For Reform Jews, the reading for the first day of Peasch is Exodus 12:37-42 and 13:3-10. These verses are a part of parashat Bo.
The Torah portion for Pesach focuses on the Israelites' exodus from Egypt. The people leave in such haste that there is no time to let their bread dough rise. As they flee Mitzrayim the unfinished dough is baked into unleavened cakes called matzah.
According to the Torah, the Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years. 600,000 Israelites escaped from Egypt along with their children, livestock and a mixed multitude of other peoples. Moses tells the people never to forget what Adonai has done for them. To eternally remember the liberation from slavery, the Israelites are commanded to eat matzah for seven days and to retell the story of the exodus to their children for all generations to come.
This Torah portion instructs us to share the events of the Exodus from Egypt with our children. The holiday dedicated to the memory of these events is, of course, Passover. Even if one has no children, the obligation to retell the story remains.
In the Haggadah we read, "In every generation, each person is to see him or herself as having personally come out of Egypt...For Adonai did not deliver only our ancestors, but delivered us along with them." Maimonides created a word play reinterpreting the word "to see" (in Hebrew lerot) as "to show" (in Hebrew l'harot). He wrote, "In every generation each person is to show him or herself...as having personally been a slave and having personally gone forth to freedom" (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Hametz Umatza 7:6).
The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, literally means "narrow places." Mitzrayim was a narrow and confining place for the Israelites. Mitzrayim confined the Israelites not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.
Many of the commandments given in the Torah come with the admonition to remember (in Hebrew zachor) the experience we had as slaves. Mitzvot which are clearly related to our experience as slaves include treating others fairly and being kind to strangers. The word zachor is very powerful for us. However, to remember doesn't mean that we only recall memories of our past. The commandment to remember is also a call for action. When we "remember" by the performance of mitzvot we demonstrate commitment to the past (from which we learn), the present (in which we act), and the future (in which, hopefully, mitzvot will be no longer be necessary). Through the act of remembering we also affirm our partnership with God. We ask God to remember and fulfill the covenants made with our ancestors since the time of Abraham and with all the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
- Describe a special, personal Jewish memory. What makes the memory so significant to you? In what ways has this memory affected how you behave? In what ways does this memory still inspire you? Who have you shared this memory with? How does it feel when you tell others this story?
- The Pesach Haggadah says that we are to feel as though we ourselves were slaves and were personally freed by God. In what ways did the years in Mitzrayim confine our ancestors physically, emotionally, and spiritually? When in your own life have you felt stuck in a narrow place? How did you escape? What resources helped you to become free? What lessons did you learn from the entire experience?
- Maimonides calls upon us to show that we were slaves in Egypt. How can we personally demonstrate that we have experienced slavery and the Exodus from Egypt? What actions or behaviors show our knowledge and memory of those experiences?
- It has been written that when we were liberated from Egyptian bondage we were not just "free from" the hardship and misery of slavery, but now we were "free to" worship God. What responsibilities do you think came with our freedom?
- Open up a Haggadah and look at the section with the Four Children. What are their memories of the Exodus? What makes one wise, one simple, one evil and one without even the ability to ask? Why do you think the Haggadah uses these examples? What can we learn from each of the Four Children?
- What memories will you have of this Pesach? Consider writing down your memories, taking photos, and making tape recordings of this year's preparations for the holiday and the seder itself to share and to treasure from year to year.
Did you know... a special count down called sephirat ha-omer, the counting of the omer, begins from the second day of Pesach until the holiday of Shavuot? The counting of the omer runs for seven weeks and commemorates the period between the Exodus from Egypt to the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The omer was a sheaf of barley, the first grain to ripen in the spring. The omer was brought to the Temple as an offering on Passover. From Pesach to Shavuot all the other foods of the harvest would be ripening. The people depended upon these foods were very concerned about the outcome of the harvest. Tradition also looked at this period as the time when the Jewish people were spiritually ripening and getting ready not merely for an agriculutral harvest but for receiving the Torah.
Yom Rishon shel Pesach, Exodus 12:37‒42, 13:3‒10
The Torah, A Modern Commentary, pp. 462-470; Revised Edition, pp. 414-416;
The Torah, A Women's Commentary, pp. 368‒371