By William J Jackson
We are commanded to remember the Passover or Pesach (Exodus 12:14, 24, Deuteronomy 7:19, 16:3). In doing this, some are willing to take it all the way and sacrifice a lamb for this sacred holiday, while others, who are more rabbinic, are not even willing to even eat lamb on this day. These two views are so diverse; we need to ask ourselves where is the plumb line on this issue? We do already know the plumb line between us and God, and that would be His word – the Tanakh. So let’s delve into God’s word and find the answer.
In Exodus 12 we see the first Passover. The night that the sacrifice of the lamb was made by each family and the blood was smeared on the door post so that Adonai would “pass over” that home and allow the first born to live. As Exodus 12:14 states “It should be kept as a feast to the Lord…” So the people did the slaughter in their own homes, not the priest doing it in places of worship (Tabernacle or Temple). This was because the Levitical Priesthood would not be established until Exodus 32 and Numbers 1:48-53, nor was a place of worship established. Like with the priesthood a place of sacrifice wouldn’t be established until after the crossing of the red sea, and after the ten commandments were handed down at Mount Sanai. We hear about the Tabernacle for the first time in Exodus 25. It seems that God introduced this organizational pieces after he established the Israelites as His chosen people (Exodus 19:5). Before this time, all the Patriarchs sacrificed wherever they pleased (Genesis 22:13, Genesis 31:54 and Genesis 46:1).
Over 40 years after Leviticus established the place for the sacrifice Deuteronomy 12 reestablishes that the Israelites will only sacrifice places God designates (V4). HaShem appears very focused that Israel will not worship Him in the same way the Canaanites worshiped their pagan gods by making sacrifices wherever they choose. This is echoed in Deuteronomy 16.
Over 700 years after the Israelites entered the Promise Land, we read 2 Chronicles 30 and see them participating in the Passover. This is after years of not worshiping HaShem and engaging in pagan rituals. As established in Leviticus the people did not do Passover at home, they all assembled in Jerusalem probably at the Temple. It appears the people were responsible for purifying themselves before sacrificing the lamb/goat. Many did not, so at this point the priests stepped in to do the slaughter. Still some Israelites did the slaughter on their own without being purified. The King prayed to HaShem for them and HaShem pardoned the people (V18-20). The Jewish Encyclopedia under “Three Groups of Laity” gives us some historical insight into the processes that might have taken place2.
Although we do not have the Temple for sacrifices nor is the Levitical priesthood in place as established by Tanakh, can we still eat lamb to commemorate the Passover? There are those in rabbinical circles that would say no. They are going off the code of Jewish law (Shulhan Arukh), established in 1565 CE. This was done by the Jewish community to acknowledge that the temple sacrifice was no longer done3. We need to remember that this is not Tanakh but a man made doctrine that some use as a manner to reverence HaShem.
Another point we should note is that the sacrifice of the lamb was not a sin sacrifice but one of faith. The Christian community sees the Passover lamb as a sin offering and suppose that this is their messiah. But let us hearken back to Exodus 12 where if you believed in God you would have slaughtered a lamb and put the blood on your doorpost so the angel of death would Passover you. Obviously those that did not believe in God did not do this and suffered the consequences.
Without access to the Temple and the priesthood no longer being established I do not think that we, as individuals, are required to perform the Passover sacrifices at home nor should we (Leviticus 17). On the other hand, there is nothing against us eating lamb or goat this day of tribute within God’s word. As commanded, we should have a Passover meal in remembrance of the original Passover and reflect on what God did at this momentous time (Exodus 12:14, 24, Deuteronomy 7:19, 16:3).
- Executive Committee of the Editorial Board., Jacob Zallel Lauterbach, PASSOVER SACRIFICE (Hebrew, “zebaḥ Pesaḥ”; lit. “sacrifice of exemption”), n.d.
- Florence Fabricant, New York Times, Home and Garden, A Tender Lamb Dish For a Passover Seder, Published: March 23, 1988