For the week ending 6 April 2024 / 27 Adar Bet 5784

Taamei Hamitzvos - The Pesach Offering

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Reasons Behind the Mitzvos: The Pesach Offering

By Rabbi Shmuel Kraines

“Study improves the quality of the act and completes it, and a mitzvah is more beautiful when it emerges from someone who understands its significance.” (Meiri, Bava Kama 17a)

Mitzvos #5-8 and #16; Shemos Ch.12

We have a mitzvah to commemorate the Exodus by offering a young sheep or goat on the 14th of Nissan and eating its meat on the eve of the 15th. We will explore some of the reasons for the various elements of this mitzvah:

Lamb or kid: The Egyptians would worship sheep and goats. By slaughtering the god of the Egyptians, we were rejecting idol worship and taking for ourselves monotheism instead.

One of the reasons why the Egyptians would worship these animals is that they were Zodiac signs. The lamb is first and foremost of the twelve Zodiac signs that is known as “Aries,” and the kid is the seventh sign that is known as “Capricorn.” During the month of Nissan, the lamb usually rises in the morning and the kid usually rises at midnight. The Exodus began at midnight with the slaughtering of the Egyptian firstborns that compelled Pharaoh to let us go, and the redemption concluded at sunrise when we left Egypt. Thus, we may take either a young goat, which symbolizes the beginning of the redemption, or a young sheep, which symbolizes the culmination of the redemption (Rav Chaim Paltiel and Chasam Sofer).

Roasted: We must specifically roast the meat and not cook it. One idea behind this is that there is a commandment to burn idols, so we subject the symbol of the Egyptian idol to fire. In addition, roasting emits a far greater aroma than cooking, so it is a more public demonstration of our breaking away from Egyptian idolatry (Zohar Vol. II 18a). Roasting is how meat is prepared for royalty, and the Pesach offering must therefore be roasted to symbolize our becoming a royal nation. Roasting is the quickest way to prepare meat, and this reminds us of the hasty manner in which Hashem took us out of Egypt on that day. We may not leave over the meat to be eaten on the next day for the same two reasons, that the way of royalty is to eat fresh meat, and that we need to eat it hastily (Sefer HaChinuch).

In families: Each Jewish family in Egypt ate the Pesach offering together. This requirement alludes to the fact that the bondage in Egypt had been decreed because Yosef’s brothers sold him to slavery. Now that this sin had been rectified and the Jewish people were going free, they had to demonstrate the value of a family bond (Rav Menachem HaBavli).

Without breaking bones: The meat had to be eaten hastily, with no time to break bones in order to extract the marrow (Rashbam). In addition, it is not respectful of the offering to break bones in the manner of gluttons. It is therefore eaten on a full stomach so that nobody will come to break bones to extract their marrow out of hunger (Chizkuni).

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