06 April 2012

This is How You Shall Eat It . . .

The moon is almost full. Tonight it achieves it will achieve its whole fullness. It was this way at the exodus. It would have been on a night such as this that God says that God “will go out in the midst of Egypt., and that every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of pharaoh who sits on his throne to the first born of the maidservant who is behind the millstone and all the firstborn of beast.” It is tonight that several hundred thousand people will leave slavery and begin their march towards freedom.
I am fascinated by the composition of this tale. Someone wrote this story down many, many years ago, but they were intent on communicating the intense drama and excitement that this night portended. The full moon was an essential detail. How else might the people find their way out into the desert? How insightful to have situated the exodus on a night such as this!
And then come the directions for the preparations: after all, the people will be entering the desert and they will not stop for meals. They are directed: On the tenth of the month each household must gather a lamb or kid goat, but if the household is too small, then neighbors shall share a lamb or a kid: “everyone according to what he eats shall be counted for the lamb or kid.” Nothing will be wasted and no one will remain hungry. That lamb must be kept until the 14th day of the month and then it shall be slaughtered and its blood placed on the doorposts. And then the lamb or kid must be eaten “roasted over the firewith matzos and bitter herbs they shall eat it.” Of course, this is the model for the Seder that we will celebrate tonight, though at that moment the story that we will tell had not yet occurred.
And then the author(s) added this: “You shall not leave any of it until morning; any of it that is left until morning you shall burn in the fire . . . So shall you eat it: your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; you shall eat it in haste.” I love the drama in those lines. Be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Long sought freedom is at hand and nothing should hold anyone back. This is how you shall eat it: expectantly and with some haste.
I sometimes think that our ability to write great literature has developed over time: Henry James trumps Gilgamesh any day, I suppose. But I find in the story of the exodus such skill in the narrative style that equals any writing with which I am familiar. The full moon; the elaborate preparations; the explicit directions for the meal all portend a great event and I read the narrative breathlessly each year. And when I see the moon full I imagine the great multitude their loins girded, the shoes on their feet and with their staffs in their hand, moving almost silently out of slavery.
Happy Passover! 


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