Why is the performance of so many commandments necessary in order to help us remember the Exodus from Egypt?

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

As most readers know, Passover is an eight-day holiday (seven days in Israel) that commemorates the Jewish People’s redemption from slavery in Egypt.

There are so many laws surrounding Passover that it’s mind-boggling. Sadly, most of the Passover laws cannot be observed today due to the lack of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

For example, the holy Passover lamb cannot be offered or eaten in our day and age as the Torah requires. The preparation, offering and eating of this sacrifice was an intricate and detailed celebration that began on the afternoon before Passover began.

The Passover sacrifice would be roasted over an open fire, as in those days, eating roasted meat was a sign of wealth and royalty.

So too, we use our finest dishes for the Passover Seder, and we also lean at various points in the Seder –– all this and more to symbolize that we are a free nation under God. Indeed, there are more commandments associated with Passover than for any other holiday.

So why is that? Why is the performance of so many commandments necessary in order to help us remember the Exodus from Egypt?

Let’s take a look where it all began. The Jews in Egypt were commanded to prepare their sheep for the Passover offering four days before it was to be offered. The reason for the four-day preparation was because the Jews in Egypt had gotten all caught up with idol worship, just like their Egyptian neighbors. 

In order to wean them off their idol worship, God had them take a sheep, the main object of worship of the Egyptians, and prepare it as a sacrifice.

However, the question is asked: The preparation of the Passover sacrifice took place between the ninth and tenth plagues. One would certainly think that after seeing so many open miracles, the Jewish people would have rejected their idolatry quite some time ago and fully embraced the One God.

Indeed, they were willing to offer a sacrifice to Him! So why did the Jewish people need four days needed to wean them off idolatry? It seems that they dropped their belief in idolatry quite some time before this!

The answer: Habits. Bad Habits.

Of course the Jews believed exclusively in God by this time. However, they were so accustomed to the Egyptian religion that it was hard for them to break the habit, to change their routines. Habits aren’t broken overnight no matter how dedicated a person may be to changing them…it takes time.

One must gradually move from the bad habit to the new ‘clean’ path. Cold turkey doesn’t work for most people.

Here too, ‘seeing’ the open miracles of God wasn’t enough to fully wean the Jews off idolatry, they had to do, they had to personally involve themselves in changing their habits and changing their routines. Performing an action to change one’s ways is far more effective than merely seeing something, no matter how inspiring it may be.

This may also explain why Passover has so many commandments associated with it. In order to truly appreciate Passover, to appreciate the Exodus from Egypt and the transformation from slavery to freedom, we need to be busy! We need to do things that give us the feeling of having been slaves and being free men.

That’s why we eat bitter herbs at the Passover Seder, but we also drink four cups of the finest wine. Rolling up your sleeves and doing something is the way for something to have an effect on you, not merely seeing or dreaming about it!

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