Ibn Ezra

Ibn Ezra: Paschal Limp (Bo)

"Self-Portrait as a Limping Cat," by Vlad Zabavskiy
"Self-Portrait as a Limping Cat," by Vlad Zabavskiy

The Torah Text

Exodus 12 pauses from the larger drama of the Exodus story to detail the proper Pesach (Passover) observance for the Israelites at that moment and in future generations. The word pesach, which will eventually give the festival its name, makes its first appearance. It most often is translated “to pass over” today, but not everyone agrees on that definition.

Ibn Ezra’s Teaching

ואמרתם זבח פסח. מצאנו פסוח והמליט. והטעם כמו חמלה. ובעבור שהשם חמל על בכורי ישראל בעבור דם השה נקרא השה פסח. כמו ושחטו הפסח. והגאון אמר שהוא מגזרת פסח. כי הפסח ישען על רגלו התמימה. והמשחית כן עשה שהשחית בכורי בית מצרים ופסח על בית שכנו העברי ולא השחיתו. וכמוהו עד מתי אתם פוסחים

Exodus 12:27 THAT YOU SHALL SAY: IT IS THE SACRIFICE OF THE LORD’S PASSOVER. The word pesach (passover) is to be rendered pity, as we find, paso’ach ve-himlit (God will pity it and rescue it) (Isaiah 31:5). The lamb is termed pesach, as in “and kill the pesach-offering” (Exodus 12:21), because God had pity on the first-born of Israel because of the blood of the lamb. However, Rabbi Saadiah Gaon says that the word pesach is derived from the word pi’se’ach (limp), since a lame person supports himself on his healthy leg. The destroyer acted in a similar manner. He exterminated the first-born in the Egyptian home and passed over the home of his Hebrew neighbor and did not destroy him. The term posechim (hopping) in “How long will you keep hopping between two opinions” (1 Kings 18:20) is similar. (Translation Strickman and Silver)

Reflections for the Path

Saadiah Gaon’s opinion presents a novel understanding of pesach, a Legendary Limp metaphorically reminding us of the asymmetry of destruction that spared the Israelites and struck the Egyptians.

In contrast to last week’s ode to centering, this off-center mode suggests other directions of practice. What in your life could use a little more extremity and one-sided attention in order to protect people and things that matter? Alternatively, what harm might you be able to reduce by noticing asymmetry (privilege) and bringing it more into center (equity)?

For more on Abraham ibn Ezra:
1. Read my introduction.
2. Listen to ibn Ezra’s opening prayer poem for his Torah commentary.
3. Explore the five paths, ibn Ezra’s introduction to his Torah commentary.