Light from the Sidra

Pesach 1 (‘Passover 1’). 23rd April 2016. 15th Nisan 5776.

Torah: Exodus 12:21–51. Haftarah: Numbers 28:16–25; Joshua 5:2-6:1

Hashem has a little lamb

A letter dated 15th March 1931 reached me via a friend of a friend whose wife found it among her deceased father’s effects. The person who sent the original letter had been to hear Mark Kagan, the son of a rabbi, explain the meaning of Passover to a church group. The speaker told the group how, when he was a boy, just before Passover one year, he took the blood of a lamb his father had slaughtered and daubed its blood on the lintel and door post of an outhouse to see what the dwellings of the Israelites in Egypt might have looked like on the eve of the original Passover. The story puzzled me because, apart from some Sephardic Jews, the Jewish people today don’t eat lamb at Pesach. Nevertheless, whatever the explanation, daubing the blood of a lamb on the lintel and doorposts had resulted in a cross being formed on the door. Mark Kagan’s father was so furious that he promptly thrashed his son.

How ironic that a cross painted with the blood of a lamb on the doors of Israel saved the nation from the wrath of their heavenly Father but blood on the door of a Jewish home at the end of the nineteenth century provoked the wrath of a young Jew’s earthly dad!

Egypt had oppressed Israel and HASHEM could have annihilated the entire nation but in wrath God remembered mercy and declared he would kill only Egypt’s firstborn. But Israel was still in Egypt. How were the Israelites to be protected from the wrath of HASHEM? Israel’s redemption came through the blood of a lamb. The lamb, however, is not only the central focus of Passover but also of the Tanakh.

The Lamb of Divine Prerequisite
Since the moment of Adam’s disobedience, mankind has required a lamb by which to approach God. From the first recorded act of worship in human history, in Genesis 4, when Abel’s lamb was accepted by God and Cain’s fruit was rejected, we learn that in our approach to God, a lamb is the sine qua non. God can be approached only through a sacrificial lamb.

The Lamb of Divine Provision
The lamb as a prerequisite for worship was understood by Isaac. In Genesis 22, as he climbs one of the mountains of Moriah with his father to worship, he asks his father where their lamb is. Abraham speaks prophetically that God will provide a lamb but when God calls him to spare his son he provides a ram as a substitute for Isaac. As a prophet, Abraham had seen beyond the ram in the thicket. At some time in the future, God would provide the lamb for a sacrifice, which is why Abraham called the site HASHEM Yireh – ‘On the mountain HASHEM will be seen.’ Genesis Rabbah 56:3 says, ‘Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering (XXII, 6)—like one who carries the stake [on which he is to be executed] on his shoulder.’ Two thousand years later, on that same mountain, HASHEM would be seen carrying the stake on which he was to be executed as a substitute for the sins of Israel and the world!

The Lamb of Divine Protection
Nine terrible plagues had left Egypt ruined but Pharaoh still refused to let Israel go. HASHEM, Israel’s redeemer, unleashed one final plague that would break the stubborn will of his people’s oppressor. HASHEM would destroy the first-born of Egypt and Israel’s protection depended on the blood of lambs daubed on their doorposts and lintels. The angel of death would pass over the homes on which he saw the blood, leaving the first-born of those houses unharmed. ‘Messiah our Pesach is sacrificed for us’ says the First Letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament. Likewise, the First Letter of Yochanan explains that the shed blood of the Messiah provides forgiveness and acceptance with HASHEM.

The Lamb of Divine Perfection
The lamb was at the heart of Israel’s worship but the sacrificial victims had to be free from physical defect (Lev. 22:17-25). HASHEM’s contention with the Jewish people in the time of Malachi was that the priests presented to him lambs so inferior the priests would not have had the audacity to set them before the rulers. When the Messiah appeared, although there was nothing to set him apart physically from His fellow Jews, he nevertheless possessed a moral perfection that set Him apart as ‘a lamb without blemish and without spot’ (1 Peter. 1:19).

The Lamb of Divine Propitiation
Isaiah is arguably the most remarkable book in the Tanakh but the highest and most sublime point in the book is 52:13 – 53:12 in which the Righteous Servant of HASHEM is ‘led as a lamb to the slaughter’ (v.7) to be an Asham or ‘Guilt Offering’. Leviticus 5 consists of instructions relating to the Asham, When someone concealed knowledge under oath in court (Lev. 5:1), or touched an unclean thing (vv. 5:2-3), or swore falsely (v. 5:4) or embezzled holy things (vv. 14-16) they had to confess their sin and offer a lamb as an atonement. Astonishingly, in Isaiah 53:10, HASHEM says he will make his Righteous Servant an asham. He will lay on him the guilt of Israel in the way guilt was laid on the lambs, goats and bulls offered in the temple. The Servant’s sufferings will propitiate, or turn away, the wrath of God just as the blood of the Passover lambs protected the first-born in Egypt. In a sense, Isaiah 52:13 summarises the entire message of the Hebrew Scriptures: ‘Behold My servant.’

When we think about the judgement of God, our natural instinct is to compare ourselves to others. ‘I might not be as good as her but I’m definitely better than him.’ But God’s judgement isn’t based on whether we are better or worse than others. We’ve all failed to be what we ought to be and so, instead of looking to our own righteousness (or lack of it), HASHEM commands us to behold his perfectly righteous servant.

Israel in Egypt looked to the lamb to save them from the wrath of God, therefore we should look to the Messiah, ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ Who or what are you looking to protect you on the Day of HASHEM? Yourself? Your rabbi? Your religious observance? Your good intentions? HASHEM says, ‘’Behold My servant’!

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