The Hidden Miracle of Redemption

We were slaves to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. And the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched forearm. And if the Holy One, blessed be He, had not taken our ancestors from Egypt, behold we and our children and our children's children would [all] be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. And even if we were all sages, all discerning, all elders, all knowledgeable about the Torah, it is a commandment upon us to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. And anyone who adds [and spends extra time] in telling the story of the exodus from Egypt, behold he is praiseworthy.

For nearly the last two thousand years the order of the traditional Passover seder has been celebrated through a compilation of texts called the Haggadah (הַגָּדָה). The above paragraph was taken from the opening paragraph to the Maggid section of the traditional Haggadah. It was written in response to the four different places in the Torah in which the Lord commands the Israelites to tell their children of the exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah, which means “telling,” is a book that contains the order of service, including the complete text, for a Passover seder. It was developed to fulfill the commandment from Exodus 13:8, which says, “You shall tell — v’higadtah (וְהִגַּדְתָּ) — your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’”

Hidden Miracles

Passover is a time focused around the Lord’s miraculous deliverance of His people, and the seder commemorates the exodus from Egypt. The participants perform a series of steps that recount the various stages of deliverance from the hand of Pharaoh. According to a commentary on the Haggadah by Rabbi Yedidiah Tia Weil from the late eighteenth century, this opening text not only relays the truth regarding the visible miracles that took place at Passover, but it also speaks of a secondary, concealed miracle:

With an outstretched arm… This is a reference to the right hand of God which is associated with loving kindness (chesed) as we learn in scripture: “Your right hand, Lord, glorious in power; Your right hand shatters the foe.”  The right hand is mentioned twice in this verse, once for the revealed miracle of redemption and the other for the hidden miracle of redemption.

According to this interpretation, the first mention of the Lord’s right hand represents the revealed miracle of redemption that took place at Passover. The second mention, however, corresponds to what he calls the “hidden miracle of redemption.” But what was this hidden miracle? What miracle took place that we see neither in the biblical text nor the Haggadah? According to Rabbi Weil, not just one stronghold bound the Children of Israel, but two forms of oppression were working against them: 

There were two forms of oppression in Egypt: there was the oppression of Pharaoh whose heart was hardened and there was the oppression of being trapped in Egypt, which was filled with impurity and sorcery, from which they could not flee.

Here we see there were two distinct forces working against the Children of Israel when they were in the land of Egypt: the oppression of Pharaoh, and the oppression caused by evil influences in Egypt. In order for Israel to be truly free, both of these forces had to be destroyed.

Rabbi Benjamin David Rabinowitz, a German rabbi who wrote another commentary on the Haggadah at almost the exact time as Rabbi Weil, also saw a secondary miracle in the events of the Exodus. However, his opinion differs from Rabbi Weil as to the nature of that miracle. He believed there to be a miracle in regard to the matzah:

The miracle of the matzah is that the Israelites' dough did not become hametz after they left Egypt! The Israelites were commanded to eat matzah on the fifteenth day of Nisan when they left Egypt. Yet the people did not have time to bake before they left Egypt … One of the miracles when they left Egypt was that their dough did not become leavened on the initial leg of their travels from Egypt!

According to Rabbi Rabinowitz, the unseen miracle of the exodus was that the dough did not become leavened when they left Egypt. In our modern culture, we don’t see anything miraculous about this, because we typically don’t understand the bread-making process of the ancient world. Let’s take a moment to learn a little about bread-making in the ancient world.

The Bread of the Ancient World

Unlike modern bread-making, which uses commercially-prepared, often dry yeast, the ancient world made their bread from what we would call a sourdough starter. Whereas modern bread-making generally involves the addition of dry yeast to create the leavening process, the ancient world did not know of anything of this sort. The active dry yeast, so common in the modern bread-making process, did not exist until World War II, when it was created as an easy-to-store solution for the United States armed forces. Prior to the cultivation of commercial yeast in the late nineteenth century, breads became leavened through the use of a sourdough starter. The starter was made simply from flour and water. It was left to sit and absorb the natural yeast cultures that are found in the air and begin the fermentation process. Over time, this starter dough became saturated with yeast through the natural fermentation process, and was added into a dough mixture to speed up the leavening. Yeshua speaks of this when he compares the Kingdom to a bit of leaven (sourdough starter), saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33).

Guarding the Matzah

Have you ever really thought about the difference between matzah and chametz? The only difference between matzah and chametz is that someone has made it a priority to protect the matzah from the subtle and imperceptible influences of leaven. They have guarded the matzah from becoming chametz.

Exodus 12:17 cautions the Children of Israel, saying: וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת-הַמַּצּוֹת. The literal reading of the text is, “And you shall safeguard the unleavened bread(s).” Traditionally, this phrase is translated to mean, “You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread.” In the Torah, however, there are no vowel markings. Therefore, the word המצות can be read not only as matzot (מַצוֹת), but also as mitzvot (מִצְוֹת). Without the vowel markings, the words matzot (unleavened bread, plural) and mitzvot (commandments) are spelled identically. Therefore, matzot could be vocalized as mitzvot, resulting in the admonition, “You shall safeguard the commandments.” Although the literal command is in regard to guarding the matzah — whether through the cooking process or the observance of the week of Unleavened Bread — it can be midrashically read as instruction to guard, or carefully observe, the commandments. At first, these two concepts seem disconnected, but they are really one and the same. Just like guarding against leaven, we must protect against sin through safeguarding the commandments. Just like the Children of Israel’s redemption from Egypt, it is not enough that we are redeemed from our past sins. We must constantly guard against external forces that would seek to place us into bondage in ways that are much more subtle and often unobservable from the outside.

Tzafun (Hidden)

There is a section of the Haggadah called Tzafun, in which the afikomen (the final piece of matzah eaten at the seder) is eaten. Tzafun means “hidden.” Before eating the afikoman, we say, זֵכֶר לְקָרְבָּן פֶּסַח הָנֶאֱכַל עַל הָשׂוֹבַע — “In memory of the Pesach sacrifice that was eaten upon being satiated.” 

Yeshua is completely without leaven. He was pierced. He was striped. He was broken. He was hidden away for a time and then resurrected. Therefore, we should celebrate the Passover in remembrance of Messiah, our Passover lamb, not through harboring the leaven of sin, but through the constant guard against its influences:

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. (1 Corinthians 5:6–7)

The hidden miracle of redemption that should take place in the lives of followers of Yeshua is the natural, ongoing process of purging spiritual leaven. Before we pledged our allegiance to Yeshua, we accumulated spiritual chametz without noticing. Just like the starter dough, sin infused our lives without our knowledge. Now, as new creations, we should be constantly aware of sin that would seek to creep up in our lives. We should work to remove it immediately through genuine repentance, rather than merely a prayer for forgiveness. Paul tells us, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). When sin isn’t being consistently revealed and expunged from our lives through repentance, we need to ask ourselves if we really are a new batch of dough, or whether we are the same batch we were prior to our redemption. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). We are not to return to the former bondage we were in prior to our redemption:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh … But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:13, 16–25)

Therefore, let us “celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6–8). May you be renewed this Passover season in Yeshua our Messiah. Chag Pesach sameach! Happy Passover!