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Choosing our covenant on seder night

“And the blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you: when I see the blood I will protect you, so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt,” (Shemot 12:13).

The blood of the pascal lamb on Israelite doorposts is a powerful image, one that both harkens back to Avraham and the blood of his circumcision, as well as foreshadows the imminent death of the firstborn Egyptians.

But when you picture that image, where do you picture the blood? From a simple reading of the verse, one could easily picture the outside of the doorpost smattered with red, as a sign for God to pass over the house.

Yet the midrash as quoted by Rashi points out that the opposite was actually true: the passage reads that it should be a sign for you; for you, and not for others. From here we learn that the blood was painted on the inside of their doorposts, and not the outside.

What would be the point of painting the inside of their doorposts with blood? If this is supposed to be a sign of the everlasting covenant between the Divine and Am Yisrael, then it should be facing outwards, showing all of Egypt, indeed the whole world, that God has chosen to redeem us.

The insistence of the midrash that the blood was on the inside, and that the sign was for us, implies a critical message: before we can be redeemed as a nation, we must be redeemed as individuals.

In order to clarify the concept of individual redemption, let’s look a bit closer at the concept of brit. As mentioned above, the blood from the pascal lamb and the blood of circumcision represents the covenant, the brit, between God and Am Yisrael.

But what is a brit, and why does God insist that at this auspicious moment, just hours before the Exodus, that we paint the door of our home with a symbol which represents the brit?

Rav Shagar teaches the following: “Brit means total devotion, but it has no meaning if it is not established out of absolute choice and freedom,” (Zman Shel Cherut, Charut al HaLuchot, pg. 167).

How wonderful that God heard the cries of suffering of Am Yisrael and decided to redeem them from their Egyptian captors. But a true brit requires choice. Though God can choose a nation, a nation cannot choose God. That choice can only be done on a personal level, inside each and every individual’s heart. Everyone who left Egypt had to look inside his or herself and choose God over Pharaoh.

What a choice, you might ask incredulously! Of course they would choose God over Pharaoh! But as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. Not everyone made it out of Egypt; as a matter of fact, the midrash asserts that only 20 percent left Egypt. That’s a shockingly low number of people who chose God over Pharaoh. So what happened?

Rav Kook famously writes that the difference between a slave and free person has nothing to do with physical circumstances; it is wholly dependent on the inner state of the person. Freedom, like brit, is a product of choice.

“True freedom is when a person or nation is driven by an exalted spirit to stay true to the inner essence and divine image within. One then feels that one’s life is motivated by a greater purpose that is aligned to one’s true self,” (Olat HaReiah 2, pg 245).

For Rav Kook, personal redemption means choosing to align one’s self with one’s true spirit, one’s truest expression of self. And what could be a deeper expression of that true self than to actively choose the brit between God and the Jewish people?

Despite the simple reading of the Exodus story, Rav Kook teaches us that true freedom cannot be forced upon an unwilling party. Personal redemption must come as a choice. And so too with brit. Each and every member of Am Yisrael was forced to ponder this question as they painted the blood on the inside of their door: do we choose the path of freedom, of brit, the path of Avraham, who journeyed into the unknown on a Divine promise, or do we choose the path of slavery, the path of Pharaoh, who chooses to alienate himself from God until his last breath?

Unfortunately, for many, the path of least resistance, the path of slavery, of alienation from the Divine and from self, was the path that they chose. But imagine the joy experienced by those who chose freedom as they left Egypt! “Am Yisrael left Egypt b’yad ramah, with great dignity.”

So as we sit in our own homes on Seder Night, we have a profound opportunity. Before we can see ourselves as leaving Egypt, as the Haggadah insists, we have to choose to accept the brit. Every relationship, including our relationship with the Divine, requires a choice to either receive or reject it.

It comes down to this question: true, I am a Jew, but do I actively choose to be a Jew, and choose a relationship with God, with all of the implications and questions and challenges that come with that choice? That choice is certainly not the path of least resistance. But it is through that choice, of choosing brit, that we find freedom. Once we make that choice and accept the brit, then and only then can we walk out of Egypt as a part of the Nation of Israel.

In loving memory of Soroh Perel bas Zorach and Frayda Laya bas Zorach, and in honor of Refoayl Nissin ben Zorach.

About the Author
Rabbi Yonatan Udren is the Co-Director of the RRG Beit Midrash at the Hebrew University Hillel, which offers Jewish educational programming for overseas and Israeli Hebrew University students from all backgrounds and denominations.
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