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Why Did God Allow Israel To Be Enslaved?
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Goats and Coats Replay
Let’s take a little bit of a closer look at this moment when the Jews go free. It happens in the tenth plague. All the Egyptians firstborn are going to be killed, the Jewish firstborn are going to be saved. If you think about that moment, it’s really the climactic moment of the Exodus story.
The Exodus story really is a great story. Hollywood has turned it into movie after movie. But if you read the climactic moment of the Exodus, it’s very anti-climatic. There’s this great showdown between Moshe and Pharaoh after the ninth plague. Pharaoh comes to Moshe seeking a concession; he says you guys can all go. The only thing I ask is that you leave some cattle behind.
Moshe declines the offer. Tauntingly, he comes back to the Egyptian monarch and he tells him “not only are we going to take our cattle, you are going to give us cattle.” Pharaoh is enraged at this provocation and says “I never want to see your face again! Leave the palace!” Moshe says “fine! I’ll never see you again.” This is it! There is no more negotiation between these men. They’ve both sworn they are never going to see each other again and then at that moment, God comes down and speaks to Moses as he’s exiting the palace. “Od nega echad avi al-paroh al-Mitzraim.” One more plague I shall bring on Egypt and after that, they will let you go.”
Now, if we stop right here, what should happen next? Well we all know what happens; the tenth plague happens, the Jews leave. That’s what should happen now, but that’s not what happens in the actual story. Yes, that’s what happens in the Prince of Egypt, it’s what happens in Charlton Heston’s ‘The Ten Commandments.’ But that’s not what happens in the original story. Instead, we get this digression into arcane laws that are mind-numbing in its complexity, the laws of the Pesach offering.
The Jews are supposed to slaughter this offering and put the blood on the door and that’s how they leave. You could have said that in one sentence and then gone on to the actual story of the ten plague. Instead, we don’t get one sentence telling the Jews to slaughter their offering and put the blood on the door. We get a maze of intricate laws. We go through detail after detail of how the Pesach offering needs to be prepared, exactly what needs to be done with it. I mean one after another, just all of these laws. And you think to yourself, how come none of these laws made it into the Prince of Egypt? The director took them out of those movies because they were too boring. So why do we have them in the original story? The Torah doesn’t know how to tell a good story?
Yes! It’s true. The Torah has laws in it, but the Torah neatly breaks up laws and stories into two basically separate packages. The Book of Genesis: basically it’s all stories. The Book of Leviticus: basically it’s all laws, laws of offerings. The Book of Exodus: well the beginning of it, almost all stories, the end of it, almost all laws. Laws and stories are separate in the Torah, except here. Here the Torah is telling you the greatest story ever told and right at the climactic moment it stops, it digresses into the detail laws of the Pesach offering. What are they doing here? Just shift them into the Book of Leviticus. Why put them here? I’m lost! I can’t even follow the story anymore…unless, they really are a part of the story. God is a very good story-teller. You thought you understand the climax of the story? You think it’s when Moses leaves Pharaoh in the palace? That’s nothing! The real climax is the laws. The laws are a part of the story.
Yes, they are telling you what I need to do, but they are also telling you so much more. When you read these laws carefully, another astonishing side to all of the laws—a narrative side—seems to reveal itself. You will hear echoes of ‘goats and coats’ at every turn. Let’s read them carefully and you’ll see.
The first law of the Pesach offering is that every family needs to take a sheep for themselves and if the family is too small to consume the meat of a single sheep, then that family can join together with a neighbor, that “michsat nefashot, ish l’fi achlo tachosu al-ha-seh.” The Gemara translates those words to mean that “every participant in a given groups’ Pesach offering “b’michsat nefashot.” There needs to be a counting of the souls. “Ish l’fi achlo tachosu al-ha-seh”: each person according to what they can eat also must count themselves into the group.
But for those of you who know Biblical Hebrew, at first blush you wouldn’t have translated the word that way. “Michsat,” “tachosu,”…it sounds like it comes from the root ‘chaf-samech-hey’ which means ‘to cover.’ The literal meaning of the word seems to be that the group takes the offering as a covering of souls, each person “tachosu al-ha-seh”: covers themselves with the sheep. But what could that possibly mean? A covering of souls. Think of the story of the sale of Yosef and the story of Yaakov’s deception of his father, then ask yourself, in either of those stories, was there a covering of souls?
