The Korban Pesach is unique amongst Sacrifices. From the famous total of 613 Mitzvohs there are no less than eleven commandments associated with this offering; two positive actions and nine negative transgressions. Let us investigate these Mitzvohs:
The two positive Mitzvohs consist of Slaughtering and Eating the Pascal lamb. With all other Korbonos such as a Chatos, Shlomim etc… the slaughtering and eating are bracketed underneath one commandment. Pesach is the exception; these two functions are designated separately. Why?
It is also interesting that each Mitzvah has its own vital time zone. The slaughtering can only be performed on Erev Pesach in the afternoon. The consumption may only take place on the first night of Pesach. All other sacrifices are normally consumed immediately i.e. on the same day they are sacrificed. Why the difference?
One of the stark negative precepts is “Do not sacrifice the Pascal lamb whilst still in possession of Chometz”. Meaning, that besides for the classical requirement to dispose of one’s leaven, there is an additional prohibition not to slaughter the Korban before having destroyed one’s Chometz. Why? What is the connection between Korban Pesach and Chometz?
Furthermore, this prohibition is limited to slaughter, but does not preclude the subsequent ingestion of said Korban. Whether one is still in ownership of the old Chometz or even acquired new Chometz, no sin is transgressed by consumption of the Korban. Why?
This Chag which celebrates our transformation from slaves to aristocrats has a twofold dimension. It represents the ultimate turnaround, first by fleeing evil and secondly by pursuing goodness. This is demonstrated by Chometz and Matzah; Chometz corresponds to the Evil Inclination, and Matzah is the ‘bread of the Faithful one’. On Pesach we refrain from eating leaven and delight in Matzah.
There is a particular sequence to these two ideas. King David proscribes in Tehillim (34:15) “Shun evil and do good”. Before engaging in health we must first reject the detrimental. Thus we are Biblically mandated to abstain from leaven on Erev Pesach and only later engage in eating Matzah on the following evening.
Just as Matzah has an intrinsic duplicity, we may posit that these two ideas pervade the Korban Pesach. How so? Moshe told the people “Draw and take for yourselves sheep” (Shemos 12:21). Mechilta provides an interesting exposition on the seeming superfluous word ‘Draw’:
The Jews were passionately fond of idolatry. Moshe said to them, “Draw and take for yourselves”. He meant: Withdraw from idolatry, and take for yourselves sheep for the mitzvah. (Rashi 12:6)
But what does taking a sheep have to do with distancing from idolatry?
Sheep and goats figured greatly into the local prevalent culture. The young of these species were deified by the Ancient Egyptians. Astronomically, the month of Nissan bears the constellation of young sheep and goats, and in the middle of the month – which correlates to the zenith of the zodiac – the Jews went and sacrificed the lamb. They killed the god of Egypt. The initial sacrifice in Egypt took immense moral fortitude and was the first step in distancing from their depraved descent into Egyptian culture.
A very common Jewish theme is that satisfying the body in not just a necessary evil on the contrary it is a Mitzvah. Food, intimacy and nature are vehicles capable of religious and spiritual growth. Particularly eating of any Korban – an animal offered to Hashem – is an elevating experience.
We now have developed the two components mentioned earlier – shunning evil and doing good. Slaughter of the Korban Pesach was an act distancing from the Evil Egyptians. The subsequent consumption of the lamb is a medium for an inspirational uplift. That is why the two Mitzvohs, Slaughtering and Eating are enumerated separately unlike other Korbonos, because they represent two starkly opposite concepts. In similar vein each commandment has its own time frame – the slaughtering in the afternoon and the eating at night – as they represent two distinct stages. It is only after a period distancing from evil that we can pursue good.
What remains to be explained is why the slaughtering is prohibited whilst in possession of Chometz, but not the eating. The answer is now self explanatory the two notions of Chometz and Slaughter correlate with one another. The slaughter of the Pesach is eradicating evil, by killing the idol of Egypt, and banishing the haughty Chometz conveys a likewise message: how is it possible to kill evil whilst hoarding it in one’s very own larder. This is paradoxical. One runs against the grain of the other. However eating the Korban Pesach whilst in possession of Chometz does not carry a specific prohibition. Many people do good and evil at the same time, not that one excuses the other but the inconsistency is not contradictory. However it is impossible to destroy and eradicate something whilst hanging on to it.