Parashat Bo – Erev Shabbat 27 January 2023 (5783)
Week of 22-28 January 2023
Torah portion: Exodus 10:1-13:16 Haftarah: Jer 46:13-28Theme: The Blood of the Lamb
A couple of Sundays ago the gospel reading at my church was about John’s witnessing to Jesus: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) These words were still echoing in my mind as I was reading today’s parashah, so all I could notice were references to the Passover lamb and its blood. I decided it would be a good opportunity to examine more closely what the meaning of this lamb’s blood is in the rabbinic tradition.
The blood of the lamb is mentioned in three places in today’s parashah. The first one is within a set of general instructions about what to do on Passover night, including the slaughter of the lamb and the smearing of its blood around the entrance to the house (12:7). The second calls this blood a sign that marks out the people who follow the instructions, and they are protected from destruction because of this sign (12:13). The third passage talks in detail about how to perform the spreading of the blood on the door and repeats that the destroyer will not enter the house marked with the lamb’s blood (12:23). Together these texts teach the reader that blood is a crucial part of the Passover ritual, of slaughtering the lamb for Passover. It is actually a matter of life and death: those who mark themselves with the blood will live, all the others will die.
After making these conclusions from the biblical text, it was interesting to see that the classic rabbinic text “The Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael” says very little about the meaning of the blood in the Passover ritual. There are only three short commentaries or Midrashim about it. The first two talk about the meaning of “see” in the passage “And when [God] sees the blood” (Ex.12:23). The commentators note that God is able to see the blood in the darkness of the Passover night and protects his people as a reward for their obedience to his command (Pisha 12). Another Midrash connects God’s seeing at the Exodus to God seeing Abraham who offered Isaac: God will note one’s sacrifice and will bless the one who makes it (Pisha 12).
The third Midrash is the most interesting for those of us who think about the Lamb of God while reading this parashah. The ‘Mekhilta’ here points out that the Scripture promises that the destroyer will not enter the houses marked by the blood. Moreover, says this Midrash, the Jewish people have also placed the word of God, the Mezuzah on their doorposts. This should be more than enough protection against the destroyer ever entering their houses. But it has not happened: the destroyer has still managed to enter these homes. “How is it possible?” asks the Midrash and offers an answer: it was caused by “our sins”. (“The Mekhilta”, 62.)
The blood of the Passover lamb is significant and crucially important in the Exodus. However, the rabbis warn that there is no magic in it: if we do not keep our lives free of sin, the destroyer will still find us. It is a good reminder for us as well as we finish the season of Epiphany and start preparing for Lent.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Read the three passages on the sacrificial blood and discuss how you understand their meaning! 2. How do you think we could keep the Lamb’s blood on our doorposts?
Bibliography: The Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael. Translated by Jacob Z. Lauterbach (Philadelphia: 2004)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Rota Stone, New Zealand, Bat Kol Alumna: 2002, 2003