Roasted Over Fire: Our National Experience

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Bo el Pharaoh, Pharaoh the king of Egypt, his servants, the citizens of the land and the country of Mitzrayim itself all meet their end with the final three plagues: locusts, darkness and death-of-the-firstborn.  Finally, after hundreds of years in Egypt, and one hundred and sixteen years of slavery, the Bnei Yisrael triumphantly march forward to a hopeful future. 

While they were still in Egypt, the Bnei Yisrael were commanded to sanctify the new month, which was the first national mitzvah given to the people. 

They were also commanded regarding the korban Pesach, which must be eaten on the night of Pesach, צְלִי-אֵשׁ וּמַצּוֹת, עַל-מְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻהוּ, roasted over fire, eaten with matzos and bitter herbs.  It is forbidden to eat the korban Pesach if it is underdone and it is forbidden to cook it in water; it must only be roasted in fire to be considered a valid offering (Ex.12:8-9). 

The korban Pesach commemorates our freedom from the shibud Mitzrayim, the terrible years of the Egyptian servitude and oppression, and it reaffirms our commitment to community and our emunah in Hashem, Who has saved our forefathers, and Who saves us.  Why must it only be roasted over fire?  Why can’t we eat from it if it’s a little bit underdone?  What if I prefer my meat boiled or gently simmered, rather than roasted over fire…?  No, the Torah says, it must only be roasted over fire, all at once, its head with its legs (see Rashi to Ex.12:9). 

To recall the historical experiences of the Children of Israel, simply cooking the korban in water would not do. For the heat is not direct enough to scorch the flesh, and the method of cooking is too gentle.   Similarly, an underdone korban represents that either the heat was not strong enough, or that the korban was not exposed to the heat for long enough.

Neither of these methods accurately portray the historical experiences and journeys of the Children of Israel.

Our experiences in all of our exiles, beginning with the galus and shibud Mitzrayim, are not gentle ones.  Though exile may begin as a pleasant experience, it often suddenly turns oppressive, seemingly overnight.  For when the new king arose, who did not know Yosef, the comforts the Israelites faced in their host land were quickly ripped away from them.

As for underdone meat, our sojourns in foreign lands under foreign rulers has never been short and has never been with less-than-scorching-heat.  There is no such thing as, “it has not been cooked long enough” when it comes to our national experiences in foreign lands. 

And so, the korban that represents our freedom from Egypt serves to remind us of our servitude in Egypt. 

Remember well your fate, the Torah says.  Remember well that when you will be forced to serve foreign kings in strange lands, it will not be gentle, nor will it be brief.  It will be as the korban Pesach must be – roasted entirely over fire. 

However, make sure it is roasted with its head and its legs. 

Though we are oppressed, we will always survive.

With our minds, our creativity, our desire to learn, to grow, to know more, do more and be more – with our heads – we will persevere.  And with our legs, which propel us forward as individuals and as a nation, we will always keep our minds, eyes, hearts and very selves, focused forward.  For we surely know and believe with perfect faith, that as our legs carry us through challenging times, we will ultimately reach our hope and dream: redemption and a return to Zion and Yerushalayim.

As we commemorate the redemption from Egypt, we sit down with our families, neighbors and friends, and we recall the great wonders and miracles that Hashem has done, and continues to do.  And we eat the korban Pesach, roasted over fire, along with matzah, the bread of our affliction and freedom, and bitter herbs, the herbs of our pain. 

For though Klal Yisraal may be roasted time and again, we will never be defeated.

With our minds focused Upward and forward and our legs carrying us toward a bright and promising future, as we fulfill our fate and shape our destiny, we too will soon surely be redeemed. 

May it be immediate and in our days, amen v’amen.

בברכת שבת שלום,


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