As many scholars have noted, the plagues that struck Egypt during the Exodus can be interpreted as being assaults on the various gods of Egypt: the Nile, the sun, even to the firstborn of Pharaoh. But after the “official” plagues have ended, one more Egyptian god will come under assault. “Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household” (12:3). God told the Israelites to acquire a lamb—which is not just an animal, but an Egyptian animal god. In other words, it seems as if God is telling the Israelites to get themselves an Egyptian lamb-god and therefore buy into the Egyptian religious system—which means becoming good Egyptians. The Israelites must live with their lamb-gods for four days. That’s enough time to become comfortable with their new gods. It is also enough time for their Egyptian neighbours to have seen them and to have therefore assumed that the Israelites are (finally) prepared to fit into Egyptian life.
Not so fast—The Israelites then slaughter their lambs. They dab the blood on the doorposts of their houses—in a place where everyone can see it. That is why a midrash portrays God as understanding that “as long as the Israelites worship the Egyptian gods, they shall not be redeemed. Withdraw your hands from idolatry and take a lamb, and therefore slaughter the gods of Egypt and make the Passover.”
The slaughtering of the lambs, therefore, did not only symbolise physical freedom and national redemption. It was also an outward manifestation of freedom from Egyptian idolatry—and, with that, the Israelites are ready to truly make their break with Egypt.
Today, killing lambs is not our idea of a good time, nor is it a symbolic act. But when our ancestors made their courageous break for freedom they had to break with every aspect of their enslavement. May we find the courage to break with poisoning traditions in our lives, which limit our own freedom as we enter this new secular year.
Shabbat Shalom—Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin)