“Have You Slaughtered Your Sheep Yet?” The title of the article definitely caught my attention. It was, of course, referring to the instructions to the Israelites found in Exodus 12.
“Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month each of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household…You shall keep watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month; and all the assembled congregation of the Israelites shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they are to eat it. They shall eat the flesh that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw, or cooked in any way with water, but roasted—head, legs, and entrails—over the fire. You shall not leave any of it over until morning; if any of it is left until morning, you shall burn it.” — Exodus 12:3, 6-10
The article also describes a Midrash on those verses that says the following:
“Go tie a sheep to your bed and leave it there for four days. It will be there when you go to sleep (good luck with that!) and when you get up. You will hear the baaaaaah for about 100 hours nonstop. The smell of the sheep will permeate your homes. After all that, you’ll take the sheep, roast it and eat it on the eve of the 15th of Nissan. At midday the following day you will leave Egypt as free men!” —Midrash on the verses in Exodus 12
Think about how the kids would respond to all this. You bring a cute little lamb into the house almost like a pet except not house trained. Four days it’s supposed to live with you!! Your kids can’t manage four minutes at the pet store without wanting to bring home every puppy and kitten in the place. But you, you tie it to the bedpost and feed it and care for it for four days before you slaughter and eat it. Sounds like a horror movie centered on traumatizing children.
Maybe a little background on this whole thing will help. You see the ancient Egyptians worshiped their sheep as gods. As a matter of fact, they worshiped hundreds of gods and at least four took the form of sheep including Am-un who took the shape of a man with the head of a ram. He was considered “King of the Gods”. An-on, the “hidden” sun god who considered the lamb sacred, was associated with the astrological sign of Aries represented by a ram. Banebd-jedet was another Egyptian ram/lamb god and Herysh-ef was yet another. These were holy animals and the fact that the Israelites slaughtered and then roasted them on their front stoop was a slap in the face to the Egyptians. How dare they!!!
Then again, the Egyptians had way bigger things to worry about. Every single one of the plagues targeted a god in their panoply of idols.
 When God turned the water to blood it was to attack their worship of Khnum, the god of the river.
 The frogs represented Heqt, the frog-headed goddess of resurrection.
 The lice that followed the death of the frogs stopped all sacrifices to the gods because the Egyptians were concerned about cleanliness.
 The flies were God’s attack on Beelzebub, prince of the air, because flies were always present flying around his ears.
 The disease which attacked their livestock was punishment for the Egyptians worshipping Apis, the sacred bull.
 Boils were a curse against Imhotep, the god of medical cures.
 Hail and fire rained from the sky to show that Nut, the sky goddess, had no power over it.
 The locusts opposed Nepri, the grain god.
 Darkness came as an attack against Ra, the sun god.
When the lambs were roasted and the aroma of the meat reached the nostrils of the Egyptians, it was a final blow. It was meant to show them that their pagan belief-system headed by the king of the gods, Am-un, stood powerless before the one true God.
Let’s be clear, the roasting and eating of the lamb wasn’t just for the benefit of the Egyptians. The Israelites needed to show themselves they were not tied to any of these beliefs. They were not to cower in the face of their Egyptian slave masters anymore. Instead, they would put the blood of that lamb on their doorposts to protect their household from the next plague, the death of the firstborn. Death was an attack against all the gods of Egypt.
Tying that lamb to the bedpost and hearing it bleat all night and make a mess on the floor for four long days before slaughtering and roasting it was “freedom prep” for the Israelites. As the article so aptly put it: “Tying a sheep to the bed for four days was a process in letting go of all that was important until now, and standing up defiantly and declaring: We no longer take you seriously. What was god until now is food tomorrow.”1
So, have you slaughtered your sheep yet? It’s the 10th of Nisan today. The day on which you are to bring that sheep into the house for a four-day stay.
This week is all about prep for Passover. We eat up all the bread, cakes, and cookies in the house. You bake up whatever you can, use it up and gorge on all that fluffy goodness, before clearing it out. On the fourteenth of Nisan (that’s Thursday this week), you go through the house looking for errant cracker crumbs under the couch cushions or in the corners of the kitchen cupboards and you burn it.
Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is. But what’s the point? After a week of matzah, don’t you just go back to bread and cake? The answer is yes, but that’s not the purpose of Passover prep. It’s also “freedom prep.” The purpose is to take an inventory not just of the chametz in the house, but the spiritual chametz in your life. Maybe it’s an emotional issue. You have to be in control of everything. Maybe it’s intellectual and you refuse to listen to anyone else’s point of view. Politics, anyone? Or perhaps it is just some habitual dysfunction you say you can’t control. An anger issue. An inordinate desire to be the center of attention. A foul mouth. Gossip.
The Passover story teaches us that we are to take that pagan god—that stinking little sheep that plagues us—and live with it good and hard for four days. Really see it for what it is. As you sweep the floor and vacuum under the couch and wash out the cupboards, think about cleaning your spiritual house. Once you’ve gotten a handle on what your sheep is, slaughter it. Kill it. It’s more than just a resolution. It’s an opportunity to roast that bad habit or petty ego or jealous streak and declare yourself free.
That’s what the Passover sacrifice is really all about. We celebrate freedom and we slaughter our sheep.