Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pesach: The Iron[y] Age, or: Wait For It…

L’fi rov shittos of historians, the Iron Age starts around 1200 BCE, or k’misparenu, 2560.

Give or take a few years, that’s rather close to yitizias mitzrayim.  [It’s closer to the kibush actually, but without the geula there's no kibush, so…who cares about exactitude anyway?  What is this, p’sak?  In theory, it might be more accurate to tie in the inundation of the Pharaonic retinue in the Red Sea to the Collapse of the Bronze Age, which would not only herald the dawn of the Iron Age, but provide a further irony, thus further underscoring my point.  Ad kan.]

In any case, it really might have been a demarcation in more ways than one.  The dawn of the Iron Age AND Yitzias Mitzrayim are rich in…irony.  [And not the kind they spray onto sugar cereals, including Crispy-O’s.]

But in the grand tradition: I’m going to make you Wait For It…like the haggadah does when it quotes Pesachim 116a: “Yachol MeRosh Chodesh”…no, G-d made us Wait For It.

The hava amina that the mitzvah of sippur yetzias mitrayim should start from Rosh Chodesh Nissan can be taken one step further to the first Rashi in the entire Torah, quoting the medrash [or—as some posit—his own father] that the Torah should really start with Rosh Chodesh Nissan: as the Torah is really a sefer mitzvos, it makes sense that it begins with the first mitzvah in the Torah given to the Jews as a collective.

Irony number one: the Torah—which should start with just “us”—doesn’t.  And even the starting point where is ostensibly our first mitzvah makes us unique HAS to be defined against the "other" on two levels: first, that we have an exclusive calendar for our own purposes, but it’s defined against everyone else's calendar [cf. TB R”H, which delineates between R”C Nisan for OUR kings and R”C Tishrei for everyone else's—even though [further irony] the “goyishe” kings dates are from where we count “misparenu”.  And don’t even get me started on the avoda zara of month names, especially Tammuz…]

Irony number two:  the Korban Pesach itself was designated as sheep particularly to counter [and desecrate]  the idolatrous practices of the host Egyptians, who worshiped sheep.  So—like our calendar—our defining sacrifice is defined as a contraindication rather than sui generis.

Irony number three: this time—Pesach is only one day; especially in terms of chametz.  The matzah was eaten bechipazon, but BEFORE they hit the road.  The irony itself my be attributable to a sicha of R’ Aharon Lichtenstein regarding how the difference between the way Pesach was ostensibly less machmir the first time actually speaks to how the Torah counterintuitively allows for flexibility from within [key word: from within], particularly how the procedure vis-à-vis that one-time korban pesach was a one-shot deal.

Irony number four: Moshe takes the erev rav because he thinks we need a groundwork for our eventual exile.   However: THEY are the impetus behind the eventual worst excesses of the Egel, and all exile stems FROM that [“ no punishment befalls Israel in which there is not part of the punishment for the sin of the [golden] calf [TB Sanh 102a]”].  So Moshe’s proactivity MAY have introduces the very element behind what he was trying to avoid, OR his ruach hakodesh told him this was the best way to stave off its inevitability. Tzorech iyyun.

[Four-and-a-half: the puranus meme also may speak to the “A”T/BA”SH” system of figuring out what days holidays fall out on, because rishon shel Pesach and Tisha B’av ALWAYS come out the same day of the week; one of the other reasons for the egg on the seder plate.   A participant at one of my family seders years ago thought the tone of the Maggid discussion was starting to “sound like the Holocaust”, whereupon my father responded that “This WAS a Holocaust.  The first one.”  The irony of our greatest triumph havig the seeds of our greatest failures built right into the celebration is paradigmatic in more ways than one.]

The final irony [for now]: Krias Yam Suf , which might be the paradigm of lo nitna Torah lemalachei hashares--the Angels don’t get to sing, but we do.  We had also died en masse during choshech, the blood on the marpef saving [some of] us from the makkah, and the angels ostensibly say nothing; at the Red Sea, they say “these worship idols, these worship idols”…and maybe THAT’S why the angels don’t get to sing: they were about to have EVERYONE drown,  and now they wanna sing?   It’s as if G-d was saying: Who’s side are you on, exactly?  Angels have no bechira, so they exist in a pure realm.  But as Yoram Hazony points out, that doesn’t work down here.

It’s unlikely that Faulkner had TB Avoda Zara 3b in mind when he called G-d the “Cosmic Joker”.  But it might be better [and certainly less pejorative] to call Him the Supreme Ironist, particularly where Yetzias Mitrayim is concerned.  It might not be accidental that the above Gemara refers to the LAST geula as when G-d laughs.

The final irony—as we pointed out in the title—G-d made us Wait For It, even as we were commanded that the holiday services were done “bechipazon” [subirony: what seder nowadays is done “bechipazon”?]  But: we had to Wait For It after Rosh Chodesh [“yachol merosh chodesh?”], we had to Wait For It when we took the sheep on the tenth for sacrifice on the 14th, we had to Wait For It when we didn’t leave until Pharaoh actually gave “permission” in the aftermath of Makkas Bechoros, we had to Wait For It at the Red Sea because no one would jump in until Nachshon ben Aminadav did...and while I pretend that I actually can list the myriad “Wait For It”s in the literature, suffice it to leave off with the ultimate Wait For It, Rambam’s 12th ikkar.

May one geulah lead to another, with all the attendant irony.

Chag kasher v’sameach.

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