Torah Reading for April 8, 2023 (17 Nisan 5783): Passover

This week we review the story of Passover. God calls Moses to go back to Egypt and lead the people out of Egypt. Pharaoh is an unwilling partner, so God brings 10 plagues upon the Egyptians, each plague becoming more destructive.  Moses announces the final plague – the death of the firstborn – to Pharaoh, but once again Pharaoh doesn’t listen. God then tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to prepare a lamb to be slaughtered and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs on the 15th of Nisan, the night on which God will strike down all the Egyptian firstborn. Moreover, this date is to begin a seven-day celebration in subsequent years. Moses speaks to the elders and tells them to prepare for the first Passover and the people do as they have been taught. The final horrible plague occurs and the firstborn of all Egyptians of all strata of society are dead. Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron and tells them to take the Israelites and go immediately. The Israelites finally leave Egypt. God leads Moses and the Israelites by the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds.  God leads the people, providing a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day and stays close to the people.  When Pharaoh finds out that the Israelites fled Egypt, he orders 600 of his best chariots and officers to pursue them. As Pharaoh’s army draws near, the Israelites become afraid and cry out to God. Moses reassures the people that God will fight for them. Then God tells Moses to lift up his rod over the Sea of Reeds. The angel of God who had been in front of the Israelites now moves to the back, between Pharoah’s army and the Israelites creating a cloud of darkness, so that the people were protected. Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and God parted the waters so that the Israelites were able to cross safely.  When the Egyptians entered the sea, God threw the army into a panic and locked the wheels of the chariots so they could only travel with difficulty. When Pharaoh’s army tried to turn back, God commanded Moses to hold his arm over the waters and the waters returned to their normal state, covering Pharaoh and his entire army. In gratitude, Miriam leads the women in the famous, “Song of the Sea” and the people rejoice, praising God for their redemption. God gives Moses and Aaron the laws of the Passover festival that is to be observed in future years.

In this reading, the Israelites are freed from physical slavery. They see evidence of God’s power through the plagues, and make the first steps to freedom. However, they had to take the initiative to cross the Sea to journey toward their destination. Likewise, in our lives we encounter obstacles that seem as prohibitive as the sea and it is easy to simply put up with the obstacles or wait for circumstances to change before we act. Midrash adds to the Sea of Reeds the story of Nachshon, who is the first to step into the water and walk in head-deep until the waters finally part and a dry path appears. This week, regardless of what challenges we face in life, may we continue to find the courage to push forward, to test the waters, and persevere until we are on dry ground and the path ahead is clear.