Monday, January 09, 2012

Why we think we were redeemed in the merit of keeping our names (maybe)

According to the Bible, the Israelites wre taken out of Egypt in fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham. According to the Prophets, the redemption came in the merit of blood, as Ezekiel writes: וָאֶעֱבֹ֤ר עָלַ֙יִךְ֙ וָֽאֶרְאֵ֔ךְ מִתְבֹּוסֶ֖סֶת בְּדָמָ֑יִךְ וָאֹ֤מַר לָךְ֙ בְּדָמַ֣יִךְ חֲיִ֔י וָאֹ֥מַר לָ֖ךְ בְּדָמַ֥יִךְ חֲיִֽי׃. Generally, the double mention of blood is understood as a reference to the two sacrifices performed by the Israelites on the eve of the Exodus, cicrcmcision and the Korben Pesach.

Thousands of years later, the authors of the Midrash attribute the redemption to a different set of merits, suggesting that God took us out of Egypt because we kept various signs of Jewish identity, including our names, our clothing and our language; also, according to other sources, it was because we remained sexually pure.

How do we explain this shift?

Because I am an irresponsible blogger, I'll speculate. I think the answer has to do with the era in which the midrash was written. This had to have been around the time of the Second Destruction. With the destruction having just occurred, or appearing imminent, Rabbis were rightly concerned about the survival of the Jewish people; also, they may have worried about a new Jewish sect, one that seemed to put an undo emphasis on blood sacrifice in general, and the Passover sacrifice in particular.

While Ezekiel seems to confirm the Christian claims by insisting that redemption is possible only through blood, the Rabbis of the Midrash tell us something new. Not blood, but behavior:  Keep your names, and your clothing, and your language. Remain sexually pure and do not mix with the gentiles. This, not the blood of the sacrifice, is the secret of Jewish survival. Without a Temple, we Jews will yet endure --- but, only if you cling to the symbols of your identity.

And, they were proven correct

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