Uniquely Jewish Food

If you read about the preparation of the Passover sacrifice, the Paschal lamb, there is no mitzvah, or commandment, more delicious sounding. Of course, if you’re a vegetarian, you might be slightly irked. Unlike matzah or maror, it is not simply flour and water or a vegetable. But it is actually the central food of the Passover Holiday – not Matzah. The Bible is very clear about this when it talks about the Passover sacrifice in saying that it should be eaten “with matzot and bitter herbs”. In other words, matzah, what we are used to front and center on our Passover Seder plate on our little matzah plate inside its little matzah cover, is merely a condiment for the main course – the Paschal lamb.

The laws surrounding the lamb are absolutely fascinating. It must be sacrificed during the evening and it must be entirely roasted with no missing body parts or organs. It cannot be cooked by anything other than direct fire, and therefore cannot be skewered with metal, since the metal will heat up and cook what touches it. It also can’t be skewered by any wood that exudes moistness, since the water cannot cook it either. Therefore, one may only skewer it with a pomegranate branch, the driest of all wood. The organs must be skewered separately so they are also directly exposed to fire. It must be eaten within the city walls of Jerusalem and it must be designated to a specific group of people and cannot be eaten outside of that group. It must be eaten on a full stomach and it is forbidden to break any of its bones. It cannot be eaten by someone without a brit milah and cannot be eaten past midnight. Finally, anything left over after midnight must be burned.

There are so many layers of meaning in every one of these requirements that it would be impossible to do even a quick summary and survey. Suffice it to say the following. Shepherds are described in the Bible as the abomination of the Egyptians. They can’t stand them much like the Hindus can’t stand cowherds. Why? Because in India, cows are holy. They roam freely and are not killed for meat. The paschal lamb is the ultimate in-your-face degradation of idolatry. It is the whole roasting of a false god. It must be eaten on a full stomach – just to spite, not even to sate hunger. Its blood was smattered on the doorposts.

The matzah and the maror were added as the condiments, to combine the humbling experience of slavery with the audacity of roasting someone else’s God. So in this display of mockery for Egyptian beliefs, the people will not forget humility, and during the recitation of the ten plagues, they will spill out a bit of their wine from their silver kiddush cups.

Why don’t we do the passover sacrifice today? The only reason is that it has to be offered on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and the Israeli police don’t allow it because sacrificing a lamb there might cause an international incident.