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Shemot/Exodus 13:8 And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, "On account of this the L-rd did for me when I came out from Egypt."
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Moshe is speaking to the Children of Israel, after the last final plague and Pharaoh has released the Israelites to go, as they have completed the first stage of their journey - "from Raamses to Sukkot" (Shemot 12:37, JPS) - on the way out of Egypt to go to the Promised Land. The little word , 'this' causes discussion among the commentators. To what exactly does 'this' refer and why does it matter? Quite a lot it would appear!
Like our translation above,Rashi takes the two words as "on account of this" and comments, "so that I will fulfill His commandments such as the korban pesach, matzah and bitter herbs." In Rashi's mind, 'this' points to the way Pesach is kept in his time and he is inferring that the object or purposes of the Exodus from Egypt is so that Jews throughout the ages will be able to keep Pesach through the symbols of matzah and bitter herbs as so bring glory to HaShem. The Ramban seems to agree, adding, "And our rabbis have explained that 'this' refers to the unleavened bread and bitter herbs laid before him." This comes from the Mekhilta, which says, "This should be at the time when unleavened bread and bitter herbs are placed upon your table before you." Ibn Ezra is in this camp as well: "It is because of this practice - keeping Passover - that G-d gave us all these signs and freed us from Egypt. He freed us so that we might serve Him." But others think that is ridiculous. HaShem did all that work to get the Israelites out of Egypt just so that the successive generations could keep the mitzvot of matzah and maror?
Saadia Gaon says that 'this' should be translated as 'what', so that the observance of Pesach is a commemoration of what HaShem did for the Israelites - personalised and commemorated by Jews throughout the ages who are instructed to commemorate it as if they personally had been freed from Egypt. We now do this because of what G-d did then. As the Rashbam says: "it is because G-d did miracles for me in Egypt, that I observe this practice." Drazin and Wagner confirm that "the observance of Pesach is possible because of what G-d did for me." This is the answer to the here unspoken question that is voiced just a few verses later: "And when in time to come your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' you shall say to him, 'By a strong hand the L-RD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery'" (Shemot 13:14, JPS).
More recent commentators take a different message from the text - a strong pedagogic imperative. Gunther Plaut, for example, follows the NJPS translation of as "you shall explain" and reports that "in the Passover Haggadah, this verse is taken to establish the obligation to tell the Exodus story to a small child, one who is too young to ask." From the youngest to the oldest, the Exodus is a part of our social memory and everyone needs to connect and know that it is not only a part of our past but a part of who we are as a people today. Nahum Sarna continues that thought by pointing out that this is "not necessarily in response to any question. The parent must take the initiative in instructing the children." Each generation is responsible for not just helping but making sure that subsequent generations do not forget one of the founding components of our identity. RabbiHirsch sums this up well: "Here too, the duties of Jewish education are immediately indicated. Our children are not to be induced to the faithful observance of the Torah by habit alone, nor is it to be accomplished by mere preaching. We must show them the way by our own keen and enthusiastic example and, at the same time, by teaching them the meaning and sense of our doings, wake up their minds and their hearts so that they learn to do the mitzvot with understanding and enthusiasm, so that their zeal for their Jewish observances appeals to their minds as well as to their feelings."
How, then, are we to generalise this command - "and you shall tell your son on that day" - to ensure that our heritage is passed on and maintained for generations to come? How do we as believers in Messiah enable those who follow us - be they biological family or wider spiritual family - to know both the truth and vitality of the Bible and our faith. It is not enough that others have heard the stories of the Exodus, of Elijah, of Yeshua; it is all too easy for the world to treat them simply as myth - stories with some truth in them couched in words of grandeur - then they get downgraded to legend or saga and become simply stories that the ancients used to tell but without any truth or relevance for today. The power of peer pressure and today's post-modern society over young people and children, particularly those in the school system, have to be seen to be believed; they must not be underestimated or ignored else they will strip the next generation of any meaningful basis or desire to be believers or a part of our people.
The first thing is praxis - doing. From the earliest ages, children must be engaged with and drawn into the physical commemoration of our people. Passover, Unleavened Bread, Counting the Omer, Shavuot, Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hanukkah and Purim, plus - of course - Shabbat each week, are the feasts and festivals that provide constant annual and weekly reminders of who we are and what we do. Each festival around the year has its own liturgy, its own food, its own clothes and - naturally - its own set of stories telling how our people have kept the feasts and the way we have celebrated. Each festival comes complete with sounds, tastes and smells to engage the physical senses and, over time, build a memory and a sense of comfort and identity as they are repeated and amplified on each occasion. Light two candles each Shabbat eve to "remember and observe", then share wine or grape juice and tasty home-made challah bread, while singing traditional songs to welcome Shabbat - G-d's gift to our people each week and a sign of Yeshua, the bread that came down from heaven and then came forth from the earth at His resurrection from the dead. Light the little lights of Hanukkah over eight successive days in the winter, eat sticky, oily doughnuts and tell stirring stories of daring-do as our people fought not to be assimilated into or to be destroyed by the surrounding people. Hear heroic tales of Jews surviving against all the odds in the concentration camps or escaping through the winter snows from Soviet Russia. Build and decorate a sukkah in the autumn so that you can sleep there rather than in your own beds; eat your meals there and celebrate the blessings of harvest and G-d's provision of food for you, your family and the world. Tell stories of the miraculous crossing of the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land and look forward to all G-d's people keeping the feast of Sukkot in Jerusalem. Be creative and invent your own family traditions around the old stories: throw ping-pong balls and plastic frogs at each other while reciting the plagues at Pesach; make your own hanukkiahs or use children's wooden trains to hold the candles at Hanukkah; celebrate each feast to the full, cooking and eating all the special foods and recipes around the year.
The second thing is doctrine - teaching. Alongside the praxis we must present the reasons why we do what we do - this is the essence of the Torah text above - in a way that those watching and doing can understand. Without teaching and explanation, the practice can become simply that: practice by rote. However sweet or enjoyable, without an understanding of why we do what we do, the doing can be just a habit with no meaning or benefit. Each feast has its own explanation: Pesach is the forerunner of Yeshua's death on the cross (1 Corinthians 5:7); Yom HaBikkurim (Early Firstfruits) is resurrection day (see 1 Corinthians 15:20); Shavuot is not just the commemoration of the Torah being given at Mt. Sinai, but the day the Ruach was poured out in the Upper Room in Jerusalem (Acts 2); Yom Teruah is a pointer to Yeshua's return (Matthew 24:31, 1 Corinthians 15:52, 1 Thessalonians 4:16); Hanukkah, the festival of lights, celebrates the time that Yeshua's birth was announced (Luke 1:26-35, John 1:9); and Sukkot, known by the rabbis as the feast of the Gentiles, is the time when Yeshua was born and pitched His tabernacle among us. Shabbat reminds us to rest in Yeshua for "My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:30) and provides space and time to read, study and talk about Yeshua and the great things that G-d has done for His people Israel and His people from the nations throughout history. Our faith is to be both reasoned and reasonable: walked out and experienced each day and in each time. And when enquirers ask, "Why do you do that?", where 'that' can be anything from an act of kindness or an display of honesty to religious observance or celebration, we are "always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).
Further Study: D'varim 4:9-10; Psalm 78:3-8; Colossians 4:5-6; 2 Timothy 2:24-26
Application: Are you good at "show and tell" or do you need a little help to put the pieces together? Whether novice or long-term member of the kingdom, we can all use this technique to pass on our faith and encourage others.
© Jonathan Allen, 2017
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