The Sign of Divine Protection
By Rabbi Johnny Solomon, OTS Amiel BaKehila Community Educator – United Kingdom
3332 years ago, on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Nissan, the Israelites were instructed by God to ‘take a lamb…hold it in safekeeping … then slaughter [the lamb on the fourteenth of Nissan] and… place it’s [blood] on the two doorposts and on the lintel above the door of the houses where they ate [the paschal lamb]’ (Shemot 12:3-7).
Significantly, the Egyptians regarded the lamb as a god, and so the public slaughter of lambs by the Israelites was a huge affront to the idolatrous Egyptian culture, and a huge act of faith and loyalty by the Israelites to the One God.
Yet there is an important detail that is often misunderstood in this story – and this concerns where the Israelites placed the blood. The Torah itself makes it clear that the purpose of placing the blood on the two doorposts and the lintel was so that, on the night of the fifteenth, God ‘will see the blood and Passover your [home]’ (Shemot 12:13), and by doing so the Israelites were assured safety from the deadly divine plague that was to sweep through Egypt. In fact, on the basis of this verse Rabbi Yishmael (see Midrash Mechilta 12:7) taught: “‘And I will see the blood’ (Shemot 12:13) – the blood should be visible to Me and not to others.”
From here we learn that the blood was placed by the Israelites around their doors on the inside of their homes, and that its purpose was to be a divine sign—for the divine. However, the Midrash then cites the opinion of Rabbi Natan who, on the basis of this same verse, taught: “‘and the blood will be a sign’ (Shemot 12:13) – this means that the blood will be a sign for you, but not for others.” This interpretation offered by Rabbi Natan agrees with the claim made by Rabbi Yishmael that the blood was placed by the Israelites around their doors on the inside of the homes.
However, he argues that its purpose was to be a divine sign for the Israelites.
Finally, the Midrash cites a further opinion of Rabbi Yitzchak who taught that the blood was placed by the Israelites around their doors on the outside of their homes, and that this was doing to taunt and frustrate the Egyptians.
So we have here a three way debate: Rabbi Yishmael claims that the blood was daubed on the inside and that it was a sign for God; Rabbi Natan also claims that it was daubed on the inside but that it was a sign for the people, and Rabbi Yitzchak claims that it was daubed on the outside and that it was a sign for the Egyptians.
Though movies like ‘The Prince of Egypt’ appear to follow the opinion of Rabbi Yitzchak, which opinion is most accepted in Jewish teachings?
Though it is hard to make an absolute statement on this issue, it is of significance that Rashi in his commentary to Shemot 12:13 only cites the opinion of Rabbi Natan—that it was a sign for the people, and by doing so I believe he is making a profound point about the meaning and message of the Exodus story.
On that fateful night, as the Israelites remained in their homes behind closed doors, they knew that the deadly divine plague was sweeping through Egypt, and it would only be natural for the people to be scared. But this was the point of the blood that they had daubed, and this was why it was daubed on the inside of their home. That blood served to remind and reassure them that as long as they stayed inside God would protect them.