Confusing passages in Torah: Interpret —and remember

Parashat Bo contains several strange and confusing passages that require interpretation in order to make sense.
Among them is Exodus 12:11. It explains that the Israelites, who are about to leave Egypt, should eat the Passover offering with their loins girded, their sandals on their feet, their staff in hand, and they should eat it quickly. One might say, well, of course — they were about to leave Egypt and they had to be ready. That’s very reasonable — except for the fact that other passages seem to indicate that the Israelites didn’t leave right away or they didn’t know they would be leaving. For example, they are instructed to burn any leftovers of the Passover offering in the morning (Exodus 12:10).
We’re also told later that they didn’t prepare any provisions so they had only unleavened bread (Exodus 12:39).
So if they didn’t have to dress up and eat it quickly because they were about to leave, why does the Torah create a ritual around eating the Passover offering? And why are they already practicing the ritual even before they have left Egypt? It’s actually amazing to think about — even before the Israelites are free, we are told that we’re going to celebrate the moment that’s about to happen by eating special foods and dressing up a certain way. It not only describes the early ritual of Pesach; the Torah also explains what to say when our children ask why we are doing these strange things (Exodus 12:26-27). That’s a lot of chutzpah!
I don’t know why the Torah was written this way, although I think it speaks quite clearly to the importance of remembrance. It hits us over the head with the message that we are supposed to remember the Exodus from Egypt. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because the Torah reminds us about lots of things. We remember the Exodus on Passover. We remember the Exodus on Shabbat. We remember Shabbat. We are constantly asked to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. We see the fringes on the tallit and we’re supposed to remember the mitzvot/commandments. We joke about how Jewish mothers offer constant reminders of things we’re supposed to do or things that we should have done, but they’re only following after the Torah.
What I love about Judaism is that as important as remembrance is, we don’t just stop and remember. We are instructed to allow that remembrance to guide our actions. From the celebration of Passover to actually stopping and living by a different set of rules on Shabbat — it matters what we do. We’re supposed to remember the mitzvot so we can do them.
We’re supposed to remember that we were slaves in Egypt because that reminder is supposed to have an impact on how we act. Don’t oppress the stranger — care for people as people. Remember that each individual, no matter their background, deserves to be treated with dignity and beauty. Remembering our struggles is supposed to inspire us to extend our hand in compassion, understanding and friendship.
We know what it’s like to be feared and hated. Unfortunately, there’s far too much of that still going around. It’s not like we have to remember back to the Torah to think about how poorly we’ve been treated as a people. All the more reason to live our Judaism. This means that we study and remember and we allow those teachings to guide our actions and better our world.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville.

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