Rabbi Nachum Aaron Kutnowski: Chag Pesach – What’s in a name?

By Rabbi Nachum Aaron Kutnowski

Rabbi Nachum Aaron Kutnowski

(AJNews) – As the Passover season begins to blossom and emerge, many of us pull out our Kittels (white robe), dust off our Haggadot and begin re-exploring the exodus story from Egypt. When learning through the pertinent texts, one may notice that the Torah first introduces the holiday of Pesach by the name of “Chag HaMatzot” – “The Holiday of Unleavened Bread” (see Shemot 23:15). Only several verses later does it even refer to the holiday as “Chag HaPesach” – “The Holiday of the Paschal Lamb” (see Shemot 34:25). As well, if one looks thoroughly through the Bible, the term of “Chag HaPesach” is actually only used in one instance, while the term “Chag HaMatzot” is utilized numerous times (contrast Shemot 34:25 with Shemot 23:15, 34:18, Vayikra 23:6, Bamidbar 28:7, and Devarim 16:16).

Even though it would seem clear that the more biblical name for the holiday is “Chag HaMatzot” based on its greater usage in the Torah, the authors of the Mishna and Gemara regularly employed the term “Pesach” (see Mishna Chagiga 1:3 and Mishna Chulin 5:3 among others). It has also become common parlance to refer to the holiday as Pesach. But why should this be? Wouldn’t we want to refer to this beautiful holiday by the same name employed by Hashem?

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1809), a Chasidic master from Berdychiv, Ukraine, asks our question in his book entitled “Kedushat Levi”. He suggests the following explanation:

The verse states: “I ‎am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” (Shir HaShirim 6:3). This sentence of king Solomon describes the reciprocal relationship between the Jewish ‎people and G-d in very flattering ‎terms.

This can be seen when the Jewish people lay Tefillin in which ‎the praises of Hashem are written out on the ‎parchment. In Maseches Berachot 6a, we are ‎told that G-d also “puts on Tefillin”, but ‎the verses in His contain the ‎praises of the Jewish people. We can also understand a statement recorded in Tanna dDebay Eliyahu which expresses that it is a positive commandment to recite the praises of the Jewish ‎people… from these sources, we find that we are always trying to express Hashem’s praises, while Hashem expresses the Jewish peoples’.

In the context of Pesach, Rashi (Shemot 12:39) explains that the unleavened breads of the Israelites baked by the sun while the dough was ‎slung over their shoulders was to give credit to the Jewish people since their faith ‎in Hashem at that time was demonstrated by the fact that they didn’t tarry in Egypt while their dough ‎would bake into bread so that they would have ‎something to eat while on the way. Instead, they trusted in Hashem and left immediately. Therefore, we find that Hashem calls the holiday “Chag HaMatzot”, to ‎publicize the virtues of the Jewish people.

On the other hand, we call it “Chag HaPesach”, to tell the praises of Hashem Who, at that time, had deliberately “passed over” the homes of the Jewish ‎people when He killed all the firstborn in Egypt. This complementary relation reflects what king Solomon referenced when he stated, “I ‎am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” (Shir HaShirim 6:3)(Kedushas Levi on Shemot 12:27).

Have a wonderful Pesach.

Rabbi Nachum Aaron Kutnowski is the Head of Judaic Studies at Halpern Akiva Academy.




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