The Silence of the Lamb’s Blood

Published 17 years, 10 months past

With Passover recently concluded and yet another viewing of The Ten Commandments under my belt, a question has occurred to me.

The whole point of Passover is to commemorate the events that freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt, and the English name of the holiday comes from the fact that the Angel of Death passed over the Jews as it slew the first-born of Egypt as the final plague.  So why is it that the very act that caused the Angel to pass by a household and spare any first-born within, the smearing of lamb’s blood on the doorway, is not part of the Passover seder?  You’d think that would be a central act, a way of asking that the Angel of Death pass by the house for another year, in much the same way Jews ask God to inscribe their name in the Book of Life for another year during Yom Kippur.  If I were designing the seder, I’d make the smearing of the blood the opening act of the entire ceremony.

Never mind that lamb’s blood can be hard to come by and disquieting for some to handle; it could be symbolically represented with paint or red wine or some other substance.  Most of the seder consists of symbolic representations anyway.  Why not the Pesach blood as well?

Comments (14)

  1. Because when you’re frequently in hiding from various pogroms, putting a big ol’ mark on the door that states, “JEWS ARE HERE!” isn’t the wisest move?

    There’s absolutely no facts behind that statement, incidentally; it’s just my theory.

  2. Why not the Pesach blood as well?

    Most of the modern seder is based upon God’s explicit instructions as recorded in Exodus. Below are some comments I wrote on the subject:
    Seder and the Night of Deliverance

    Now, I must admit that Exodus 12:23-27 basically says to observe the ceremony of speading lamb’s blood on the doorframes as a “lasting ordinance”. However, most Jews today also do not observe the Sin Offerings, Guilt Offerings, and Burnt Offerings as depicted in Leviticus 5 and elsewhere, probably more out of practicality than out of indifference.

    Of course, Christians today do not observe these instructions because Christ fulfilled the laws of Moses and became the last sacrifice.

  3. Good question. My guess is that it wasn’t the blood per se that was important, but the sacrifice of the lamb. There was a whole set of instructions about it (Exodus 12). After the destruction of the Tample, they can’t do sacrifices anymore, so this part of the ritual has been omitted in recent years. They put a lamb shankbone or a chicken neck on the plate but this is purely commemmorative and not to be eaten.

    Admittedly, the Lord God does go on to beat the point into the ground that the blood is a sign that lets him know who to spare, so maybe that’s not the whole story. But for instance, what if someone skimped on the ritual and just slaughtered a lamb without waiting the prescribed period and painted their door with that? Or used some other kind of blood? I bet God wouldn’t have been taken in by that. So I think it’s the sacrifice and the obedience to the prescribed ritual that’s important.

    But what do I know? I’m not Catholic.


  4. I was about to chime in and explain some of the symbolism, but I think Matt’s response pretty much summed it up.

  5. As far as I can see and agreeing with Ximena, once the tabernacle and temple were established in Israel, the only way to get your Pesach lamb was to have it properly sacrificed at the temple. The Seder and other parts of the ceremony were mostly concretised in the synagogue era, immediately preceding and following the destruction of the temple. In that situation, most Jews would not be able to get a properly sacrificed Lamb so the representative of the lamb was in the bone on the seder, not the blood (which belongs to God anyway under the covanent, not the people).

  6. Because when you’re frequently in hiding from various pogroms, putting a big ol’ mark on the door that states, “JEWS ARE HERE!” isn’t the wisest move?

    I thought of that, but it doesn’t wash for me: the tradition of putting a mesusah on the door survived, as did lighting a menorah in the window during Hanukkah. I’m certain there were times and places where both customs were suspended for exactly the reason you cite; yet they survived and were revived when and where it was safe to do so. If it were important enough, the blood (or a substitute) could have been smeared on the inside of the doorway, where the celebrants could see it better anyway.

    Similarly, the reasoning that one couldn’t get a sacrificial lamb anywhere but the Temple doesn’t work for me either, since the blood could be as symbolic as everything else. So far as I know, nobody expects the salt water on the seder plate to be the actual tears of slaves. Wine is fairly central to the ceremony, so splashing or wiping a bit of wine on the lintel would serve a similar function.

