“They shall eat the flesh that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs. Do not eat from it raw or in any way cooked in water” Exodus 12:8-9
This week is Shabbat Hachodesh — the last of four special Shabbatot leading up to Passover. The reading this week tells of the preparations for the Exodus, including details of the meal that was to be eaten on the night of the Exodus itself. The menu is strictly prescribed: roasted (barbecued) lamb is to be eaten together with matzah and maror, bitter herbs. There are even instructions about how to prepare the meat—it should not be undercooked or boiled.
Each detail of this meal is a symbol. The commentators suggest that roasting the lamb is a sign of strength and confidence. You may bake things in the oven or boil them in a pot, but roasting is done out in the open. The Egyptians abhorred the consumption of the flesh of cattle — that is why the Israelites were sent to the Land of Goshen far from the centre of Egyptian culture. Now slaves were defiantly roasting lamb in the open!
This is the reason that the meat had to be well done. When you cook in a hurry, some food may remain uncooked. Although the Israelites were in a hurry, this meal was not to be rushed: they were commanded to take the time to roast their meat properly.
The three components of the meal represent three different things. The maror represents slavery — that is the past. The matzah, baked in a hurry, represents the Exodus — that is the present. The roast lamb, roasted to perfection in the open, represents freedom — the future they were aspiring to.
These symbols are extremely powerful. Each year we gather on the evening of Passover and relive that first Passover meal. For many of us this is an opportunity to reconnect with our past. But the original Seder wasn’t about the past — it was about delineating the ideals that we aspire to in the future.