Pesah- The Love Affair Between G-d and His People
Although we commonly refer to the holiday we now celebrate “Pesah,” this is not the name with which the Torah refers to it. Instead, the Torah calls this holiday “Hag Ha’masot” – the Festival of Masa. What is the significance of these different names, and why does the Torah use one while we use the other?
The Haggada explains for us very clearly the meaning and significance behind the three main foods of the Seder night – the Korban Pesah (which we do not have, in the absence of the Bet Ha’mikdash), the Masa and the Marror. The Pesah offering celebrates the great miracle that occurred on the night of the Exodus from Egypt, when G-d struck the firstborn Egyptians but spared Beneh Yisrael. Each household sacrificed a sheep and placed its blood on the doorposts, which served as a sign of the people’s loyalty to Hashem, and in this merit they were saved. The word “Pesah” means “skip,” referring to G-d’s having “skipped” over Beneh Yisrael’s homes. We are commanded to commemorate this miracle through the offering of the Pesah sacrifice, and in the absence of the Bet Ha’mikdash, we place the “Zeroa” piece of meat on the Seder plate as a reminder of this sacrifice.
The Masa, meanwhile, commemorates the haste and suddenness of the Exodus. Beneh Yisrael were rushed out of Egypt and thus the dough they had prepared did not have a chance to rise, resulting in Masot. This is the only food that the people brought with them out of Egypt into the wilderness, toward Eretz Yisrael, as they did not have an opportunity to prepare anything else.
With this in mind, we can understand the significance of the different names of Pesah. It has been explained that these names reflect the different points of focus on the event of Yesi’at Misrayim (the Exodus from Egypt). G-d, in writing the Torah, focuses on the greatness of Beneh Yisrael, who in a moment’s notice left their homes into the empty, barren wilderness with nothing but Masot. Beneh Yisael displayed great faith in G-d and in Moshe as G-d’s prophet, following Moshe into the dry, arid desert without asking where they were going or how they would be cared for and fed. They proceeded knowing with full confidence that they would be under G-d’s care and all their needs would be provided. This act of unbridled faith was cherished by G-d, and in His great love for His people, He chose to name this holiday “Hag Ha’masot,” focusing on the Masa, on Beneh Yisrael’s extraordinary faith.
We, however, have chosen a different name for this holiday – Pesah. We affirm that the credit belongs not to us, but to the Almighty, who performed great miracles to rescue us from Egypt. Tradition teaches that Beneh Yisrael at that time were entirely undeserving of redemption. To the contrary, they had reached the “forty-ninth gate of impurity,” and had they fallen into the fiftieth, they would have been unable to ever be redeemed. G-d therefore rushed to rescue them from Egypt before this happened. Recognizing how we were unworthy of being redeemed, we give the Almighty all the credit, so-to-speak, and name this holiday “Pesah” to commemorate His miracles and compassion, rather than focusing on our act of faith.
Pesah celebrates the great “love affair” between Hashem and His people. The different names given to this holiday are the source of an “argument” between us and Hashem – but the type of argument that expresses love and affection, not conflict and discord. We want to focus on His boundless grace and kindness, while He seeks to emphasize our meritorious conduct. This is a most beautiful expression of the mutual feelings of love between Hashem and His nation, as each is always looking to underscore and focus upon the great qualities of the other.