Passover and the Zodiac
Slaughtering the Pascal lamb represented breaking free from predetermined forces beyond our control.
Do you look at your horoscope in the pages of your favorite newspaper or magazine? If you’re dating, do you make a point to ask the person you’re interested in for their astrological sign? Do you identify your personality with the traits commonly attributed to those born under the influence of one of the 12 signs of the zodiac?
Do you think there is truth in the words of Shakespeare that “the stars above govern our conditions”?
About 90% of American newspapers carry horoscopes. According to the latest studies, at least 90% of all Americans under age 30 know their sun-sign and there are more than 10,000 practicing astrologers in the United States and Americans spend more than $200 million annually consulting astrologers.
Historians tell us that astrology is almost certainly the oldest and most widespread of all pseudo-sciences whose origins can be traced back to the first half of the Hammurabi Dynasty in Babylonia about 3500 years ago. Yet paradoxically the heyday of astrology was not during the ancient days of scientific unawareness nor the benighted Middle Ages, when the average person was sunk deep in ignorance and superstition, but rather in the 20th century as well as in our own, when most citizens presumably know the basic facts of astronomy and are aware that the planets are worlds similar to the earth rather than independent forces that consign us to predetermined fates.
Our Hebrew ancestors in Egypt, those whose journey from slavery to freedom we commemorate on the Passover holiday, lived in a culture obsessed with the rule of the stars and the power of the planets to predict the future. The Torah tells us how Pharaoh sought out his astrologers in order to divine the true meaning of events.
It is in this context that biblical commentators understand the seemingly strange ritual demanded by God of his people in order to warrant their deliverance.
God told Moses to command the Jews to take “every one of them a lamb for each parental home, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3). They were required to slaughter the lamb and to smear of its blood on the two door posts as well as on the lintel. Only then would God “pass over” the homes of the Hebrews whose firstborn lives the Almighty would save.
Obviously God didn’t need a painted sign to determine whether a home was occupied by an Israelite. This was meant as a test. The lamb was a major god of Egypt. To be saved one had to demonstrate in a public manner the rejection of the Egyptian idol. Only those who had the courage to do so deserved to be redeemed.
It’s striking that the Egyptians chose a lamb as a major god to be worshiped. What could have prompted a warlike nation known for their military prowess by way of horses and chariots to revere such a seemingly docile and peaceful animal?
The great Jewish scholar Nachmanides provides us with a brilliant answer. The very first sign of the zodiac is Aries – the ram or the lamb. Being first, it is the key to all the signs which follow; it is the source of strength for the other 11 signs of the zodiac.
And that is why the ancient Hebrews had to slaughter the Paschal Lamb. It was the most powerful way to express their rejection of a system of thought that placed human action under the power of celestial planets, a belief that runs counter to the idea of human free will that is so fundamental to the theology of Judaism.
Rev. Esther Scott/Min Lex Scott