Passover: You shall eat it “in panic”

“The Crossing of the Red Sea” by Nicolas Poussin
Nicolas Poussin • Public domain

“And thus shall ye eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste–it is the LORD’S passover” (וְכָכָה, תֹּאכְלוּ אֹתוֹ–מָתְנֵיכֶם חֲגֻרִים, נַעֲלֵיכֶם בְּרַגְלֵיכֶם וּמַקֶּלְכֶם בְּיֶדְכֶם; וַאֲכַלְתֶּם אֹתוֹ בְּחִפָּזוֹן, פֶּסַח הוּא לַיהוָה). – Ex 12:11

As we approach Passover, our rabbi focused in class yesterday on the Hebrew word, chipazon (“in haste” – בְּחִפָּזוֹן). “In haste” is the usual translation. He suggested the word really means, “in panic.” He talked about the idea that the Israelites were slaves, and that is a brutal and terrible state of being, but they had been there for 400 years, and they knew what to expect, knew what the next day would be like. The idea that this was their last evening where they were and that the next day they would begin their journey toward freedom and a new (and yet unknown) world was both exhilarating and terrifying, hence panic.

I recalled my own study of Va-era and Bo a few weeks back in which I focused on the past, the place where the Israelites were (rather than the future, where they were going, my rabbi’s focus) when I analyzed the Ten Plagues. I saw the Ten Plagues as a roll back of creation for the world of the Egyptians, a return to a pre-creation state of darkness and void with no future.

The Red Sea Crossing story emphasizes this theme: rushing forward in panic with the world behind dissolving and no clear vision of what is ahead.

These two ideas together, expressed in crossing through the sea, capture for me the Passover moment, בְּחִפָּזוֹן or panic, poised between the dissolution of the old world and the unknowability of what is to come, striking out toward the future based solely on faith.

I have been there, although as my Dad once suggested, without the faith. I experienced it as depression and terror. It is a powerful experience, and truly, it is faith that alleviates it and drives us forward. At that time so many years ago, I guess I finally did discover the rudiments of a faith of some sort, a voice from somewhere that said it was worth holding on, that something might yet come even though I couldn’t visualize it. I will think about that experience at my Seder this year, reliving the Exodus “as if” I were there.

I will think about our world today in which old orders dissolve all around us, and we drive forward despite our difficulty visualizing the future. I will imagine us crossing a great sea בְּחִפָּזוֹן, in panic, holding onto shreds of a faith that the new world we build will be a good one, one filled with justice for all creatures and all creation.

For more, visit my blog,, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Ideas? Would like to hear from you!