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Shemot/Exodus 12:42 This is a night of watchings for HaShem to bring them out from the land of Egypt; this is the night for HaShem watchings for all the Children of Israel for their generations.
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What a remarkable verse - it often gets lost amidst all the hustle and bustle of Pesach preparation. It is, of course, speaking of the night whenHaShem went through the land of Egypt, sparing only the houses where the Israelites lived and had daubed the blood of the Pesach lamb on the lintels and doorposts. Or is it ? What other night might the Torah be describing? Although the Hebrew text contains no permission to use different English tenses for the two halves of the verse, the NJPS translates the verse in this way: "That was for the L-RD a night of vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that same night is the L-RD's, one of vigil for all the children of Israel throughout the ages" (Shemot 12:42, NJPS). By this reckoning, the first phrase talks about the night of the original exodus from Egypt, while the second phrase addresses the night of Pesach each year when Israel commemorates the original event as a night to HaShem throughout our generations. Taking a slightly different tack, the Baal HaTurim comments that, "the implication is that G-d divided the night of the fifteenth Nisan in two: the first half for the Exodus from Egypt, and its second half for the final Redemption in the future."
Dealing with the Hebrew text first, perhaps the most interesting word is . Although the root - guard, keep, have charge of, protect, preserve1 - is used over 450 times in the Tanakh, this particular word is unusual in that the two uses in this verse are the only uses in the Torah. Davidson is content to tell us only that this is a masculine plural noun; Clines proposes the meaning, "a watching, vigil, in connection with Pesach."2 RabbiHirsch goes rather further: "the Pi'el stem denotes the intensive force, the plural number the quantitative strength of the 'care or guarding'", adding that "throughout centuries the most careful and most varied dispensations of G-d had been directed towards this night, caring for and educating all His hosts to prepare them to become a nation able to be the bearers of His intention for the whole of humanity. Henceforth, this night it given over to this nation for G-d. They are to keep their most careful, most varied attention directed to it, to bring to realisation the mission they received in it, giving themselves completely up to it, throughout generation after generation."
Several of the classic commentators suggest that HaShem had been waiting for or looking forward to this night.Rashi, for example, says, "the Holy One, blessed be He, was keeping it in mind and looking forward it, to fulfill His promise to take them out of the land of Egypt." The Rashbam is a little more expansive: "Since the days of the patriarchs, G-d had been vigilantly anticipating the night when He would bring the Israelites out of Egypt as He had promised. For Israel it would be a night of 'vigil throughout the ages', for they would anticipate this night of which they would celebrate the Pesach 'in accordance with all its rules and rites' (B'Midbar 9:3, NJPS)." The modern commentator Umberto Cassuto writes, "The night of the exodus from bondage to freedom was a night of watching by the Lord - as the shepherd watches his flock at night (this sense of keeping watch at night is an old and special signification of the root in the Semitic languages) - ordained from the beginning to bring them out of the land of Egypt. Such is this night unto the L-rd, and as such it must be a night of observance [equals, watching] by all the children of Israel throughout their generations - that is, a night on which the Israelites will observe the holy charge of the service of the Shepherd and Redeemer of Israel."3
Other commentators connect the redemption from Egypt with the final redemption. TheMekhilta quotes Rabbi Joshua, "In that night were they redeemed and in that night will they be redeemed in the future" (Pishkha 14), while the Sages of the Talmud said, "In Nisan they were redeemed, and in Nisan they will eventually be redeemed" (b. Rosh HaShanah 11a). Ovadiah Sforno - writing in Italy in the 16th century - provides the insight that "just as He watched and looked forward to the redemption of Israel all the days of their exile in Egypt, so He watches and waits for the future redemption of Israel, as it says, 'And therefore HaShem will wait that He may be gracious to you' (Isaiah 30:18)."
