Chapter 12: The Exodus, or How to Remember
-Structure and Layout
Chapter 12 is structured in an almost random way, splicing together seemingly disjointed bits of information and stories. At points, the chapter seems to revolve around the climax and ultimate result of the plague narrative--the death of the first born and the Exodus itself. At other times, however, much of the text is concerned with the procedural layout of the Passover offering and the holiday of Passover. Other commandments are also interspersed throughout the chapter, like the commandment of Rosh Chodesh. What could be the reason behind this haphazard structure?
The story of the Exodus finds itself placed in between two seemingly identical moments; the Passover offering is described in both the beginning and the end of the chapter. One explanation for this repetition could be in the purpose of Passover. In the chapter, it is described as an "institution for all time, for you and your descendants" (12:24); essentially, the purpose of Passover is to remember the miracle of the Exodus. However, the Hebrews would be unable to remember an event that hadn't happened yet, which is the case for the first description of the Passover offering and holiday. The observances and laws had to be repeated, so the newly redeemed Israelites would actually understand the purpose and meaning behind the holiday.
-Shadal on Exodus 12
Various commandments surrounding the Exodus are detailed in this chapter, and Shadal comments on many of them.
Perhaps the most out-of-place commandment is the institution of Rosh Chodesh, specifically the institution of Nissan as the first month of the year. Earlier, Tishrei is described as the first month, which makes this new inauguration very odd. Shadal explains that Nissan would act as the first month of the newly independent Jewish nation. After the Exodus, the calendars shifted in order to remember this unprecedented event.
Later on in the chapter (12:14-20), a nameless festival is described in detail. We know it to be Passover, but that name is never used. Pesach is used in conjunction with the offering, but never in the context of the actual holiday: names like Zichron and Matzah seem more prevalent. The first and last days of this seven day period, beginning on the 14th of Nissan, are meant to be made holy, and unleavened bread should be eaten. Shadal explains that "make holy" implies an assemblage of people, as Isaiah 1:13 describes the Sabbath and festivals. Passover is one of the Shalosh Regalim, and it is meant to be observed in mass, perhaps in order to reflect the events of the Exodus.
After God speaks to Moses about the Passover offering, Moses goes to the elders of Israel in order to relay part of the message. He includes the part about putting the blood on the doorpost, but he leaves out all of the details of the festival, including the unleavened bread and the passover offering itself. Shadal explains that these details were left out because the Israelites hadn't experienced the miracle of the Exodus at this point, so they wouldn't be able to appreciate the holiday. In fact, the main detail Moses seems to discuss--the bloodying of the doorposts--is the only law that is no longer applicable to Passover today. Moses says that this law will serve as a remembrance for all time, perhaps in reference to the Passover offering itself, but the smearing of blood is clearly a one-time occurrence. The word avodah is used in terms of describing the offering, perhaps to signify the future avodah of the Temple.