The Mark Of Liberation: First Steps

Marking their doorposts with blood, the Israelites took the first step toward redemption, that of naming themselves as oppressed and determined to break free.

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Proactive Freedom

Up to this point in the Exodus story, the Israelites have been essentially passive characters in the unfolding drama of their redemption. Marking their doors with lamb's blood is the first thing that the people of Israel are asked to do for themselves. This act thus becomes their first step towards freedom.

God has told them: "I will go through the land of Mitzrayim on that night, and I will strike down all the Egyptian first-born.  And the blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and I will see the blood and I will pass over you, and there will be no plague against you to destroy you, when I strike in the land of Mitzrayim." (Exodus 12:12-13).

As Rashi points out, this instruction seems rather strange. Does God, the All-Seeing One, need blood on a doorpost to know who is Israelite and who Egyptian? Rather, Rashi notes, verse 13 says that "the blood will be a sign for you"--that is, a sign for the Israelites, not for God. But why did the Israelites need this sign?

Claiming Identity

In order to take a step toward becoming a free people, the Israelites had to mark themselves. An essential first step on any journey towards liberation is a willingness to identify oneself: to step up, to speak out, to mark oneself simultaneously as oppressed and as ready to break the bonds of oppression.

By painting their doorways, the Israelites were both claiming their identity and at the same time making public their rebellion. They willingly risked the possibility that nothing would happen that fateful night, that their Egyptian oppressors might not be killed and would rise the next morning to see the signs of a slave revolt, with the doors of each participant blatantly marked. They marked themselves as slaves, and they marked themselves as free.

This is the challenge that our ancestors leave for us. We may no longer be slaves, but the world is still far from redeemed, and these questions still echo for us: What are the steps that we need to take on our own journey of liberation? How do we mark ourselves as both oppressed and free? What is the risk that we each are willing to take, to signal the beginning of new possibilities? As the Israelite slaves were willing to mark themselves and take that first step, so too may each of us be willing to stand out, speak up, and make our mark on the road towards freedom.

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Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Toba Spitzer is the rabbi of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in West Newton, Massachusetts.