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An Eternal Ordinance

“This day is to be a memorial for you. You are to keep it as a feast to the L-RD. Throughout your generations you are to keep it as an eternal ordinance.” – Exodus 12:14

Moshe explained in careful detail to B’nei Yisrael, what was to occur on their last night in Egypt (Mitzraim). Each family was to take a lamb on the tenth of Nissan, and keep it until the fourteenth of Nissan, when it would slaughtered. They were to take the blood of the lamb, “and strike it upon the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses, wherein they shall eat it” (Exodus 12:7). “The blood will serve you as a sign marking the houses where you are; when I see the blood, I will pass over [Hebrew: pasach] you when I strike the land of Egypt, the death blow will not strike you” (Exodus 12:13, Complete Jewish Bible).

The commandment to commemorate this event in the future was given before it occurred. This is the surety of H’Shem’s faithfulness. He commanded the Children of Israel to trust in Him, to the extent of protecting themselves from the Angel of Death, by following the one-time commandment, to take the blood of the Pesach lamb, and place it upon their doorways. This was an act of emunah (faith), and the commandment given to commemorate this event in the future, to remember (zikaron) their impending redemption, served as an assurance that all would proceed, according to H’Shem’s will.

Imagine being told that what will occur on a certain day would not only bring freedom from slavery; additionally, that event has already been placed on the calendar every year, so that future generations will commemorate that day. Yet, while still in Egypt, B’nei Yisrael was at risk of being further subjagated to the yetzer hara (evil inclination), especially because of the idolatrous ways that had negatively impacted their lives.

While in bondage in Mitzraim, the B’nei Yisrael had sunk to a low level of impurity, having neglected to distance themselves from the surrounding environment of idolatry. The Midrash records that when about to cross through the Sea of Reeds, the angels questioned their merit, saying both these and those, i.e., the Children of Israel and the Egyptians, were both idol worshippers. Why should these be spared, and the others not? Yet, H’Shem honored the covenant that he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in order to bring His newly acquired nation out of bondage, and into covenant relationship with Him through Torah.

H’Shem brought us out of Egypt, to Mount Sinai, where He gave us the Torah. He had said to Moses, “This shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain” (Exodus 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach). The revelation of Mount Sinai was the pinnacle of the redemption. Why? “The tables were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, graven upon the tables” (Exodus 32:16, JPS).

The Hebrew word for engrave is charut. The Sages note that the word cherut, freedom is from the same shoresh (root word). This implies that our freedom is derived through Torah. B’nei Yisrael was enslaved to sin in Egypt, having assimilated, to some degree, to the immorality of Egypt at that time. Although freed from slavery in Egypt, we were still slaves to sin; so, H’Shem gave us the Torah to free us from bondage to the yetzer harah (evil inclination).


Hidden Presence

Torah portion: Leviticus 22:26 – 23:44; Numbers 29:12-16

Although the Torah reading for the second day of Sukkot is the same as the first day, the haftorah is different. The haftorah for the first day of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:1-21) concerns the events leading up to the Final Redemption of Israel, and the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom. All of the peoples who are left on the face of the earth, after the Battle at Har Megiddo, will be required to send a delegation every year to Jerusalem, during Sukkot, in order to bring offerings for H’Shem. As is written, “All who survive of all those nations that came up against Jerusalem shall make a pilgrimage year by year to bow low to the King L’RD of Hosts and to observe the Feast of Booths” (Zechariah 14:16, JPS 1985 Tanach).

Haftorah: 1 Kings 8:2-21

“Now when the kohanim came out of the Holy Place, the cloud filled the House of the L’RD, so that the kohanim could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the L’RD filled the House of the L’RD. Then Solomon spoke: ‘The L’RD said that He would dwell in the thick cloud. I have surely built You a magnificent House, a place for Your dwelling forever.”

  • 1 Kings 8:10-13, TLV

The haftorah for the second day of Sukkot is about the event described as the inauguration of the first Temple (Beis HaMikdash), built by Solomon in Jerusalem, and inaugurated during the seven day festival of Sukkot. During the inauguration, the kohanim (priests) are overwhelmed by H’Shem’s presence, in the form of a Cloud that fills the sanctuary, Solomon’s words convey a deep understanding of H’Shem, no only a description of the physical phenomenon of the cloud: “The L’RD said that He would dwell in the thick cloud” (1 Kings 8:12, TLV). When did H’Shem say that He would dwell in the thick cloud? It is written in Torah, “And the L’RD said unto Moses: ‘Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee” (Exodus 19:9, JPS 1917 Tanach).

At Sinai, H’Shem appeared to Moses within the midst of a thick cloud visible to the people, encamped at the base of the mountain. This connotes the mystery of H’Shem’s presence, hidden within a cloud, unseen to those who stand outside of the cloud. However, Moses entered into the thick cloud, in order to commune with H’Shem. Elsewhere, it is written, “Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Psalms 97:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). Thus, both the passage, concerning Moses at Sinai, and the verse from tehillim (psalms) may be understood to convey a profound mystery.