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Torah Sparks

February 3, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Exodus 10:1-13:16; Hertz Chumash, page 248
Triennial Cycle III: Exodus 12:29-13:16; Hertz Chumash, page 258
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28; Hertz Chumash, page 263

(10:1-29) The eighth plague, locusts, and the ninth, darkness.

(11:1-3) God announces to Moses the last and decisive plague, and instructs him to tell the people to prepare for leaving by asking the Egyptians for jewels and gold, which the Egyptians, overawed by events and by Moses’ apparent power, readily give.

(11:4-10) Moses announces the tenth plague to Pharaoh, and the slaying of all the first-born of Egypt, but God hardens Pharaoh’s heart and he does not respond to this final ultimatum.

(12:1-13) The Passover sacrifice in Egypt. The Israelites are commanded to take a lamb, slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan, at twilight, mark the doorposts of their houses with its blood, and eat the lamb on the eve of the 15th. On that same night, God struck down all the first-born of Egypt.

(12:14-20) Passover for the generations: The Israelites are commanded to observe this festival, the 15th of Nisan, for all time. For the entire seven days of the festival they shall not eat, or even possess, any leaven.

(12:21-28) Moses and Aaron convey the Passover commandments to the people.

(12:29-36) The first-born of Egypt all die, and the Egyptians capitulate. The Israelites prepare to leave.

(12:37-42) The Israelites leave Egypt.

(12:43-13:10) The laws of the Paschal lamb sacrifice for future generations, the dedication to God of the firstborn, and further details concerning the observance of Passover.

(13:11-16) Laws concerning redemption of the first-born, the telling of the Passover story, and the tefillin.

Discussion Theme 1: Who’s Sorry Now?

And Pharaoh arose in the night, with all his courtiers and all the Egyptians - because there was a loud cry in Egypt; for there was no house where there was not someone dead. He summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said, “Up, depart from among my people, you and the Israelites with you! Go, worship the Lord as you said! (Exodus 12:30-31)

  1. This tells us that he (Pharaoh) went around to the doors of the city and cried, “Where does Moses live? Where does Aaron live?” (Mechilta and Rashi)
  2. This happened because Moses and Aaron lodged close to the vicinity of the palace that night so that Moses’ words would be fulfilled, as he said, ”and all these courtiers shall come down unto me, and bow down unto me, saying: Get thee out”. (Ex.11:8) And when Pharaoh came to them, they sent messengers to the land of Goshen where the children of Israel dwelled, giving them permission to leave, and they all assembled in Rameses. By that time, it was already well into the day. From there they journeyed with a high hand, with Moses at their lead... since from the time Pharaoh gave them permission to go, which was at night, they were already deemed as going forth form Egypt... This teaches us that the redemption from bondage took place at night although the actual exodus took place during the day. (Ramban)

Discussion Sparks:

Why isn’t it enough that Pharaoh let us go, why does it matter if it was day or night? Why is it so important that the prophecies of Moses are fulfilled exactly as he recited them? Why must there always be a reconciliation between every text in the entire Torah? Is this in order to give the Torah credence? Could the Torah still be true if there were some “unexplained” inconsistencies? Where do we go to find answers when there are seeming inconsistencies?

Discussion Theme 2: The Dangers of Being First

The Lord spoke further to Moses, saying, “Consecrate to Me every first-born; man and beast, the first issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine.” (Exodus 13:1-2)

  1. There is no evidence that human sacrifice was ever legitimate in Israel and that the redemption of the first-born was a substitutional offering to compensate G-d for the loss of human sacrifice. It is likely that such a link existed in prehistoric times and that an awesome, mysterious relationship between the first-born and the Creator was felt to have continued. The exodus experience deepened this bond and made the redemption of the first-born into a permanent rite of gratitude rather than substitution. (W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary; p. 468)
  2. What is the meaning of the Fast of the First Born (on the day before Pesach)? If the first-born is celebrating their salvation from the final plague, why a fast and not a celebration? And if they do fast, why is this fast so easily broken with a siyyum, a celebration upon the completion of a Massechet of Talmud? The answer, according to one commentator is that the real reason for the fast is the sorrow of the first-born over losing the prerogative of leading the family in the sacrificial service. When the People of Israel worshiped the golden calf, the ritual duties of the first-born were taken from them and given to the Levites, who were designated as the first-born of all Israel. Since the pascal sacrifice was slaughtered on the day before Pesach, this is the day that the first-born miss this duty that once brought them closer to G-d. So they fast on the day before Pesach for the sin that caused them to lose their ritual leadership. The reason we break the fast after our study is because the first-born realize with our study that talmud Torah keneged kulam “the study of Torah is better than anything” and they are comforted for their loss. (My thanks to Professor Israel Frankus of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who shared this with my Talmud Class when I was his student)

Discussion Sparks:

The Torah is full of places where it puts the first-born ahead of all the other children in a family. Not only the first-born of humans, but even the firstlings of animals and the first fruits of the harvest; they all belong to G-d. Why does G-d demand the first of everything we own? What does this teach us about the relationship we have with G-d? Why is the sacrifice of the first-born considered better than a sacrifice of something that came later? Do we give up the first of anything to G-d anymore? With whom do you share the many “firstm oments” in your life?

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