Nissan is perhaps the busiest month of the year. A tremendous amount of work is put in, all in preparation for Pesach. From the end of Purim until bedikas chometz our focus is Pesach, Pesach, and Pesach. Now, if this word resounds in our head for so long, we should at least understand what it means. This word “Pesach” literally translates as “pass over.” The terminology stems from the verse (Shemos 12:27) “Hashem passed over the houses of the Children of Israel when He smote [the firstborns of] Egypt.” Strangely, it seems that the holiday’s name came from the last of the 10 plagues. Even if you will argue that the last plague was the deadliest and it was only afterwards that Pharaoh freed us, what is so special about the “passing over” aspect of the plague? Why was this minute detail chosen to sum up the essence of the holiday?
Interestingly, the Yom Tov is not the only thing that carries the name “pesach.” The sacrifice that was offered when the Beis HaMikdash stood was also called by this name. While one might think that the korban pesach was called thus because it was offered on Pesach, a careful reading of the Torah dispels such a notion. “And they said ‘It is a Pesach Offering to Hashem, for He passed over the houses of the Children of Israel when He smote [the firstborns of] Egypt’.” We see that both the Yom Tov and the offering were independently called “Passover.” Why?
In my search for an understanding of the importance of the word, I came across the mishnah of Rabban Gamliel in the Haggadah. “Rabban Gamliel used to say ‘Whoever doesn’t say these three things on Pesach, hasn’t fulfilled his obligation: Pesach, Matzah, and Maror.’” In this case, pesach is referring to the offering, as evidenced by the subsequent elucidation which begins with the words “this pesach that we would eat…” This teaching is hard to understand. Marror and matzah are obviously central themes. Marror is the reliving of the bitter enslavement and matzah is the under-eighteen-minutes redemption. But where does the korban pesach fit in? What makes it so important that it is crucial to the fulfillment of the mitzvah of Pesach night?
Lastly, let’s analyze the mitzvah of Korech. This step of the Seder is when we take the pesach, matzah, and marror and eat them all together. Why do we do this? All three mitzvos are fulfilled individually at different parts of the Seder. So why must we do them all again? What is gained by eating these three things as a sandwich?
Before we answer these questions, let’s analyze the laws of the korban pesach. This offering has an inordinate amount of mitzvos attached to it. The sheep must be roasted and not cooked in water. It may not be cut up and must be put on the spit whole. The Torah forbids breaking a single bone in the sheep’s body. The list goes on and on. What is the meaning behind all these laws? Why does the korban pesach have these particular details? To make matters worse, the korban pesach is called Ha’Avodah – “the service [of Hashem]”, as if to imply that this offering is the prototype for all others. Yet, no other korban is like this one! How can we understand this?
The Maharal explains the laws of korban pesach as follows: All of its details are directed towards one idea; namely, the oneness of Hashem. The world is not controlled by good forces and bad forces that struggle for supremacy. Rather, everything comes from one – The Almighty Master of the universe. The korban must be kept in one piece to allude to this idea. The bones must remain whole and may not be broken in two. It cannot be cooked in mayim – a word that only exists in the plural; rather it must be roasted – a method which removes all mayim and compacts the meat into one piece.Shaya Winiarz
About the Author: Shaya Winiarz is a student of the Rabbinical Seminary of America (a.k.a. Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim). He is also a lecturer, columnist, and freelance writer. He can be reached for speaking engagements or freelance writing at email@example.com.
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