What's in a Word?

For the week ending 8 April 2017 / 12 Nisan 5777

Jumping for Passover: Part 2

by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein
Artscroll

We mentioned in Part 1 that the Hebrew name for the holiday of Passover is Pesach and the sacrifice associated with that holiday is likewise known as the Korban Pesach (Pesach Sacrifice). We cited Rashi’s explanation (to Exodus 12:11; 12:13; and Isaiah 31:5) that the word pesach is an expression of dilug and kefitzah, both of which are words for jumping. Indeed, the Paschal Sacrifice is called the Korban Pesach because it commemorates G-d “passing over” or “jumping over” the houses of the Jews when He struck the Egyptians with the Plague of the Firstborn. The holiday is accordingly named after the sacrifice associated with it. In the following paragraphs we will demonstrate exactly how the word pesach means “jumping”, but is not fully synonymous with the words dilug and kefitzah.

In Part 1 we explained the major difference between the two words for “jumping” by noting that the word dilug focuses on one who “jumps” as a means of skipping over something, and the word kefitzah focuses on one who “jumps” as a means of travelling faster. Rashi’s comment that the word Pesach is an expression of both dilug and kefitzah means that the word Pesach has both of these elements, especially in regard to G-d passing over the houses of the Jews in anticipation of the Exodus from Egypt.

Rabbi Avigdor Neventzhal (Chief Rabbi Emeritus of the Old City of Jerusalem) points out the obvious: when we speak of G-d “jumping” over the Jews in order to afflict the Egyptians with the Plague of the Firstborn, this cannot mean that He literally “jumped” over them, because He does not possess any physical body with which to perform such an action. Rather, the Torah speaks from the post facto perspective in which the Egyptian firstborns died, and the Jewish ones did not. In hindsight, it seemed as if G-d “jumped” over the Jews and smote only the Egyptians. In what way can this be called a dilug? Rabbi Neventzhal explains that just as the idea of dilug is to “skip over” something which has been deemed unnecessary, so too did G-d “skip over” His general requirement that one perform some act of commitment to seal his connection to G-d before G-d will allow that person to come close to Him. However, at that the Exodus, though the Jews had not yet exhibited that desire to connect to G-d, He nonetheless performed miracles on their behalf and took them out of Egypt.

In a similar vein, Rabbi Nachshon Schiller focuses on the haste with which the Exodus from Egypt occurred. Kabbalistic sources assert that during their stay in Egypt, the Jews had alarmingly fallen to the forty-ninth level of impurity and seriously required the Divine intervention of the Exodus. The urgency of the matter is highlighted by the Jews’ descent to the depths of impurity. Had the Jews remained in that land for an extra moment they would have plunged to the fiftieth level of impurity, from whence it would be impossible to recover. Therefore, G-d hastily redeemed the Jews before it was too late. Rabbi Schiller explains that for this reason G-d commanded that the Paschal Offering be eaten “in haste” (Exodus 12:11); eating from that sacrifice should be done quickly in imitation of G-d’s fast-acting miracles that brought the Exodus. In this way, the word Pesach is related to the word kefitzah, which denotes the speed of the jumper.

To summarize, the Exodus from Egypt has both an element of “skipping” and an element of “speed”, concepts which shed light on Rashi’s comment that Pesach is related to dilug and kefitzah. In redeeming the Jews, G-d waived the usual requirement that the recipient of Divine assistance actively show his commitment to Above. In essence, the Exodus basically “skipped over” (dilug) that general prerequisite for a miracle, a favor celebrated in the name Pesach. At the same time, the urgency and gravity of the dire situation demanded that G-d redeem the Jews immediately, and the speed (kefitzah) with which He did so is also immortalized in the very name of the Holiday of the Exodus — Pesach.

Before concluding I would like to point out another insight related to the Hebrew word pesach — and its verb form poseach. Those wordsshare their etymological root with the Hebrew word piseach (lame or immobile). The root of both words is the letter combination peh-samech-chet. This occurrence is a poignant example of a common phenomenon in the Hebrew language whereby words whose meanings are conceptually diametric opposite are sometimes phonetically/orthographically similar (i.e. they are spelled or pronounced the same). This phenomenon illustrates the notion that words in the Hebrew language are not mere happenstance based on human whims, but possess inherent meanings and follow a Divine intuition not found in other languages. Therefore, a paralyzed person or an amputee who has been rendered immobile is known as a piseach, a word which resembles the very mobile act of “jumping” (poseach).

  • Author’s note: Le’Zechut Refuah Shleimah for Bracha bat Chaya Rachel

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