Seder night is an event pregnant with tradition and ritual. As the Hagaddah instructs, “we are obligated to see ourselves as if we ourselves were slaves in Egypt.” So much of the Seder night reenacts the exodus and the final night that the children of Israel experienced in Egypt.

The sages identified two prototypical seders: the seder on the eve of emancipation while still in Egypt, (Pesach Mitzraim, Passover in Egypt), and the seder in every subsequent year afterwards (Pesach l’dorot, Passover in subsequent generations).

One component of the former category, the first Seder while still in Egypt, which has never been repeated, is detailed in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Bo. “And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, in which they shall eat it” (Exodus 12:7). One may assume that the blood was painted on the outside of the lintel and doorposts of the doors of the Israelites. After all, a few verses later (verse 13), we read about the need to see the blood: “And the blood shall be to you for a sign upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” On the other hand, the Torah teaches that the “blood shall be to you for a sign,” which may imply that the blood was smeared indoors.

The Midrash (M’chilta Bo, 6) records both opinions, based on both sources above. The Midrash then cites Rabbi Yitzchak’s opinion who argues that the blood was smeared on the outside, to intimidate the Egyptians. Others ask why would God need a sign. Does not God know which houses were Egyptian and which were not?

The Torah provides textual verses that can serve as sources for the ritual blood being painted both on the outside and the inside. Perhaps the best message we can learn from this important debate is that in those moments on that night in Egypt when the Children of Israel became a nation and experienced liberation from servitude, they had to distinguish themselves from those outside. That separateness must be appreciated by both Jew and non-Jew alike.

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