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Shemot/Exodus 12:22 And you, you shall not go out - a man from his house - until morning.
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Moshe is passingHaShem's instructions for conducting the very first Passover ritual on to the elders of Israel. After the lambs have been selected and slaughtered, the blood is to be applied to the lintels and doorposts of the houses where the Israelites live. Then before Moshe explains how the blood works, as a sign to HaShem so that He should not let the destroyer into the houses, he inserts this injunction: that no-one should leave their house until morning. This is not found in HaShem's original instructions to Moshe; the text here appears to replace the instructions for cooking and eating the lamb found in verses 8-11. Umberto Cassuto tries to make an explicit connection by claiming that this is "so that you may be ready to journey when you are given the signal, in accordance with the injunction in verse eleven: 'This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly' (Shemot 12:11, JPS)'"1. Don Isaac Abravanel seems to agree: "some think that was meant to keep them from being scattered hither and yon at the moment the exodus was to start." Nahum Sarna sees something of the same idea, noting that "on this night of danger and vigilance, the security of the Israelites lay in maintaining family solidarity within the portals of their hallowed homes." At a rather more prosaic level, the Bekhor Shor reminds us that "our sages said 'when there is an epidemic in town, keep your feet inside the house' and noted that 'in the time of an epidemic Raba used to keep the windows shut, as it is written, 'for death is come up into our windows' (Jeremiah 9:20) (b. Bava Kama 60b)."
The early rabbis offered a different reason for not going outside. TheMekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael explains that the "don't go out" command tells us that "the angel, once permission to harm is given him, does not discriminate between the righteous and the wicked, as it is said: 'Go, my people, enter your chambers, and lock your doors behind you' (Isaiah 26:20, JPS). And it also says: 'Thus said the L-RD: I am going to deal with you! I will draw My sword from its sheath, and I will wipe out from you both the righteous and the wicked' (Ezekiel 21:8, JPS)". Ovadiah Sforno compares the situation to that in the time of Ezekiel, when the angels in charge of the city of Jerusalem and told to kill everyone who had committed or condoned abominations, except those with a mark: "For the house will be marked by the blood, therefore you shall not go out, and only in this manner He will pass over you. similar to: 'Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who moan and groan because of all the abominations that are committed in it' (Ezekiel 9:4, JPS)". Only those who protested about the abominations and idolatry will receive the distinguishing mark, otherwise the destroyers cannot tell the righteous man from an idolater.
A third opinion is provided by Nachmanides, who said that, "Scripture warned the Israelites in Egypt not to go out of the door of their homes that night because the Holy One, blessed be He, was passing through Egypt like a king who passes from one place to another and whose guardsmen go before him - 'And the L-RD my G-d, with all the holy beings, will come to you' (Zechariah 14:5, JPS) - so that people should neither see him or meet him - 'My face must not be seen' (Shemot 33:23, JPS)." If meeting HaShem or seeing His face is not compatible with living "for man may not see Me and live" (v. 20, JPS), then warning the Israelites to stay in their houses all night seems only fair.
So we seem to have the two themes of place and time: stay in your houses, not outside and, stay there all night until morning. It is important be be in the place that G-d wants us to be and has told us to be, and not to be or try to be somewhere else. It is also important to be there when He says and not to either be elsewhere at that time, or to leave before He says to go.
Perhaps the most well-known passage in the Scriptures about timing is in the book of Ecclesiastes: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NRSV). The writer then lists a number of paired opposites: laughing and weeping, wailing and dancing and so on. The thing to notice here is while these are presented as binary choices - one or the other - neither is recommended or disallowed; both may be done, both have equal value, they just can't be done at the same time. You cannot gather stones and be throwing stones away simultaneously; either the number of stones you have is increasing or it is decreasing. You cannot be silent and speak in the same moment; you are either one or the other. Since the text allows either activity, it must therefore be both a matter of timing and of compatibility which one you do. It would be incompatible, for example, to be content in one's job at work, yet at the same time be looking for new job opportunities; these are binary opposites. Taking a personal telephone call while giving a presentation at work are time-exclusive; one cannot do both at the same time.
One of the favourite psalms in both the Jewish and Christian worlds paints a powerful picture of place: "He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler" (Psalm 91:4, ESV). One of the proverbs too seems to portray place in very physical terms: "The name of the L-RD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10, ESV). Many people report finding a sense of peace or calm in a cathedral or an abbey where people have been praying for hundreds of years, the Kotel in Jerusalem goes back thousands of years; a place can have a strong feeling of presence and being enveloped in the spiritual world, both good and bad. The Celtic Church talks about "thin places" where it seems that the barrier between heaven and earth has become thinner than others through years of prayer or repeated ritual. The mediaeval concept of sanctuary - being safe from arrest or attack when in a holy place or context,such as touching the altar in a church or sometimes just being in a church building - is partly based on this. Is 'place' - where we are, either physically or spiritually important?
The way we talk about place and time differ. We generally talk about place as if it us under our control; we can choose whether to be in a particular place or not, as we chose whether to go out or stay at home on a Tuesday evening. People will talk about being in a place of blessing or a place of safety; a place of suffering or a place of growth. Place, in that sense, cannot be a particular building - be that a synagogue or a church - it may be a congregation or a group of people. It may, on the other hand, be used as a synonym for a posture or an attitude: a place of receiving or a place of weakness. Time, on the other hand, is usually talked about as if it is beyond our control; we cannot choose when time starts and stops, or influence the rate at which it passes. People talk about periods of time that come and go - a time of blessing, a time of suffering - as if they are quite arbitrary and imposed by an outside force who turns them on and off at their whim and are just to be enjoyed or endured until they stop.
The Jewish tradition sometimes refers to G-d as , The Place. He can be seen as a physical representation of His kingdom: the place where the authority of G-d is acknowledged is His kingdom. If you are in that place, then you are under His authority, under His wings, under His blessing and protection. If you choose to walk out of that place, breaking relationship, disobeying His commandments, then you step outside the kingdom and forfeit the benefits of blessing and protection. In the context of the Israelites observing the first Passover, if they stepped outside their house at night, if they moved out of place and time, then they exposed themselves to the destroyer and would be responsible for their own death. If we step out from under the shelter of His wings, by insisting on being independent or having things our own way, then we become exposed to "the snare of the fowler ... the deadly pestilence" (Psalm 9:3, ESV) or "the terror of the night ... the arrow that flies by day" (v. 5, ESV). The same applies if we ignore G-d's timing by dragging behind what He is doing, or trying to rush ahead before He moves; then we become out of step with G-d, trusting in our own strength and resources: "A rich man's wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination" (Proverbs 18:11, ESV). We become cut off from G-d and, like the man who built new barns to house all his crops and take life easy, may hear G-d say, "This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Luke 12:20, ESV). That is why Rav Sha'ul keeps on using the phrase "in Messiah". In Messiah, in His place, in His time, in Him.
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
Further Study: D'varim 12:10-14; Psalm 57:1-3; Mark 13:33-37
Application: Are you in the place and time of G-d? Do you know the peace of being in the centre of G-d's will and walking in step with Him? Make sure that you get to that place and enter that time without delay so that you don't miss out on the kingdom of G-d.
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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