As Pesach approaches, we often tell the story of the Pesach sacrifice. The details of how we slaughter it, the painting of the door, the rushed eating, followed by the (perhaps) even more rushed exit from Egypt. These details dwell in our consciousness. We focus less on the advanced preparation that went into the sacrifice.
This week we read how Moshe told the Jewish people on the first day of the month of Nissan to buy a goat or sheep on the tenth, to have it ready to slaughter on the fourteenth and eat it on the fifteenth at night. Why was this necessary? Why not just acquire the animal the day before, or even on the fateful day? The Talmud answers that we must carefully inspect the animal for any blemishes. We could not use a blemished animal, so those three days ensured that the animal chosen was indeed suitable.
Why is this not as well remembered? For all subsequent Pesach sacrifices, this three-day inspection was not required. We only did it the first time. This is one of several requirements which fell away in subsequent Pesach sacrifices, even though they replicate the feel and circumstances of the original closely. When we were slaves in Egypt, conducting a careful inspection of an animal was not easy. It took time that we didn't necessarily have (we were slaves after all), nor were we used to checking for the specific problems the Torah mentions. After leaving Egypt, we were free. We could leave our homes on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. We could take the day to buy an animal and make sure it comported to our strict requirements. We didn't need as much advanced preparation.
This recognition of changing circumstances lies at the heart of the Pesach story. As we retell and relive the experience of leaving slavery, we also revel in our changed circumstances. We remember the pain and bitterness of our past and celebrate our progress since then. This paradox lies at the heart of Jewish historical awareness and the festival most dedicated to that side of our identity.
As we ramp up our own Pesach preparations, let us think carefully, not just about the food, the logistics and the guest list. Though these things are essential, they are ultimately secondary. We must also devote our time to the experience that the Seder seeks to recreate so that when the night arrives, we are truly ready for another meaningful celebration.