February 4, 2006 - 6 Shevat 5766
Annual: Ex. 10:1 - 13:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 374; Hertz p. 248)
Triennial Cycle: Ex. 11:4 - 12:28 (Etz Hayim, p. 379; Hertz p. 252)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13 - 28 (Etz Hayim, p. 395; Hertz p. 263)
Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL
Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director
This portion climaxes in the great redemption of the Israelites from Egypt. God brings two more plagues on Egypt, locusts and a thick darkness, where people could not see one another for three days. Pharaoh tries to work out a compromise, letting the Israelites go taking their elders but not the young ones. Moses insists that "with our young and with our old we will go." Pharaoh tells Moses to leave and not show his face again. And Moses warns of the worst plague of all, the slaying of the firstborn.
Moses introduces the laws of the Passover. The festival will take place in the first month of the year, on the 14th of the month, when the moon is full. Each family shall slaughter a lamb and place the blood on the doorposts of the house. Two or more families can share a lamb; there must be no leftovers. The lamb is to be roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The Israelites shall stay fully dressed and keep their shoes on as they eat, so they will be prepared to travel.
The children of Israel shall keep the Passover throughout their generations for seven days. No unleavened bread may be eaten or even kept anywhere in the house. The first and the seventh days are full festivals, where no work may be done. If the children ask what this is, you shall tell them how the Lord passed over our homes and struck the homes of the Egyptians."
A plague strikes every Egyptian home at midnight. There is no home without someone dead, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the mere maidservant and the firstborn of cattle. The Egyptians gave gold and silver to the Israelites urging them to flee. The Israelites left Egypt without allowing the dough time to rise.
Issue #1 - Each Child's Uniqueness
"And you shall explain to your son on that day, it is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt" (Exodus 13:8)
- The word Haggada comes from the Hebrew root meaning "to tell." Perhaps the most important of the Passover mitzvot is the responsibility to tell our children the story of the exodus from Egypt. In fact, this portion commands us no less than three times to tell the story to our children. In case we missed the point, the commandment appears for a fourth time in the book of Deuteronomy. The Torah usually uses words sparingly, but tells us four times to tell our children. Why?
- The Haggada supplies an answer. Because the Torah mentions telling children four times, it deduces that there are four kinds of children at the Passover seder - the wise (who asks all the right questions), his opposite number, who does not want to be there and demonstrates it verbally, the simple, and the child who is too young to ask. The Haggada goes on to say, "According to a child's mind, the father explains it." What is the Haggada trying to teach us? Does the Haggada demonstrate a specific theory of education? Is the Haggada providing a lesson in parenting?
- Could it be there are not four different children but that every child goes through each of these stages in life? Could a child be too young to ask, then able to ask only simple questions, then later (perhaps in the teen years) be rebellious and not want to be there, and finally grow into wisdom? Should our seder evolve as our children grow?
- Every child is unique. And if we are to teach our children, we must teach them according to their particular uniqueness. Is it a mistake to assume there is one generic way to teach children? What does this say about standardized testing and similar assessment tools? What does the Bible mean when it says "Teach a son according to his way, when he grows up he will not depart from it?" (Proverbs 22:6). Teaching our children begins with recognizing each child's uniqueness.
Issue #2 - Darkness
"People could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he was; but all the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings" (Exodus 10:23)
- If the slaying of the firstborn was the worst plague, darkness was the next to worst. Why? It was not simply darkness, the rabbis explained; it was so dark that people could not see each other. Barbra Streisand once sang, "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world." Does being cut off from others make a punishment worse? Why do people need people?
- It's more than just a song. Babies left alone and untouched in an orphanage suffer from a "failure to thrive." How important the human touch is in raising children! Long ago, the Torah taught us that "it is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). Of course, the Torah is speaking about finding a wife for the first man. But in a broader sense, could it be talking about the need for community? A wise rabbi once said regarding Adam in the Garden of Eden, "To have everything and nobody is to have nothing."
- A wonderful passage in the Talmud teaches, "Look how hard Adam had to work. If he wanted a meal he had to plant a seed, and then he had to harvest it, and then he had to winnow the chaff, and then he had to knead the dough and bake the bread. Whereas I can come to table and others have done all these things for me.... When Adam wanted to wear a garment, he had to cut the wool from the sheep, and then he had to wash it, and then he had to spin it and sew it. Whereas I go to the store, and all the work has been done for me by others" (Berachot 58a). Humans are interdependent. How can we strengthen our community? When we speak of touching someone, what can that mean beyond the physical?