The Book of Leviticus tells us “ha-dam hu ha nefesh”: blood is the soul. A covering of souls. A covering of blood. Was blood ever covered in the story of goats and coats? What did the brothers say when they decided to sell Yosef rather than do away with him entirely? “Ma betza ki naharog et-ahcinu v’chisinu et-damo?” What do we gain about killing our brother, “v’chisinu et-damo” and covering his blood? “L’chu v’nimkarenu l’yishmaelim,” let’s sell him instead to the Ishmaelites. The brothers had talked about covering the blood of Joseph, covering his soul, and now in the Pesach offering, everyone has to come together for a soul covering. If it was just that allusion, just that reference, you could chalk it up to a coincidence but the references keep coming.
“Seh tamim zachar ben shana yihyeh lachem.” The Pesach offering needs to be a sheep but then the Torah gives us a very strange definition of ‘sheep’. Throughout the Torah, the word ‘seh’ simply means sheep, but now strangely, the Torah says that word can mean “cvasim,” ‘little lambs, or “min ha-izim,” they can mean goats too. It’s almost as if there is a goat pretending to be a sheep in the story of Goat and Coats. Was there a goat pretending to be something else? What did the brothers do? They slaughtered a goat, putting it’s blood on the coat and that goat blood was pretending to be human blood. The brothers came with the bloody coat and deceived their father into thinking that it was the blood of Yosef. One more time, the Torah says, let goats pretend to be something else.
Let’s skip a couple lines and continue reading.
“V’achlu et-ha-basar ha-layla ha-zeh tzli-esh”: and that night, everyone must eat the sheep roasted. “Al-tochlu mimneu na u-bashel mevushal b’mayim” whatever you do, you can’t boil it in water. You have to roast it over an open flame. Why should you not be allowed to use water? No water whatsoever in the cooking of this little sheep in our story of Goats and Coats. Was there any water? That pit that Joseph was put in, “ha-bor reyk,” the Torah tells us: the pit was empty. “Eyn bo mayim,” there was no water in it.
“Matzot al-mrorim yochluhu”: the Pesach offering has to be eaten with Matza. It’s Pesach, so you can’t have bread. The bread that you eat is Matza and it needs to be eaten “al-mrorim,” together with mrorim, with bitter herbs. Bitterness and bread. When did bitterness and bread come together? In Goats and Cats One, Yaakov had served to his father. Together with the goat, he’d given him bread. And when Esav had cried out upon realizing that he had been deceived with the meat of the goat and with the bread, “vayitzak tza’aka gdola u-mara”: he let out a great and bitter cry.
So once again, eat the little sheep with bread and with bitterness and think about Goat and Coats Two; was there any bread eating there? After the brothers threw Yosef in the pit, “vayeshvu le’echol lechem” they sat down in family group to eat bread one more time. Sit down in a family group and eat bread, eat your matza al-mrorim. That exact word “mrorim”—mem, resh, resh—where do you hear it?
It’s a word that refer to Yosef later on in the blessings that Yaakov gives to him. “Vayistimuhu vayimor’ruhu.” Yaakov acknowledges at the end of his life the brothers hated you, “vayimor’ruhu” and they made your life bitter. Yes, one more time, eat this offering with the bitterness of ‘mem-resh-resh.’
“Al-tochlu mimenu na.” Don’t eat it raw. Strange word for raw, wouldn’t you say? If I would have asked you what the word “na” means, ‘nun-alef’ and you know Biblical Hebrew, you’d never tell me it means ‘raw’; you would tell me it means ‘please.’ That’s what the word always means. Do we ever have “na”—please—in Goats and Coats? We have it all over the place.
“Tzuda-na li tzayid” Yitzhak says to Esav, please hunt for me some venison and come back and I’ll bless you, my firstborn. And then again, in Goats and Coats two, the brothers, when they present the bloody coat to father, “haker-na” recognize, please, father. Is it your son’s coat or not? Everything was done so politely. Now the Torah says let’s replay the whole thing but let’s do it without the ‘please’ this time.
