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Shemot/Exodus 12:14 And this day shall be for you for a remembrance and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the L-rd; you shall celebrate it for your generations, a statute for ever.
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Here, at what some scholars see as the bridge point between immediate "on the day" instructions and future "remember this day" instructions, Moshe is instructing the Israelites - and the Jewish people to be - to use this day as a means of remembering. The noun , translated 'remembrance' above (and by NJPS and NRSV), 'memorial' by David Clines1 (and by ESV and NASB), comes from the root , "to remember, recollect, call to mind" (), "to invoke, announce, proclaim" (Clines). Other nouns derived from the same root include: memory, memorial offering and official recorder.
Pointing to the verses "G-d heard their moaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Avraham and Yitz'khak and Ya'akov. G-d looked upon the Israelites, and G-d took notice of them" (Shemot 2:24-25, NJPS), Nahum Sarna says that the word involves action. It is much more than just the remembering of things past, he says, "it embraces concern and involvement and is active not passive, so that it eventuates in action." Teaching about the tzitzit or tassels to be worn on a four-cornered garment, the sages of the Talmud say that "Looking upon leads to remembering and remembering leads to action" (b. Menachot 43b). This is important, for our habits and our thoughts are shaped by what we do. The 13th century writer ofSefer HaChinuch wrote, "Know that a man is influenced in accordance with his actions ... Therefore look you carefully to what your work and your occupation are: for after them will you be drawn, and you will not draw them [to you]."
Some debate exists over exactly what is to remembered and how that is to be done.Ibn Ezra, for example, suggests that "[G-d] meant that they should observe that day ever afterwards as they had done in Egypt, making it a memorial for all generations." This implies a full re-enactment of the Shemot chapter 12 instructions, while the Sages compared Pesach in Egypt with the remembrance: "As to the Passover of Egypt - (1) the lamb's designation took place of the tenth of Nisan. (2) It required sprinkling of the blood of the lamb with a branch of hyssop on the lintel of the door and on the two doorposts. And (3) it was eaten in haste in a single night. But the Passover observed by the succeeding generations applies [to leaven] for all seven days" (m. Pesachim 9:5). This suggests that selecting the lamb on the tenth of the month, the daubing of the blood and the eating in haste were not required. We know from the synchronisation in the gospels that the lambs were still selected on the tenth of Nisan in Yeshua's day, but the daubing of the blood was not done and the Seder was already quite a leisurely evening meal and ritual. Lamb was not permitted to be eaten at all at Pesach after the destruction of the Temple - since there was neither altar nor sanctified priesthood.
Nevertheless, as Umberto Cassuto records, "It is self-understood, and therefore is not stated here explicitly, that this festival of remembrance will include a re-enactment of the essential elements of the Passover celebration in Egypt, that is, the Passover offering will be slaughtered, roasted and eaten together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs."2 Brevard Childs observes that "the same process of cultic remembrance continues, but in a form which has become increasingly distant from the events of the first passover."3 In the contemporary Seder, all that remains on the lamb is a roasted shank-bone on the seder plate in the centre of the table, but matzot (unleavened bread) and horseradish are there aplenty. Let's pursue the physicality of the remembrance a little further.
Nechama Leibowitz tells us that "it would have been quite inadequate for the Torah to have perpetuated the message of the Exodus from Egypt by calling on us to merely recount the story." Important though story-telling is - and, after all, the vast majority of the biblical narrative is exactly that, telling stories - in building tradition and community memory, the doing and the engagement of all five senses is dominant in fixing the memories in our minds as a record of real events that really did happen, rather than myths and legends built up over time. Walter Brueggemann explains: "Interpretive commentary is important to prevent these festival acts from degenerating into superstition. Conversely, it will not do simply to have the interpretation without the acts themselves, for then the memory becomes excessively cognitive and cerebral, and we forget that it is in our bellies that we practice the hurried departure and on our door posts that we mark our safety. There must be no cerebral shortcuts away from actual practice, for we hold the precious memories in our bodies, not in our heads."4 The Scriptures themselves bear witness to this when they instruct, "You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants. And when you enter the land that the L-RD will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. And when your children ask you, 'What do you mean by this rite?' you shall say, 'It is the passover sacrifice to the L-RD, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses'" (Shemot 12:24-27, NJPS). It is the doing rather than the telling that stimulates the questions. Anyone can tell a story, but to actually put the effort into performing it? Even if the re-enactment is ritualised and only tracks the original in some of the detail, it is a powerful action of remembrance. Here is looking, remembering and doing.
Yet there is still more to it that we have not so far grasped. Another modern commentator, Terence Fretheim, gets right to the heart of the matter: "When Israel reenacts the passover, it is not a fiction, as if nothing really happens in the ritual, or all that happens is a recollection of the happenedness of an original event. The reenactment is as much salvific event as the original enactment. The memory language is not a 'soft' matter, recalling to mind some story of the past. It is an entering into the reality of that event in such a way as to be reconstituted as the people of G-d thereby."5 Think about this. The sages tell us in the Pesach Hagaddah that each person at a Seder should consider that they themselves have come out of Egypt. It is the faithful - and physically connected - reenactment of the ritual, the tangible obedience to not only G-d's command but the ancient rhythms and nuances, the tangy horseradish, the heady red wine, the brittle and crisp matzot, that revive our being and our faith and re-forge the red-hot relationship that makes us G-d's chosen people all over again each year. As the story becomes real again, as the haunting tones of Steve and Sue McConnel's "We're leaving Egypt tonight" ring in our ears, we too leave Egypt and celebrate our freedom in Messiah Yeshua. TheBekhor Shor put these words in Moshe's mouth to our people in Egypt: "You are doing it out of necessity; they will do it as a remembrance", but he was wrong. Every generation, not least ours, remembers from necessity; because we must!
Lastly, we need to ask ourselves which parts of the Pesach event we remember. Do we remember the dying Egyptians or our freedom? Is it that the L-rd went through the land of Egypt killing all the firstborn, or that He passed over the houses with the blood? What do we remember today? As believers in Messiah, we need to go further. The passion story is filled with rich symbolism, but which part do we remember and live in? Is it the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the cross or the resurrection? Of course, no one item is enough in itself, each depends on the others, but where is our focus? Rav Sha'ul preached "Messiah crucified - a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23, ESV), but do we live at the cross or do we live in the power of the resurrection, the risen Messiah?
Sha'ul takes the next step when he writes, "For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to G-d" (Romans 6:10, ESV). He lives, do you see that? He is alive, He lives! Arguing that if "Messiah has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17, ESV), he triumphantly insists that "in fact Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (v. 20, ESV), so that Yeshua's own words that "everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:40, ESV) will come true. Yeshua's life means our life. Important as it is to commemorate His death on the cross, it is more important still to commemorate His resurrection and ascension because "the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:52, ESV) - "we know that when He appears we shall be like Him" (1 John 3:2, ESV). May it be soon and in our days.
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 100.
2. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), page 140.
3. - Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), pages 198-199.
4. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), pages 358.
5. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 139.
Further Study: Vayikra 23:4-5; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18
Application: Do you live at the cross, still waiting and hoping for the third day, or do you live in the full knowledge that Yeshua has risen, death has been defeated and heaven's gates are open wide to all who believe and trust in Him? Where are you looking, remembering and doing today?
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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