I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles with Ikea furniture. It’s not that the instructions are not clear, it’s more a case of the fact that I am somewhat challenged in my ability to put the furniture together. In contrast my father seems to consider Ikea furniture to be some form of puzzle-game, one which he loves to play. When we had several items of Ikea furniture to put together it would have been easy for him to do it by himself; but it was good for me to help (in whatever way that I could). It also meant that a few years later when I had to build some relatively simple Ikea furniture by myself, I was up to the task, and built the bookcase with only one mistake. He helped me not just to build the original furniture, he helped me to learn the skills to eventually take responsibility for building the furniture myself.
In this week’s Torah portion as we come to the end of the Ten Plagues, the Israelites are finally required to become active participants in their Exodus from Egypt. The first instruction given by God is ‘let every man borrow from his neighbor, and every woman from her neighbor, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold’ (Exodus 11:2). After all the years of slavery it is as though the people are supposed to collect payment from the Egyptians for the work they have done.
And then, as they waited for the tenth, and final, plague the people were commanded to take a lamb for their household and to ”take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses’ (Exodus 12:7). They had to mark their homes, for as God explained ‘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’ (Exodus 12:13).
Are we to believe that God could specifically target all of the first born in the Egyptian households, but was unable to identify which houses were populated by Israelite families? It seems hard to believe that God really required us to mark our home to know which houses to pass over, so maybe it was a commandment for us.
As a people who had been slaves for several generations we had lost our independence. The taskmasters defined what we could and could not do, while we had been stripped of the ability to think and act for ourselves. While it is clear that it was God, with the help of Moses and Aaron, who was taking us out of Egypt; with these instructions God was ensuring that we were beginning to take responsibility for ourselves.
First we had to collect the payment which we were owed, and then we had to mark our own homes so that God would pass over them. In marking our homes we were actively accepting our Israelite identity, with a public declaration on the doorpost of our houses. But on a secondary level, through this action we were able to be active participants in the Exodus from Egypt.
We could have been purely passive as God took us out of Egypt, but these moments were important as they allowed us to take responsibility for ourselves. And in so doing we were actually taking the first steps from slavery to freedom.
And if you want to listen to this Two Minutes of Torah: