“What is the difference between the Pesach celebrated in Egypt (פסח מצרים), and the Pesach celebrated in subsequent generations (פסח דורות)?” – is how the Mishna (Pesachim 9:5) in today’s daf (Pesachim 96a) begins.
In response, the Mishna informs us that when Bnei Yisrael were in Egypt, they took the Korban Pesach on the 10th of Nissan (which was not done in subsequent generations), they sprinkled its blood with hyssop on the lintel and two doorposts of their home (which was not done in subsequent generations), and it was eaten in haste (which was not done in subsequent generations) during one night.
On first glance, what this Mishna seems to suggest is that the core difference between פסח מצרים (the Pesach celebrated in Egypt) and פסח דורות (the Pesach celebrated in subsequent generations) – at least in so far as it relates to activities concerning the Korban Pesach – is rooted in the difference between the intense experience with which the Korban Pesach – whose slaughtering was a theological challenge to the Egyptians who worshipped the lamb as a god – was offered in Egypt, as opposed to the way in which the Korban Pesach was offered in later times.
However, as Rav Shlomo Goren writes (in his essay titled פסח מצרים ופסח דורות), a close look at this Mishna and the parallel Tosefta (Pesachim 8:7) reveals that the real difference between the Pesach celebrated in Egypt, and the Pesach celebrated in subsequent generations, relates to the fact that פסח מצרים was individual/family-centric, while פסח דורות was community/nation-centric. As the Tosefta explains, ‘concerning the Pesach celebrated in Egypt, every individual slaughtered [the Korban Pesach] in their home, while the Pesach celebrated in subsequent generations was slaughtered by all [the people] of Israel in one place’.
What this means is that there was an intimacy of פסח מצרים – which was much more of an individual and family experience – as opposed to פסח דורות – which was much more of a community and national experience. And as such, the transformation of one to the other, from פסח מצרים to פסח דורות, was reflective of the transformation of the Jewish people – who descended to Egypt as individuals and as a family, and who – as a result of the Exodus experience and Matan Torah – bonded as a community and a nation to became ‘like one person with one heart’.
Aside from this insight being noteworthy in-and-of-itself, I mention this because, almost exactly a year ago, the world as we knew it underwent a seismic transformation in response to a global pandemic. And as a result of this, the Jewish people – for whom community is such a central value in our lives – have had to learn to adapt to praying, to celebrating festivals, and to sharing smachot, with just themselves and their closest family members – as opposed to doing so with the rest of their community.
For some of those who have been able to stay healthy and maintain an income during this challenging year, this shift may have possibly provided them with opportunities for personal growth and introspection. However, there have been many for whom the absence of their physical and spiritual community in their life has been the source of immense personal and spiritual anguish. Still, this is the price that we must pay to protect ourselves and others.
In terms of the immediate festival of Purim, it is a matter of פיקוח נפש (i.e. a fundamental principle relating to the preservation of life) that every single person strictly adheres to the rules of their locale – whatever they may be. At the same time, it does seem that in the coming months, and in response to the rising number of those who have received a vaccine, different countries and states may be limiting some of the restrictions that have been in force for some while. And when this occurs, we – in a similar sort of way – will experience something like what our Mishna is describing, which in our case will be the shift from the family and home-based, to the communal and synagogal-based.
For some, this will be a great relief. While for others, who have now come to live a different more home-based Jewish life, this will require some adaptation. Still, what we learn from today’s daf is that though Pesach was celebrated in Egypt as individuals and as a family, the ultimate goal – when the time is right – is to live and celebrate Judaism not just as individuals, but also as part of a wider collective.