The Doorposts of Egypt

In Parshat Bo, on the eve of the exodus from Egypt, the Torah records that the Jewish people celebrated their freedom even before leaving Egypt.  The first Passover seder which occurred in Egypt was different than the Passover that the Jewish people would be commanded to observe in subsequent years.  One key difference was the blood that was put on the doorposts and lintel of each home in which the Passover Sacrifice was consumed.

“They will take of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses wherein they eat it (Shemot 12:7).”

The Bechor Shor writes that the blood was placed on the outside portion of the doorposts.  He notes that this accomplished two different goals. First, it allowed the Angel of Death to be able to identify the Jewish homes.  Second, it provided atonement for the the Jewish people. At first glance, this is a very compelling read of the verses.

The Torah goes on to state:

“And the blood on the houses that you are in will be a sign for you; and I will see the blood and I will pass over you, and there will be no affliction from the destruction when I will I strike the land of Egypt. (Shemot 12:13).”

It is clear from this verse that the blood is to be seen by God, perhaps supportive of the Bechor Shor's opinion.  However the Torah also states that the blood is, “a sign for you.”  Commenting on this verse, Rashi writes that we learn from this wording that the blood was a sign specifically for the Jewish people, to the exclusion of the Egyptians.  Therefore the blood was placed on the inside of the door, not the outside.

We thus have a debate between Rashi and the Bechor Shor as to the placement of the blood.  Rashi, and many of the classic commentaries, maintain that the blood was placed inside the home, and the Bechor Shor maintains it was placed outside.  Rashi quotes the Mekhilta as his source. Interestingly the Mekhilta itself quotes two opinions on the matter.

"Rabbi Natan says it was on the inside…  Rabbi Yitschak says it was on the outside so that the Egyptians would see the blood and their intestines would fail (Mekhilta R. Yishmael 12:7:2).”

While the Bechor Shor noted that the reason the blood was placed on the outside of the house was so that God would see the blood and it would act as an atonement, Rabbi Yitschak in the Mekhilta suggests that it was to scare the Egyptians.

However it is possible to suggest that The Bechor Shor and Rabbi Yitschak’s opinion are one in the same, based on a passage of the Rambam in his Guide for the Perplexed.  The Rambam writes:

“Thus the very act which is considered by the heathen as the greatest crime, is the means of approaching God, and obtaining His pardon (yechupru) for our sins. In this manner, evil principles, the diseases of the human soul, are cured by other principles which are diametrically opposite. (Guide 3:46:2)”

The Rambam is teaching us that the means by which to attain the atonement of God was to publicly worship Him in a way that was viewed as detestable by the Egyptians. The  steadfast commitment of the Jews to the Passover service despite the disgust of the Egyptians is what generated the atonement in Egypt.

The Bechor Shor is thus providing the underlying motive and result of Rabbi Yitschak’s opinion in the Mekhilta.

Nowadays, the Jewish community can at times be hesitant to outwardly espouse opinions and practices that run contrary to popular Western culture.  The lesson from the doorposts of Egypt is that publicly declaring our beliefs, in spite of public opinion, can be a means of coming closer to the Almighty.