that which represents our desire to linger in Egypt, that being chametz.
This also explains why the Paschal lamb was to be eaten together with matzoh. The eating together means that matzoh qualifies the lamb. How so? If we were to simply eat the lamb without the matzoh, we would not be stating that the lamb's purpose is to be redirected towards G-d. The matzoh represents the act of redemption, as its existence emerged at the precise moment of the redemption. Matzoh therefore represent "Ge-ula", or redemption for this very reason. Therefore, we eat the matzoh at the moment we at the lamb, thereby showing that it is G-d Who orchestrated the Exodus is G-d. Eating the lamb without matzoh would mean to say that abolishing idolatry without recognizing G-d is sufficient. This however is not so, and we must always tie hand in hand the ideas that, "idolatry is false-monotheism is truth".
Recognition of G-d must always be the result of our commands, otherwise we are missing the main point.
Someone had asked, "When the Messiah is here, what will be the purpose to the temple sacrifices?" I say that although idolatry is gone at that point, we still must commemorate how wrong are the false ideas of lost cultures. Although lost, the seeds of that culture which brought forth idolatry are in every man. We therefore require constant recognition of those drives and notions which are destructive and antithetical to Torah.
We asked why we refer to so many commands, as a "remembrance of the Exodus". We now see that the Exodus per se is that event which removed us from idolatry. It is not the "being out of Egypt', or the entrance into Israel which holds such significance. The very act of the Exodus was the event which embodies "leaving" idolatry. Making Torah study our lifelong goal the most enjoyable act within us. Commencing with our degraded status and remembering our bitterness via the bitter herbs, followed by a conclusion of our state of grandeur engenders such an appreciation.
Foot Notes: Moshe Ben-Chaim
Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides
(1) (R. Chait head Rabbis in israel)
(2) Ibn Ezra, Abraham ben Meir
Ibn Ezra, Abraham ben Meir
Pronounced As: mâr , c.1089-1164, Jewish grammarian, commentator, poet, philosopher, and astronomer, b. Tudela, Spain. He traveled widely and wrote a number of ethical treatises, poems, and other works. Revered in Orthodox Judaism as one of the most important authors of biblical commentary, his interpretations were Neoplatonic and often rationalistic. He was the inspiration for Robert Browning's "Rabbi Ben Ezra. Aben Ezra is another form of his name.