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When Was Pesach First Celebrated?
It's Not What You Think

By Chazan Arik Wollheim

One of the first things that comes to mind when we think of Pesach is, of course, Matzah.  Most of us would say we eat Matzah on Pesach because Bnei Yisrael did not have enough time to bake bread. The verses in the story of the Exodus support that explanation, but I would like to suggest that there’s additional “hidden story” here.

Looking at the first time the word Matzah/Matzot appears reveals an incident that took place over 400 years before Yetziat Mitzrayim.  By exploring the first time something appears in Tanach, we can gain insight into the Torah’s understanding of many concepts.

In Genesis 19:3 we read the famous story of Lot and the angels who came to destroy S’dom. Upon inviting them to his house, Lot baked Matzot for them. Radak explains that since Matzah is quick to bake, Lot chose to serve them to his guests so they wouldn’t have to wait long to eat. This can be understood as a lesson to expedite our care of those in need. 

Rashi, however, explains that Lot baked Matzot since it was Pesach. Rashi bases his answer on a Midrash we find both in tractate Rosh Hashana and in Bereshit Raba.  But this begs the question - why would Lot be observing the laws of Pesach 400 years before the Exodus?   If Pesach was observed so early on, doesn’t it take away from the magnitude of the event we’re commemorating on Leil Haseder?

In order to answer these questions we can look even further back. In Genesis 15 we read of the ברית בין הבתרים -  the covenant Hashem made with Abraham. During that time Abraham learns that his descendants will be slaves in a foreign land, and that they will also be redeemed. 

We later encounter Abraham when three angels come to visit him and tell him he will have a son - Isaac. Rashi explains that it was Pesach, and therefore cakes were served and not bread. Isaac was born exactly one year later, according the the Midrash, also on Pesach.

Abraham was eating Matzot on the 15th of Nisan, and celebrating the future redemption of his children as a show of confidence in Hashem, thus creating a family tradition that he passed on to Lot and his progeny for all time.  Interestingly, in the Haggadah in the poem ואמרתם זבח פסח  we find the connection between the Seder night at the Pesach Abraham and Lot were celebrating.

We can delve deeper:
When we compare the stories of the Exodus and the visiting angels we find striking similarities.  Aside from Matzot, I’ve found at least 10 words and phrases that appear in both places. Examples include closed house: Lot closed the door after the angels entered his home.  Similarly, the Jews in Egypt were commanded not to leave their houses on Passover night. The root “שחת” (destroy) is used in both stories to describe what happened outdoors. We see the phrase “קומו צאו” (arise and exit) as well as יתמהמה (to delay) in both stories. God brought down like rain (וימטר) the elements (hail, fire etc.) and both events took place throughout the night until morning. At the end of both stories, nations were born - by Lot: Moav and Amon and in Egypt: עם ישראל.

What can we understand from all of these similarities?
For me the message is clear.  Pesach is a holiday of opening our homes to others, both family and strangers. Abraham celebrated the Seder night with his family and with the angels. The Haggada tells us to invite all family members, including ALL four sons, regardless of background, intelligence and worldview. Hachnasat Orchim, (hospitality) has played a prominent role in Pesach observance throughout the generations. What ultimately saved Lot’s life when S’dom was overturned?  It was the chesed and hospitality he learned from his uncle Abraham.

Furthermore, the central theme of Seder night is והגדת לבנך (telling the story to our children).  The values we learn from that story are, in my mind ,encapsulated by the phrase 
“כל דכפין יתיי ויכול כל דצריך יתיי ויפסח” (Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come).

What is the connection between hospitality and the event we’re celebrating on the Seder night, becoming a בן חורין (free people)?  The answer is that hospitality is the antithesis of slavery. A slave cannot bring guests into his house; he doesn’t own a thing (not to mention a house) and he doesn’t have the freedom to make a choice like hosting guests. 

Of all nations of the world, the only ones who are not permitted to become part of the Jewish people are Ammon and Moav.  The reason given is “because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt;” (D’varim 23:4-5) Here we see the importance of hospitality in our tradition.  Someone who represents the opposite of that trait can NEVER be part of Am Yisrael. Even the Egyptians (once converted) are allowed in,  but not our cousins, Lot’s children Ammon and Mo’av since they rejected the core Jewish value of הכנסת אורחים (hospitality).

If we want to hasten the redemption we must teach our children our traditions and values.

May our גאולה be completed quickly,
Happy and Kosher Pesach,
Chazan Arik, Tehilah, Yehudit, Emmanuelle and Hodaya

Shabbat starts Friday: 5:01PM
Shabbat ends Saturday: 6:02PM
Thu, January 26 2023 4 Shevat 5783