We can see that watching or guarding is a mutual activity. HaShem watches over us - then in the past, now in the present and into the future when Yeshua returns - and we care called to watch for Him, guarding His word and commandments, guarding His name in us, throughout our generations. He watched at Pesach, so we keep Pesach as a feast to Him each and every year, teaching each successive generation what it means and why we do it: "And when, in time to come, your son asks you, saying, 'What does this mean?' you shall say to him, 'It was with a mighty hand that the L-RD brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage" (Shemot 13:14, NJPS). In our giving back, our watching for the L-rd, He turns to us again and watches for us each day. He is our guardian and protector.
The Psalmist produces perhaps the most concentrated use of the root in the Bible: "I turn my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come? My help comes from the L-RD, maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot give way; your guardian will not slumber; See, the guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps! The L-RD is your guardian, the L-RD is your protection at your right hand. By day the sun will not strike you, nor the moon by night. The L-RD will guard you from all harm; He will guard your life. The L-RD will guard your going and coming now and forever" (Psalm 121, NJPS). Go on, now read that again and count how many times it occurs. No less than six times. G-d is seriously invested in guarding and protecting us, His people. The prophet speaks from HaShem's heart, "In that day, they shall sing of it: "Vineyard of Delight." I the L-RD keep watch over it, I water it every moment; that no harm may befall it, I watch it night and day" (Isaiah 27:2-3, NJPS). The L-rd is already involved in intensive horticulture, bringing on the crop in His vineyard. This time, the verb used for 'watch' (twice) is , "to keep, watch guard, protect", but the sense is still the same: He is watching over His people that they may come to a full yield.
Switching to the gospels, we find Yeshua keeping watch, observing a vigil, in the garden before He was arrested. He was guarding the charge that the Father had laid on Him, to complete His assignment at Golgotha next day. First, Luke tells us, He "knelt down and prayed, saying, 'Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but yours, be done.' And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him" (Luke 22:41-43, ESV). He was guarding His heart, aligning it with the Father, so that He did not slip or lose His way in the hours that were to come. His prayer was answered by an angel, strengthening - we might say, 'hardening' - His heart. His heart was strengthened to endure through the rigours of the passion. After the angel came, Luke goes on, "being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (v. 44, ESV) - a physical manifestation of the power of His burden. He watched over the disciples; He watched over His ministry and He watched His Father. As Yeshua watched for us and is still watching for us as He promised never to leave us, so we watch for Him to keep His testimony and provide a faithful witness of His kingdom in this world.
Matthew's account of the scene at Gethsemane asks us an important question. When Yeshua returned to the disciples, He found them asleep. Perhaps the four cups of wine and the roasted lamb dinner proved too much for them! Yeshua says to Peter, "So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:40-41, ESV). He asks the same question of us today - can we stay awake and pray? Can we keep the watch and stay on guard? Most of us want to; many of us think we can, but all too often we find that we have gone to sleep. Wake up, Yeshua says, and don't fall into sin. Our minds want to follow Him and keep watch, but our flesh - and here He means not our physical bodies, but our human natures, what Rav Sha'ul would end up calling our "old man" (Romans 6:6) - isn't interested. But that is the calling of the kingdom and the expectation of disciples: that we stay awake, that we watch and pray with Yeshua - that is how we serve Him and avoid falling into sin.
Chag Pesach Sameach!
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 470.
2. - Clines, page 471.
3. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), page 148-149.
Further Study: D'varim 16:1-3; Psalm 42:5-6; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-10
Application: Have you fallen asleep on the job recently? In our modern world, it's all too easy to get over-committed, over-stressed and exhausted when we don't take the time to watch and pray. Why not speak to Yeshua about this today and see how He can re-arrange your schedule to make time for the important rather than the urgent things in life.
Comment - 22:19 10Apr22 Joshua VanTine: Chag Pesach Sameach! Watch/Guard His ways. Oh may our Rabbi Yeshua inspire us and heaven help/strengthen us to watch and pray so the joy set before us is not lost to complete that which is good and satisfying. A really dynamic drash that goes to heavenly realms if we can keep watch of the fiery chariot so to say.
© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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