Extra: Notes from a Jewish Commentary on Exodus 12

Here are some thoughts on Exodus chapter 12 from the Jewish Chumash, a conservative Jewish commentary, a Rabbinic explanation of the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible). It includes comment by a range of Rabbis, not always agreeing on their ideas. (It’s not the Talmud, which is the detail of how to understand and adhere to the law.) I’ve taken the Bible quotes from here


Exodus 12:2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.

The months are numbered from Nissan, which means that whenever a month is referenced by its number, it is a way of always referencing the Exodus.

By repeating ‘unto you’ or ‘for you’, a new relationship between time and God’s people is being established, one where instead of being slaves and not in charge of their time, they are now the masters of their time.


Exodus 12:2 Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household;

The Hebrew word used for the sacrifice animal means both lamb and kid (see also v5). (I’d always assumed it was a lamb, not a kid.)

Ramban suggests these animals were chosen as they were the Egyptian’s gods and so sacrificing them showed that God was God of all gods.

This Hebrew word translated here as ‘congregation’ (also assembly) is from the word to fix or appoint, which implies a society united with a common calling, a community. This is the first time this word is used in the Torah and so marks the beginning of the new era for God’s people.

Household would traditionally be the grandparents and their children and their families.


The Sages say that the Israelites hovered just above the lowest depth of spiritual contamination and if they had not been redeemed then, it would have been too later.


Exodus 12:13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

They were not saved just because they were inside a ‘safe house’, but because they were part of the household and had taken part in the sacrifice and doing what God had commanded.

“It was not the blood that prevented the plague, nor its absence that caused it. The Torah teaches that whoever unequivocally placed his trust in [God] and did not fear Pharaoh or his decrees, but fearlessly slaughtered Egypt’s god in public and place the Pesach offering’s blood on his doorposts, thereby demonstrated that he was righteous and worthy of being protected from the plague. (R’Bachya)


Pesach was the inaugural festival, inscribing on the nation’s consciousness the experience of the Exodus.

Exodus 12:14 And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.

It was to be an eternal observance, something which always remains fresh and relevant.


Exodus 12:17 And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore shall ye observe this day throughout your generations by an ordinance for ever.  

The word translated here as ‘observe’ in the Chumash is ‘safeguard’, suggesting that the matzos need strict rules around them to protect them, such as measuring the time between adding water to the flour and it being in the oven so as to ensure there is no time for it to ferment or rise even a tiny bit.


Exodus 12:26  And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you: What mean ye by this service?

When your children say’ is referenced in the Passover Seder as part of the four questions from the four children.

This one inspired the ‘wicked son’ whose question ‘What does this mean to you’ implies they do not feel it is their Passover, but rather yours, that they are not part of the community.


Exodus 12:31 And he called for Moses and Aaron by night and said: ‘Rise up, get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said. Take both your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also.

Pharaoh removed his conditions, letting the children and livestock go, and even tells them to go and serve God AND bless him!!


Exodus 12:37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, beside children.

The estimated number of people who left, including women and children, is 300 million. That’s a lot of people!


Exodus 12:38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.

The ‘mixed multitude’ are said to be people of various nationalities who had converted to Judaism. It’s an interesting idea of the people who both witnessed the Red Sea opening and became part of God’s people in the desert.


Exodus 12:40 Now the time that the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.

I was surprised to find the commentary say that this number is not accurate!

Kehoth, who went to Egypt with  Jacob and his son Amram lived a total of 270 years. Moses was Amaram’s son, and he was 80 at the time of the Exodus. This is a total of 350 years, not 430.

Rabbinic tradition (cited by Rashi) says that in the covenant between Abram and God in Genesis 15:13, it cites a time of 400 years of exile, persecution and servitude, although not necessarily all at the same time. Some traditions have the 400 years starting with the birth of Isaac, as the covenant mentions Abram’s offspring, who, it’s said, was born of the 15th day of the month of Nissan, the day of the Exodus.

“Rambam cites this chronology as an illustration of how prophesies are often understood completely only after they come to pass.”

Until the Exodus, people didn’t know if the 400 years was dated from:

  1. the prophecy to Abram
  2. the birth of Isaac
  3. when Jacob went to Egypt
  4. the beginning of the Egyptian servitude

A large group of the tribe of Ephraim, convinced that the timing was from when God spoke to Abraham, attempted a mass escape from Egypt 30 years before the Exodus, and many were slaughtered by the Philistines.


PS A little extra from chapter 13…

Exodus 13:3 And Moses said unto the people: ‘Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place; there shall no leavened bread be eaten.

The word ‘remember’ in Hebrew is the infinitive form, implying that the Exodus should be remembered constantly.


Exodus 13:8 And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.

This is where the question from the second son comes from.

It’s also possibly where the idea of every generation is to celebrate the Passover as if they were the people who came out from Egypt.


Exodus 13:9 And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in thy mouth; for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt.

The sign on the arm and a reminder before your eyes is why the Exodus story is placed in the tefillin placed on the arm and the head. The arm symbolises our capacity for action and is opposite the heart, the seat of emotion. The head is the abobe of the intellectual soul and power of memory.


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