Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Festival of Freedom... or Primogeniture-Palooza?

By the Bray of Fundie

From Rebbish to Reconstructionist and from Dayenu doyens to nabobs of Negro spirituals, Pesach is universally understood as the Festival of Freedom. The Haggadah basically begins with “We were slaves to Pharaoh down in Egypt land” and concentrates on the suffering and injustice of slavery and the consolation, empowerment and injustice redressed of liberation.

But could it be that we are missing the forest for the trees? Here JS complained about the limp-wristed siyumim summarily ending the Fast of the Firstborn. But absent that fast we would have little or nothing concretized in our ritual Pesakh observances that deal with the issue of Bekhora. Yet when Moshe finally accepts his mission as redeemer of Israel he was instructed to deliver this message to Pharaoh: (Exodus 4:22-23)

כב וְאָמַרְתָּ, אֶל-פַּרְעֹה: כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, בְּנִי בְכֹרִי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh: Thus saith the LORD: Israel is My son, My first-born.
כג וָאֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ, שַׁלַּח אֶת-בְּנִי וְיַעַבְדֵנִי, וַתְּמָאֵן, לְשַׁלְּחוֹ--הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי הֹרֵג, אֶת-בִּנְךָ בְּכֹרֶךָ.
23 And I have said unto thee: Let My son go, that he may serve Me; and thou hast refused to let him go. Behold, I will slay thy son, thy first-born.'--

Counterintuitively it seems as though Pharaoh’s main crime was not enslaving the Hebrews. If this were the case (and if I were G-d) then the obvious poetic justice threat ought to have been “You are unjustly enslaving the Hebrews. Liberate them or I will enslave the Egyptians”. It seems as though the evil of the slavery inhered in its capacity to impede, suppress, and even “kill” the Bekhora of the Children of Israel. Hence the midah k’neged midah = quid pro quo threat of slaying Pharaoh’s firstborn.

Let’s face it. Our contemporary sedorim are meant as surrogates of the Seder akheelas korban Pesakh= the order of consumption of the Paschal lamb. The mezuzos on our doors are stand-ins for the blood smeared door-posts and lintel of the night preceding the Exodus that protected us from the Plague of the Firstborn. Yet we seem to concentrate exclusively on freedom and fail to accord any primacy to, well, our own primacy.

In the coming days I hope to bl”n share with you my humble adaptations of what the great meforshei HaMiqra say about the passage that I cited. But in the meantime; how do YOU understand it? What do we mean when we say that Yisrael is kavayakhol, the Bekhor of HaShem? Why is this emphasized rather than the slavery itself? How does slavery compromise primogeniture? And/or how is slavery antithetical to primogeniture?

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1 comment:

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