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B'Midbar/Numbers 9:3 On the fourteenth day in this month, between the twilights, you shall do it, in its appointed time. You shall do it according to all its statutes and all its judgements.
HaShem here: "It's time to celebrate Passover again!" Each year, as we come to this time in the calendar, we're seven days or less away from celebrating the seder again, remembering how we left Egypt, how HaShem brought us out with a strong arm and an outstretched hand. There are four things we need to hear in these instructions: who, when, what and how. HaShem was talking to Moshe in the Sinai wilderness, just one year after our people left Egypt, but the words ring true for us today, whether Jew or Gentile in Messiah, summoning us to engage with our past, our present and, above all, our G-d!
Let's take the 'who' question first. RabbiHirsch points out that this is "is a rare, perhaps unique case, were, after a command has been given in the third person as a duty for the nation, it then, in the next verse, changes to the second person, including Moshe." How is this? The verse before our text is quite short: "Let the Israelite people offer the passover sacrifice at its set time" (B'Midbar 9:2, NJPS). Hirsch is quite right: the verb in that verse, is a 3mp jussive, "let them make/do". The nation as a whole is exhorted - in indirect speech, "let them" - to keep Passover. In this verse, the verb is a 2mp instruction, "you shall make/do", direct speech. Even Moshe is included as HaShem tells His people directly, "you are to keep the festival of Pesach", but they do not keep it as a mass of individuals, or even as a lot of families or households, but as a nation. Pesach is a corporate event, even though we celebrate it now in twenty-four time zones around the world, that makes the Jewish people one - one people under G-d, His people. As believers in Messiah Yeshua, with our Gentile brothers and sisters, we celebrate the feast to remember not only when we came out of Egypt, but also when we were each individually brought out of bondage to sin and set free to serve G-d by Yeshua, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. We celebrate the feast together as the redeemed people of G-d, of Israel and of the nations, called together and made one as His people, the "one new man" (Ephesians 2:15).
The 'when' question comes next: when are we to celebrate Passover together? There are three parts to the answer: on the fourteenth day of this month between the twilights and at its appointed time. If we are to celebrate together, then we must synchronise watches and do it at one time. Time zones weren't an issue for the first generations of Jews and Gentiles celebrating the feast before or after Yeshua - they didn't have the technology to be aware that the times of sunset at different ends of Mediterranean were nearly two hours apart - they simply worked by local time. That's what we do today, living and working in our local communities around the world; we all synchronise on the fourteenth of Nisan, the day of the full moon in the month of Nisan, working from local sunset time so that although seders are being held for just over twenty-four hours as the earth rotates, it always starts after sunset local time. On the one hand, Gunther Plaut tells us that "The exact time span was a matter of rabbinic controversy. The time to light Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon is before twilight. According to the Samaritans and Karaites the time was between sunset and darkness; according to Josephus it was between "the ninth to eleventh hours" - well before dark (e.g. at the equinox, between three and five o'clock in the afternoon)." On the other hand, Jacob Milgrom assures us that "'between the two evenings' means between sunset and darkness." The key is that the initial instructions say, "All the assembled congregation of the Israelites shall slaughter it at twilight ... They shall eat the flesh that same night" (Shemot 12:6-8, NJPS); the slaughter of the Passover lambs took place in the later afternoon and the meal - that which we rehearse in the seder - followed that evening (actually the first few hours of Nisan the fifteenth).
The pronoun 'it' represents the answer to the 'what' question and points back to the preceding verse: the Passover sacrifice. Like most of the offerings - the peace offerings are often referred to by one word 'peaces' and sin offerings are often just 'sins' (this is known as metonymy) - the word can be used to refer both to the event and to the sacrifice brought at the commemoration of the event. The Israelites as a nation and the Children of Israel as families and individuals are directly addressed and commanded to bring a Passover sacrifice to remember the original event and to rehearse in word and action the exodus from Egypt.
