Discover more from Gideon's Substack
And apologies for an absence
A very brief message: due to Passover prep among other things, I’ve had no time to write anything for this Substack prior to the holiday. It’s now ridiculously late to suggest anything for the Seder proper—but who knows? Maybe some folks are all done with their prep and busily looking for readings.
So here are two pieces I read this year that I found thought-provoking, and that I plan to talk about at my own Seder:
So, where does the name of Pesach—what we call “Passover”—come from? It appears in the Bible in Exodus 12, where Moses tells the Israelite slaves to sacrifice a lamb and mark their homes with its blood so that they will not be harmed by a plague that kills Egypt’s first-born males:
וַיִּקְרָ֥א מֹשֶׁ֛ה לְכָל־זִקְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם מִֽשְׁכ֗וּ וּקְח֨וּ לָכֶ֥ם צֹ֛אן לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתֵיכֶ֖ם וְשַׁחֲט֥וּ הַפָּֽסַח׃
Moses then summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, pick out lambs for your families, and slaughter the Pesach offering.”
וּלְקַחְתֶּ֞ם אֲגֻדַּ֣ת אֵז֗וֹב וּטְבַלְתֶּם֮ בַּדָּ֣ם אֲשֶׁר־בַּסַּף֒ וְהִגַּעְתֶּ֤ם אֶל־הַמַּשְׁקוֹף֙ וְאֶל־שְׁתֵּ֣י הַמְּזוּזֹ֔ת מִן־הַדָּ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּסָּ֑ף וְאַתֶּ֗ם לֹ֥א תֵצְא֛וּ אִ֥ישׁ מִפֶּֽתַח־בֵּית֖וֹ עַד־בֹּֽקֶר׃
“Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts. None of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning.”
וְעָבַ֣ר יְהוָה֮ לִנְגֹּ֣ף אֶת־מִצְרַיִם֒ וְרָאָ֤ה אֶת־הַדָּם֙ עַל־הַמַּשְׁק֔וֹף וְעַ֖ל שְׁתֵּ֣י הַמְּזוּזֹ֑ת וּפָסַ֤ח יְהוָה֙ עַל־הַפֶּ֔תַח וְלֹ֤א יִתֵּן֙ הַמַּשְׁחִ֔ית לָבֹ֥א אֶל־בָּתֵּיכֶ֖ם לִנְגֹּֽף׃
“For when the Lord goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the Lord will pasach on the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home.”
. . .
Now, you can see how “pass over” would be an easy way to translate the words pesach and pasach in the verses above. And in fact, that is how Saint Jerome, the Christian author of the Vulgate, the fifth-century Latin translation of the Bible, rendered the words. And he was not alone.
But it is not how many traditional Jewish translators and commentators rendered them.
Read the whole thing to find out what Onkelos thought Pesach meant, and what the implication might be for a different translation.
Second, from Rabbi Ethan Tucker at Hadar.org, the Seder is famously a time that you open your home—to family and friends, to all who are hungry, to Elijah the prophet—but are there people you’re supposed to keep your door closed to on this particular night? Specifically, is the Seder supposed to be a Jewish-only exclusive affair, or is it, like Sukkot, a perfect opportunity to share the tradition with non-adherents?
The Seder’s archetypal ancestor is the korban pesah (pesah offering]. About this, the Torah is explicit that outsiders may not participate in its consumption:
God said to Moshe and Aharon: “This is the law of the pesah offering. No foreigner may eat of it. . . . A resident and hired worker may not eat of it. . . . No uncircumcised man may eat of it.”
One cannot practice “religious tourism” to experience the pesah offering. Even someone who is a resident worker but not joined to the larger nation is ineligible. The medieval work Sefer Ha-Hinukh explains this exclusion as follows:
Sefer Ha-Hinukh Mitzvah #14
The basis for this mitzvah is . . . because this sacrifice is a memorial of our freedom and our entrance into a faithful covenant with God, and therefore it is appropriate that only those complete in that faith, so that they are entirely Jews, should take part in it, as opposed to those who have not yet entered into a complete covenant with us.
The pesah offering, the, is meant to be a strictly Jewish affair, the ultimate “members’ night.” But does this extend to the matzah and maror that are meant to be eaten with it? What if a non-Jew wanted to be present for the consumption of the pesah offering ritual, but not eat it himself? If a non-Jew agreed to refrain from eating the sacrificial meat, might she be allowed to partake of the matzah and maror? Interestingly, an early midrash takes up just this point in the ideological context of the Jewish apostate (the born Jew who has abandoned faith and practice):
Mikhilta de-R. Shimon b. Yohai 12:43
“He does not eat of it”—of it [the Jewish apostate] does not eat but he eats of matzah and maror.
. . . [E]ven though the midrash deals here specifically with the Jewish apostate, the exegetical analysis ought to apply to all instances of the word bo (it) in our passage, which would mean that non-Jews would also be permitted to eat the matzah and maror that were served with the pesah offering. And so rules the Rambam (Korban Pesah 9:8. If the matzah and maror were fit for non-Jewish consumption when there was an actual sacrifice offered, then it would seem a sound logical step to remove any barriers to non-Jewish participation in a Seder, a ritual space completely devoid of any sacrificial content. Perhaps, therefore, the Seder as we know it is a possible—maybe even welcome—opportunity for an open house?
Needless to say the discussion doesn’t end there, so if you’re interested in this kind of thing, I encourage you to read it all. I look forward to discussing it at my Seder, with Jewish and non-Jewish guests alike.
Finally, I shouldn’t end without at least a modicum of self-promotion, so here’s an old piece of mine about the year that we conducted a trial of God at the Seder.
Wishing a chag kasher v’sameach to all those who are observing Passover, a joyful Easter to those observing the Christian version of Paschal commemoration on Sunday, and a lovely holiday weekend to everyone, whatever you plan to do.
And for those observing Ramadan—Ramadan Mubarak and congratulations! You’re halfway home!