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Corona and Korban Pesach?

Nissan 5780 | April 2020
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“Ad Chatzot:” Finding Significance in the Korban Pesach

Every year we read the famous words of Rabban Gamliel in the haggadah: “Whoever does not make mention of these three things on Pesach does not fulfill his duty. And these are: pesach, matzah, and bitter herbs.”[1] It makes sense to place such significance on matzah and maror, mitzvot which we can still perform. But why does the korban Pesach, which after the churban habayit we can no longer take part in, hold such a central role at the seder? A deeper look into the significance of the korban Pesach may explain its ongoing relevance, especially today.

One of the most widely known ways which the korban Pesach is commemorated on seder night is by refraining from preparing roasted meat in memory of the sacrifice which was eaten in the time of the Temple during the meal.[2] However, there are several proactive parts of the seder which relate to the korban Pesach, transmitting some of its significance even in its absence.

The biblical source for the korban Pesach appears in Shemot chapter 12, which describes it within the context of both “Pesach Mitzrayim” (the first Egyptian Pesach) and “Pesach Dorot,” (Pesach for generations to come). The emphasis in the verses describing the first Pesach sacrifice emphasize that the ritual was done mainly by household units.[3] Moreover, some of the blood from the korban was put on the doors of the houses and when G-d saw the blood, G-d skipped over (pasach) and protected these homes.[4] Rashi explains that even though G-d skipped over the homes with this marking, actually the blood was put on the inside of the doorposts and for that reason is described as “a sign to you.” (Shemot 12:13). Hence, the Torah highlights two aspects of the original korban Pesach: 1) that it was celebrated in homes as a family unit and 2) that it was a visual reminder for those experiencing the exodus that they had actively chosen to have faith in the future and believe in Hashem and embrace mitzvot. This pesach “service” was also commanded for the future to bnei Yisrael to keep each year (while the Temple stood).[5]

Today, when there is no mikdash nor sacrifices, there are various symbols and practices connected to the korban Pesach which remain with us throughout the seder:

  • One of the reasons for the z’roa on the seder plate is that it is symbolic of the korban Pesach meat which was placed on the table and eaten in Temple times.[6]
  • Hallel is said in two parts on seder night. One of the reasons given is that the korban Pesach was eaten in between.
  • Even though today the afikomen which we eat is matzah, it has its roots in the korban Pesach, which was also eaten with matzah and maror. According to the gemara it was the practice not to eat anything after the afikomen so that the taste of the korban Pesach remained in one’s mouth till morning.[7]

The concept that the meal and reciting of hallel should take place before chatzot is based on a dispute between tannaitic rabbis. Rabbi Elazer ben Azaryah held that one should complete the meal by chatzot since that is when the original korban Pesach was eaten, whereas Rabbi Akiva holds that one can eat it until the dawn, since that is the time of the actual exodus. The halacha follows the opinion of Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya and  the Shulchan Aruch states that the meal must be completed by chatzot, based on the final time one could eat the korban Pesach.[8]

This year in particular, while we experience the concerns and challenges related to the coronavirus which has confined many of us to our homes, the memory of the korban Pesach has even more significance. Just as in Pesach mitzrayim, seder night is an opportunity to focus inwards to our homes and families, draw on the strength from our belief in Hashem, reinforce our faith in the future and pray that the mitzvot of seder night bring about healing, protection and redemption. Chag Sameach.

 

[1] Mishna Pesachim 10:5 and the Pesach Haggadah.

[2] Talmud Bavli Pesachim 53a, Shulchan Aruch Or Hachayim 178:1.

[3] Shemot 12: 3,4,7 and 13.

[4] Shemot 12:13 and Mishna Pesachim 10:5

[5] Shemot 12:21-28.

[6] Talmud Bavli Pesachim 114b and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 473:4.

[7] Talmud Bavli Pesachim 119b and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 477:1.

[8] Talmud Bavli Pesachim 120b and Shulchan aruch 477:1 (the Rema adds that Hallael.

 

Karen Miller Jackson

is a Jewish educator and writer, who studies and teaches at Matan HaSharon and recently completed Matan HaSharon’s Morot l’Halakha program. She has an MA in Talmud and Midrash from NYU.