That brings us to the question of 'how' this remembrance was to be effected. In two phrases - "according to all its statutes" and "according to all its judgements" - Moshe is told how do this.Rashi suggests that 'statutes' refers to commands that apply directly to the sacrifice itself, for example, "a perfect lamb/kid, a male within its first year" (Shemot 12:5, paraphrase), while 'judgements' refers to the commands that surround the sacrifice and its celebration, such as the seven day period for matzah and the removal of chametz. Targum Onkelos changes the word , "laws or judgements" to , fit, right, proper". Jacob Milgrom, following the NJPS translation of these words as "rules and rites", agrees, seeing as case law allowing official but subsequent alteration of the appropriate way to observe the feast. He brings a practical example: "The blood of the first Passover was smeared on the doorposts and lintels of Israel's homes in Egypt. This time, in the wilderness of Sinai, the blood would have had to have been smeared on the entrances to Israel's tents." Some adjustments had to be made to accommodate the local circumstance, while others - such as the day, the time of day, and the sacrifice itself - remained fixed. As believers in Yeshua, we hear Rav Sha'ul's words that "our Pesach lamb, the Messiah, has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7, CJB) and recognise that the biggest adjustment is that we look to Yeshua as our sacrifice and do not therefore make a sacrifice with a lamb. The Orthodox Jewish community, unable to make a sacrifice because there is no Temple in Jerusalem and no ritually pure priesthood, adjust their seder by having a lamb shankbone on the seder plate and discussing the Pesach offering in some detail.
As we approach the feast this year and wonder how we are going to celebrate this time, concerned about who our guests might be and what they may think, trying to involve the children who seem to get more bored each year and are totally fed up with reciting the four questions, perhaps we ought to ask a few questions of our own based on our thoughts so far. The first task must be to distinguish between the mandatory essentials and the many, varied and - if your household is anything like mine - changing from year to year customs with which we seek to make the seder proper. The date and the time seem non-negotiable. We either keep the seder on the night of the 14th/15th Nisan or we don't. The commands for matzah and maror - read unleavened bread and horseradish - seem similarly compulsory; besides, they are basically good fun, even if a little embarrassing! But the telling of the story is surely subject to change. Just as we used props such as plastic frogs and flies, ping-pong balls and a paper bag1 to simulate the plague, or told dramatised portions of the story as little sketches or playlets enacted around the table, rather than reading the words out of the hagaddah, so new and age-related techniques can be used to make the seder accessible to older people, children, teens and younger people, and visitors of some or a different faith. These changes, these adaptations, if done sensitively and with appropriate respect and decency, are what makes Passover fit or proper in this generation, this year.
Passover is all about inclusion, as we announce at the start of the seder: "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (Isaiah 55:1, NASB) - inviting all who would come and hear the story to join with us. Let's not waste the opportunity; let's not humble our now-adult children by insisting on what we did when they were young. Let's be bold and invite new friends and family to share the seder with us and use it as a tool for outreach. Let's find new and creative ways to engage and tell the story in a way that connects and makes us one - Jew and Gentile - as the people of G-d, called out of our own Egypt and set free to serve G-d in Messiah Yeshua. G-d expects no less of us - that is why the Torah speaks of "rules and rituals" to give us the freedom. Passover is the quintessential festival of freedom, not of bondage - even to tradition!
Chag Pesach Sameach!
1. - An inflated brown paper bag can be delightfully burst unexpectedly, out of sight under the table, to simulate thunder and lighting for the plague of hail.
Further Study: Proverbs 8:1-5; Isaiah 41:17-18; Ephesians 2:4-8
Application: What could you do to enliven your seder this year? Try having a word with the Divine Master Of Ceremonies and see what the two of you can come up with between you. You might even surprise yourself!
Buy your own copy of the Drash Book for Leviticus/Vayikra now at Amazon US or Amazon UK.
© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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