Pesach Second Day (in the Diaspora)
(2 Kings 23:1-9; 21-25)
16 Nisan 5768
April 21, 2008
King Josiah is renowned, among other things, for reversing the national apostasy brought on by his grandfather, King Manasseh. After rediscovering the Torah, which had apparently been abandoned during the reign of his grandfather and father, he proclaimed the Torah to all of the people and bound them in covenant to God\’s law. Josiah then moved to rid the land and even the Temple itself of the idolatrous practices which had accumulated over time.
This done, Josiah rededicated the Temple during Pesah, apparently reinitiating the proper celebration of the festival: \”The king commanded all of the people: \’Offer the Pesah sacrifice to the Lord your God as prescribed in this scroll of the covenant.\’ Now the Pesah sacrifice had not been offered in that manner in the days of the chieftains who ruled Israel, or during the days of the Kings of Israel and the kings of Judah. Only in the eighteenth year of King Josiah was such a Pesah sacrifice offered in that manner to the Lord in Jerusalem.\” (verses 21-23)
The linkage of Pesah to Josiah\’s struggle against the nation\’s idolatry and the reaffirmation of the nation\’s loyalty to God portends a common theme in the religious life of the nation. The Mishnah, in its discussion of how the story of the Exodus should be told at the Seder meal, gives the following guidelines: \”One starts the account with that which is disgrace and concludes one\’s telling with glory.\” (Pesahim 10:4) The Talmud records a debate over what constitutes the \’disgrace\’ which should mark the beginning of the story: \”Rav said: \’In past times our forefathers were idolaters; Samuel (in manuscripts: Rava) said: \’We were slaves.\’\” (Bavli Pesahim 116a) The \’glory\’ here is obviously Israel\’s redemption from slavery.
The Hagadah identifies Rav\’s conclusion with a verse from the book of Joshua (24:2-4) which recounts that Abraham\’s father, Terah, was an idolater. It seems to me that Rav\’s message is larger than an account of Abraham\’s profligate origins. Abraham\’s recognition and rejection of idolatry serves as paradigm for a battle that is constantly in progress. Every generation has its idolatry which has potential to lead it astray. Abraham\’s generation had its idolatry. Josiah\’s had its and we have ours. Each represents the spiritual idolatry which burdens and enslaves those who follow it and keep them from God. Pesah, then, represents our breaking free from these bonds so that we might commit ourselves to a more noble existence before God.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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