Passover: Rejecting Idolatry
While the Jews spent their last day in Egypt, God commanded them to reject idolatry (Exod: 12,6-8):
“And it [the Paschal lamb] shall be under your guard until the 14th day of this month and the entire congregation of Israel shall slaughter it between sunrise and sunset. And you shall take of the blood and place it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses that you eat it in them. And you shall eat the flesh on this night, roasted over fire, with matzahs and bitter herbs you shall eat it”.
Two questions arise: 1) why must both, blood be smeared and flesh eaten? 2) Why must the Paschal lamb be eaten “together” with matzah and bitter herbs?
Clearly, had God intended only that the lamb be destroyed, killing it would suffice. Certainly, God cares less about the life of the lamb, than He does about the perfection of His chosen nation. God orchestrated a means by which He would make some change in the Jews’ view of reality.
A human being lives many lives, and I am not referring to the false notion of reincarnation. I refer to the many spheres in which we all contend.
We live and deal with others. We live “socially”. We also relate to the physical world even when not enjoying the company of others, assessing what we deem important….living by a “value” system. It appears God wished to undermine the view we had of the lamb, in both the social and value-based spheres.
Demanding we paint our doorways with the lamb’s blood – a public display – we cast social stigma to the wind, and concern ourselves more with the rejection of the lamb. In truth, both self-image and idolatry are fantasies, and we dismiss both in favor of adhering to reality. It appears that idolatry carries more appeal than the psychological dependency we imagine. It also includes the element of “organized religion”, the human behavior of following without understanding. This following is generated out of a need to be part of a group, i.e., social approval. It is a wrong decision. Although baseless, an entire culture of Egyptians accepted animal gods. This is due to social needs. God desired we rise above this need, submitting ourselves to the rejection of others who don’t approve.
And through eating the lamb, we render it as simply another meal. It is subordinate it to us – the opposite view of idolaters. The lamb becomes nothing but food, and then human waste.
“And you shall eat the flesh on this night, roasted over fire, with matzahs and bitter herbs you shall eat it”.
What demands that the lamb be eaten together with matzah and bitter herbs? What did these two latter objects recall? The bitter herbs are of course to remind us of the bitter lives we led as Egypt’s slaves. Our physical existence was torture. But what about the matzah? We must be clear: at this point (the night before the Jews left Egypt) there was yet no redemption. So the matzah (dough) that didn’t rise due to the speed of our exodus did not yet exist. Therefore, the night before we left, the matzah had but one identity: “poor man’s bread”, or Lechem Oni. But if we had the bitter herbs to recall our physical pain, what other role could matzah play?
Eating poor man’s bread is not painful, but it is humbling, as all of Egypt enjoyed soft bread. Thus, matzah embodies the “psychological” state of deprivation.
To break any further identification with the lamb that Egypt held in awe, matzah and bitter herbs complimented the Paschal Lamb in a negative fashion. When we ate (and will eat) that lamb, we view it with contempt, as it must be complimented by poor man’s bread and bitter foods. This registers a negative association to the lamb on our souls.
In the end, we identify the subtle, social appeal of idolatry, thereby unveiling the absence of any essential, positive attributes. For when the primary appeal is lost, there emerges an imposter religion, and we then see clearly, and expose idolatry as senseless. But we must still eat the lamb to go through the emotional process of subordinating it to us. And as we eat it, we sense contempt, as the accompanying foods recall our physical and psychological pain under the idolatrous Egyptian culture.
Animal worship and idolatry in general is thereby rejected, paving the way to accept the true God at Shavuos.