Passover – Genesis 17:7
The commandment to partake of the Passover offering is unique in that circumcision is a necessary prerequisite for participation in this observance (Exodus 12:48). The Scriptural narratives that describe the observance of Passover in the generations of Hezekiah and Josiah shed light on the connection between Passover and circumcision.
In the book of Second Chronicles we read about the observance of Passover in the times of Hezekiah. The passage describes how Hezekiah’s messengers gathered the people and encouraged them to come to Jerusalem to observe the Passover (2Chronicles 30:1-13). The passage goes on to describe how the people celebrated this holiday with great joy (verses 15-27). The verse that joins the two parts of the narratives seems out of place. This verse reads: “They got up and removed the altars that were in Jerusalem, they also removed all of the incense altars and threw them into the Kidron Ravine” (verse 14). It is obvious that the prophetic narrator saw the removal of the idolatrous altars as an essential component to the observance of Passover.
The same theme is repeated in the Scriptural narrative of the Passover that was observed in the times of Josiah. In the 23rd chapter of 2Kings we find a lengthy description of Josiah’s efforts at eradicating every last vestige of idolatry from the land of Israel (1-20). This narrative is followed by Josiah’s commandment to the nation to observe the Passover and their compliance with his command (21-23). In the verse that follows the brief Passover narrative we read: “Furthermore, the necromancers, the conjurers of spirits, the teraphim, the execrable-idols and all the abominations that had been seen in the land of Judah and Jerusalem, Josiah removed…” (verse 24). Again we see how the eradication of idolatry is considered to be an inherent aspect of observance of the Passover.
Every offering is a rededication to God. When one approaches God’s altar with his lamb, with his dove or with his flour offering and these are placed on the fire that ascends heavenward, part of his heart goes up with his offering. By coming face to face with the continuous fires of the altar and the life-blood that was placed on its walls, the worshiper came to the conscious recognition that all physical existence, even life itself, belongs to God. The altar represents the concept that all of life is but an altar upon which man ought to put his energy and wealth towards the constant service of God. When the worshiper returned home from his visit to the Temple, the fires of the altar burned in his heart together with a renewed commitment to the service of God.
The Passover offering is also a rededication to the service of God, but it is not the rededication of the individual; it is a national rededication to God. When Passover comes, Israel relives its birth as a people unto God. Israel relives the time when God passed over the Jewish homes thus declaring that the home of the Jew is not a part of Egypt, but is rather an altar within which God’s service is performed. The Passover offering is Israel’s rededication to its calling as God’s nation. This calling was first ratified between God and Abraham through the covenant of circumcision. It was then that God bound Himself up with Abraham and his children:”…to be a God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7).
This is the calling of Israel and this is what happened when God took for Himself a nation from the bondage of Egypt: “I shall take you to Me for a people and I shall be a God to you” (Exodus 6:7, Numbers 15:41). Being a people to God is a national marriage to God. Our calling as a nation unto God requires that our hearts be pledged to God alone. If any one part of the nation is engaged in idolatry, the national rededication that is Passover cannot be complete. Hezekiah and Josiah recognized that this offering requires a complete rededication to God on the part of the nation. They saw the eradication of any vestige of idolatry as part and parcel of the celebration of Passover.
This renewal of the national commitment to the service of God is higher than any individual’s commitment to God. The relationship between Israel and God goes beyond the relationship of servant towards Master; God and Israel are bound to one another with a covenant. The covenant redefines both God and Israel. The covenant gives God the name: “God of Israel” and the same covenant gives Israel the name: “God’s nation”. Circumcision, the sign that ratifies God’s special relationship with Israel is a necessary prerequisite to the celebration of Passover. The national rededication to God that the Passover embodies must be ratified with this sign of our marriage to God. That is what makes this rededication to God special and unique.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal