Bo - Inside/Outside (Ex. 10:1 - 13:16)
© 2017 S.H. Parker

The year is approximately 1343 B.C.E.... (See 1Kings 6:1 and do the math.)

“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, free at last!” We’re outta there (“The children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth,” Ex. 12:37). The exodus happens.

Before that, we are told about the last three plagues, locust, darkness, slaying of the first born or, at least, the warning that it is coming.

(Note that בְּכוֹר֘, firstborn, might equally mean “inheritor,” the rightful heir of a family, typically a royal family, i.e., Pharaoh’s son – perhaps this is why the text goes to such lengths to include all Egyptians and, even, all animals.) 

We get the first version of the korban pesach (the Passover/paschal sacrifice – Ex. 12:3-6). Then we are told to “take from the blood [and] put it on the two mezuzot [doorposts] and on the lintel” (12:7). 

We are told to roast the meat. It is to be well done (not נָ֔א - as Rashi notes "something not roasted sufficiently"). We may not boil it.

Boiling meat was the “civilized” way to consume meat in those days. Roasting, cooking directly over a fire (picnic?), was “eating rough.” 

And why paint our doorposts and lintels with blood?  “The blood will be for you for a sign upon the houses where you will be and I will see the blood and skip [the literal translation of “pasach”] over you” (12:13). God needs a marker to know who to skip over? 

This mystery deepens with further details on marking the doorposts: 

You will take a bunch of hyssop and immerse [it] in the blood that is in the basin, and you shall extend to the lintel and to the two doorposts the blood that is in the basin and you shall not go out, any man, from the entrance of his house until morning. (12:22)


 (The use of a basin, not mentioned the first time we are told to “paint” our doorposts, is reminiscent of the temple korbanot, isn’t it?)

God needs a visible marker and we are to perform the sacrifice in a manner not yet formalized. As Artie Johnson used to say, “Veeeerrrrrrryyyyyy intereshtink.”

(Well, actually, Torah never claims that God is omniscient. Torah paints a very clear picture that God is not, nor omnipotent nor omnipresent. Of course, to see this, one must actually attend to the text. No, omniscience is entirely a creation of the early commentators.) 

Rabbi Joseph Radinski,  צ"ל, taught me that the blood was painted on the inside. If “you shall not go out, any man from the entrance of his house until morning,” the inference that the doorposts were “painted” from the inside has some validity.

So, not just a visible sign but one not public, where it can be seen…. Inside, whatever this is about is just for my family and absolutely no one else.

Why not outside, like the Chanukah lights, to publicize the coming miracle? Why inside?

Why for my eyes only?

Before the ascendance of Christianity, when authors defended their culture or attacked someone else’s, they did so on the basis of their respective law codes (see Josephus). So what does an examination of law codes current in the second millennium BCE - the time of the exodus - tell us about Mesopotamian and Levantine societies?

All of these law codes share a notable characteristic. All of them are statements that are highly “case oriented.” They sound like judgments of specific cases. They are entirely behavior-oriented.  And we are left to infer the underlying principles, if any, behind these judgments.

(Christianity, being faith-based instead of kinship or nation-based, evolved quickly into orthodoxy of confession, purity of belief; a phenomenon still very much with us in areas not normally considered religious.)

To many, Torah appears no different from these other ancient law codes. And Israelite religion is often described as a behavior-oriented religion.  Of course, this assertion is utter nonsense.

Torah does differ from other ancient law codes, somewhat. Its lists of do’s and don’ts do not actually read like judgments at the end of a case. They sound more like more modern laws; they sound like rules. That is, they are at a higher level of abstraction.  More than that; Torah often tells us what its basic principles are: you will do this “because you were a stranger,” “you will not bear a grudge … you will love your neighbor,” when you do wrong to another person, you have made a breach with God and the like. This makes it easy to determine whether a commandment – certainly the non-ritual commandments – expresses those principles.

Still, both Torah’s commandments and Torah’s principles are almost exclusively expressed as behavior, as the external, the outside….

As I said a moment ago, “Of course, this assertion is utter nonsense.”

Even the Rabbis picked up on the program (Pesachim 50b). It is Cognitive Dissonance theory: doing the commandments, trying to actualize the expressed principles causes your personality to change. Doing causes changes in character. Doing, consistently, good, you become good. Doing, consistently, right, you become righteous.

The outside shapes the inside.

Who would have thought…?