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The Symbolism of the Korban Pesach
As we soon hope to celebrate Pesach, we encounter a rather unusual biblical instruction which very well reflects the David Cardozo Academy and its unique philosophy.
The Torah (Shemot 12: 1-28, 43-47; Devarim 16: 1-8) states that the korban Pesach (Passover lamb) had to be eaten on the eve of the first day of Pesach in the Temple. It warns us that under no circumstances was it to be boiled. Instead it had to be roasted. This is very strange, since the Torah rarely tells us how to prepare our food. The only other exception is found in Bamidbar (6:19) concerning the Nazir whose sacrifice needs to be boiled.
What is the meaning behind this?
Maharal, in his commentary on the Haggadah, explains that there is a basic difference between boiling and roasting. Boiling is an act that assimilates, while roasting separates. When boiling, we draw several other ingredients into the object we are boiling. These ingredients assimilate with the object, which absorbs and even adapts itself to the added components. It also expands, absorbing the other ingredients, and becomes soft and begins to disintegrate.
Roasting, however, does the reverse: its main function is to expel. Not only does it remove all the blood, but it also separates all ingredients that are not essential to the meat. As such, it shrinks the meat and makes it tough and impenetrable. This, explains Maharal, is the symbolism of the korban Pesach. At the time of the Exodus, when the people of Israel are to become a nation for the first time, it is not yet possible to allow any (spiritual) absorption from outside. No external influences that could compromise its essential spiritual nature may be permitted. The formation of the nation must involve a courageous stand against the culture in which it endured a 210-year exile.
But this is not an ideal situation. No nation or religious movement can live in isolation. Nor should it have to. Rather, a nation must develop the inner strength to open itself up to other cultures and ideologies without losing its own identity, even in the slightest way.
This is the reason why the Torah makes this requirement to roast only once a year and forbids boiling of the meal that celebrates the beginning of Judaism. But it does not prohibit cooking and boiling throughout the rest of the year.
This is characteristic of the Jewish Tradition. Once its foundations have been well established and the structure of Judaism stands like an unshakable mountain, it is able to weather any unwelcome influence from without. More than that, it is then capable of absorbing all forms of genuine human wisdom if they will add to a deeper understanding of Judaism, and will grant the Jew a greater commitment to his tradition. The great Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig wrote, “…in being Jews we must not give up anything, not renounce anything, but lead everything back to Judaism.”
But to ensure that Judaism will succeed at this, it will first have to guarantee that it is well grounded.
Israel’s political and rabbinical leaders will have to learn this lesson. To believe that Judaism can survive without constant hitchadshut, innovation, is just as dangerous as believing that secular culture will provide the answers to Israel’s problems. Our nation must stand on tradition and innovation while being open to the great resources which the world offers us.
Modern Orthodoxy may have become too impressed with secular scholarship and no longer be able to offer its followers enough spiritual challenges, thus losing its appeal to our young people. On the other hand, the Chareidi / “ultra-Orthodox” community has gone to the opposite extreme; it must learn not to be afraid of the outside world. While it is true that the secular world has many attractions that are not in the spirit of Judaism, it cannot be denied that there is much to learn from its wisdom. It may not yet be holy, but it carries the potential to become holy.
We need to give our young people so many reasons to be proud of their great Jewish mission that non-desirable influences from outside will have no appeal. This, however, will require a type of education different from that which is offered by most Jewish high schools, Women’s colleges, and Yeshivot today.
There has perhaps never been a need for Judaism more than today. Many cherished hopes of mankind lie crushed, and Judaism holds profound answers to some of these problems. If we inspire our youth to be pioneers instead of just followers, we can create a new movement that young people would love to join. If they realize that the future of mankind depends on them as committed Jews, many would be equipped to overcome the often hollow challenges offered by some aspects of the secular world. Simultaneously there won’t be a need for withdrawal in isolation.
This is what the David Cardozo Academy stands for. It has already made a deep impression on many young people. It will press forward and will succeed.
As Jews, we must never forget what we are fighting for.