“V’lo totiru mimenu ad-boker,” and make sure that nothing is left over in the morning as if there had been no sheep there at all by morning time. What does that remind you of in Goats and Coats? Reuven comes back to the pit to find it empty. Not a shred! No trace of Yosef. He’s vanished. One more time, the little sheep should vanish.
“V’kacha tochlu otoh”: and thus you shall eat it, the Torah says, “matneichem chagurim naalchem b’ragleichem,” eat it with your belts on, with your shoes on, “u-makelchem b’yedchem,” with your walking sticks in your hands, ready to go.” Why would you have to get dressed ready to go? Because in Goats and Coats, you are always ready to go.
After Goats and Coats one, Yaakov rushed out of the house, fearing for his life, into exile. After Goats and Coats two, the family rushed down to Egypt. You are always going after Goats and Coats but this time, you’re going to replay the stories that got you into exile, but you are going to do it differently; you are going to redeem the story and you’re going to be redeemed. You’re going to walk to freedom this time, not to exile. A few verses later, Moshe tells over these laws to the elders and when he does, he adds a few laws that haven’t yet appeared. Let’s listen carefully to his words for the secondary meanings.
“Vayikra Moshe l’chol ziknei Yisrael,” Moshe called the elders, “vayomer aleihem mishchu kchu lachem tzon l’mishpachoteichem,” pull for yourselves and take a sheep for each of your families. Let me ask you something. Let’s say it hadn’t said “pull for yourselves,” what if it had only said “take sheep for your families,” would you come to me and said “Rabbi Fohrman, I don’t understand. Why doesn't it say ‘pull for yourselves the sheep’? Why does it only say ‘take for yourselves a sheep’?” You wouldn’t have said that. Who cares about ‘pulling’? Why add the extra words ‘pull’? Think of Goats and Coats. Do we have pulling in Goats and Coats? What’s the Hebrew word: mem, shin, chaf, vav. How many times does ‘mem, shin, chaf, vav,’ appear in the Torah, other than here? Only one other time. The only other example of ‘mem, shin, chaf, vav’ in the entire Torah is in the sale of Yosef, Goats and Coats two.
“Vayimshchu v’ya’alu et-Yosef min-ha-bor,” when people pulled Joseph out of the pit to sell him as a slave. Well, one more time, the Torah says, pull the little sheep. But this time, do it differently. Don’t sell him as a slave, “mishchu u-kchu lachem tzon l’mishpachoteichem,”: this time, pull out the sheep, pull Joseph out of the pit and take for yourselves that little sheep, into your families. There is a double entendre here. On one level it means, take the sheep, the paschal lamb for your families. On another level, what is the sheep? It’s as if you’re pulling out Yosef; doing it right this time. Don’t pull him out and allow him to be sold as a salve, pull him out and bring him back into the family. Do not expel him! Bring him in!
The next thing that happens, “v’shachatu ha-pesach,” slaughter the Pesach offering. Did anything get slaughtered in Goats and Coats? “Vayishchatu [sounds like seir] et-izim.” They slaughtered the goat. And after they did so, what happened next? The next thing the brothers did is they dipped the coat in blood. Is there any dipping in blood in the Pesach offering? Keep on reading. “U-lakachtem agudat ezov,” and then take a plant, “u-tavaltem b’dam,” and dip it in blood.
One more time, it’s just Goats and Coats happening again. Dip it in which blood? “Dam asher b’saf,” the blood of the threshold. Not only are the three sides of the door, the two doorposts and the lintel full of blood, but even the threshold, the bottom of the door also. But that word for the ‘bottom of the door’ it’s a very unusual word, doesn’t happen often, ‘saf.’ Who else is ‘samech, peh?’ Oh Yosef! That goat was fake Yosef-blood wasn’t it? But one more time, dip it in the blood of the sheep. More fake Yosef blood. This is a symbolic replay of the whole Goats and Coats story. You want to get out of Egypt? You think you can get out of Egypt without relating to this? There is going to be a night when all firstborn will die. If you want your firstborn to live, then make right the part of your history in which brothers fought each other over the right of the first born. Replay the whole horrific memory but this time replay it right. Redeem the memory. Pull the little sheep and take him into your family. Bring Yosef back. When your family unites to leave Egypt, don’t leave anyone behind. Bring your brother back!
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