    As Matthew points out, Exodus is pretty clear about observing the custom of spreading lamb’s blood, but it appears to have been lost (in the sense of “neglected”) along with several other customs. I guess what I want to know is why, exactly, was it lost? The symbolism seems so incredibly powerful to me that it feels like it must have been dropped for specific reasons, rather than just being forgotten.

  7. There is a symbolic act that is kinda reminicent of the lambs blood on the door. It’s the fixing of a mezuza (the little plastic box, with a handwritten scroll inside) on the doorpost. It just that it should be permenently afixed, and therefore there is no yearly ceremony

  8. We’re doing our seder tonight and I’ve been thinking about the evening because we typically have two to three times as many non-jews at our table as jews and I always feel the need to set the tone for them. What has always surprised me, since leading the seder, is that you really aren’t telling the passover story. Much of the seder is a meta-story. You talk about rabbinical interpretations of the signs. You talk about how your are to answer questions.

    You don’t tell the story itself. And the seder itself is usually interrupted by people at the table telling stories of something that happened at this point in the seder some years in the past – they opened the door for Elijah and the neighbor cat walked in.

    For my kids, we have always preceded the seder with a showing of the Rugrats Passover. Tonight, about a mile down the road from you, we’re having a bunch of people over. You’re welcome to join us. We’ll be in the home without the lambs blood on the door.

    For me, and I may be crossing over the line of what is polite to share, this is a very difficult year and the angel of death has visited us recently and taken the one who would have finally been ready to read the four questions.

  9. Ignoring the whole aspect of the parallel between the Passover lamb and the blood of Jesus, that’s a good question. If there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood, then one could view the act of putting blood on the doorposts as an atonement for sin, which was later replaced by the various priestly sacrifices in the temple. If one imagines that the Jews of the time viewed the Passover blood as an act of atonement more than something to be traditionalized, then it’s quite understandable that they would have allowed it to be replaced by the ritual sacrifices.

    Regarding why it wasn’t reintroduced into the traditions when the temple was destroyed, well, have you ever tried to modify a tradition and make the modification stick? ;)

  10. I thought the Jewish Seder does recognize this.

    “The day before Pesach is the Fast of the Firstborn, a minor fast for all firstborn males, commemorating the fact that the firstborn Jewish males in Egypt were not killed during the final plague.” (Source)

    The shadown the passing over the first-born was a type or shadow. The antitype, or fufillment of the type, is done in the Messiah: Jesus of Nazareth.

    For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop [signifying the Seder], and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU.” And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.
    Hebrews 9:19-25

  11. Eric, I asked some people in the know around here (I live in Israel). Apparently the 4 cups of wine are representative of the blood’s role in the Passover seder. Although the process of applying the blood on the doorposts is spoken of but not re-enacted, the cups of wine are definitely quite central to the whole meal.

    One other thing I was asked to point out connected to this is that the blood on the doorposts was for God’s “benefit”, not the Angel of Death’s. As a matter of fact, while reading over the account in Exodus, it says multiple times that it is the LORD (יהוה – Yahweh) Himself who will go through Egypt, who will see the blood on the doorposts and pass over that household (Ex. 11:4, 12:11-13, 23, 27 & 29), not the Angel of Death. The only mention of the Angel of Death that I can find is in Exodus 12:23, where (in my translation, at least) it is referred to as “the destroyer”:

    For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.

    It almost sounds like the LORD was going throughout the land of Egypt with the destroyer on a leash, showing it where to strike and where to pass over.

    Another interesting thing that just occurred to me from reading this verse is that we generally think of the act of the LORD “passing over” the households as Him “skipping” them and moving on to the next one. But (and this sounds a bit more plausible in Hebrew than in English AFAIK) one could almost understand this verse to mean that the LORD moved into a sort of guard position over the doors of the houses covered by the lamb’s blood, “not allow”ing the destroyer to enter that house.

  12. My understanding was that Orthodox Jews still practiced this and other Jews felt that the Torah over their doorways performed the same function as the lambs blood. But I’m not exactly knowledgeable about Judaism (modern or ancient), nor am I Jewish. That’s just the answer I got from my wife, who told me what her Jewish friends and family told her when she asked (8 or so years ago when they were in high school).

  13. Psalms 78:48-50 tells of Exodus and references a “band of destroying angels.” This is where the references to “death angel” comes from.

  14. Does anyone know where to acquire lamb’s blood today. Can it be purchased in a freeze-dried state.

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