Published Date: January 27, 2017
G‑d commands the first commandment to be given to the people of Israel: to establish a calendar based on the monthly rebirth of the moon. The Israelites are also instructed to bring a “Passover offering” to G‑d: a lamb or kid is to be slaughtered, and its blood sprinkled on the doorposts and lintel of every Israelite home, so that G‑d should pass over these homes when He comes to kill the Egyptian firstborn. The roasted meat of the offering is to be eaten that night together with matzah (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs.
The death of the firstborn finally breaks Pharaoh’s resistance, and he literally drives the children of Israel from his land. So hastily do they depart that there is no time for their dough to rise, and the only provisions they take along are unleavened. Before they go, they ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold, silver and garments—fulfilling the promise made to Abraham that his descendants would leave Egypt with great wealth.
The children of Israel are commanded to consecrate all firstborn, and to observe the anniversary of the Exodus each year by removing all leaven from their possession for seven days, eating matzah, and telling the story of their redemption to their children. They are also commanded to wear tefillin on the arm and head as a reminder of the Exodus and their resultant commitment to G‑d.
In this week’s Torah reading, we read of the devastation of the Egyptian nation through the final three of the Ten Plagues. In the Haftara Prophets reading, Jeremiah 46:13–28, we read of the punishment that G‑d visited upon Egypt centuries later, through the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.
G‑d reveals Egypt’s fate to Jeremiah: “Proclaim it in Egypt and let it be heard in Migdol, and let it be heard in Noph and in Tahpanhes. Say, ‘Stand fast and prepare yourself, for the sword has devoured round about you.’” The prophet then goes on to describe Egypt’s helplessness and the destruction that it will incur at the hands of the Babylonians.
The haftorah ends with G‑d’s assurance to the Jewish people not to fear, for though they too will be punished and exiled, ultimately they will be redeemed:
“You fear not, O Jacob My servant, and be not dismayed, O Israel! for behold, I will redeem you from afar, and your children from the land of their captivity, and Jacob shall return and be quiet and at ease, and there shall be none who disturb his rest. You fear not, My servant Jacob, says the L‑rd, for I am with you, for I will make a full end of all the nations where I have driven you.”