Posts Tagged 'humility'

Bone Breaking: Between Liberation and Apotheosis

In Bo, this week’s Torah portion, we learn the peculiar commandment not to break any from all of the bones of the Passover sacrifice. We read:

The Lord said to Moshe and Aaron: This is the law of the Passover offering: No foreigner shall eat of it. But any slave a man has bought may eat of it once he has been circumcised. No bound or hired laborer shall eat of it. It shall be eaten in one house: you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house; nor shall you break a bone of it. The whole community of Israel shall offer it.(Exodus 12:43-47).

Clearly this commandment is connected to the general  commandment to remember the miracles of Egypt.  At most basic level we learn who gets to eat of the Passover sacrifice. This action very clearly helps us define the group and who is a part of our nation. But still what is the problem of breaking the bones?

About this the Sefer HaHinuch writes:

…it is not honorable for the sons of kings and the advisers of the land to drag the bones and break them like dogs. It is not a proper thing to do this, except for the impoverished among the people and the starving. And therefore, as we began to become the chosen of all nations, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), and in each and every year at that time, it is proper for us to do acts that show in us the great stature which we achieved at that hour. (Sefer HaHinuch 16)

This argument suggests that breaking the bones on any day would be beneath us, but on Passover when we are reenacting our liberation and lounging ( leaning)  as kings, we should not gnaw at bones like slaves.  It seems that there is still more going on with this commandment.

I was thinking about this question a few months ago while reading up on my Norse mythology.  At the time I was preparing to take my boys to see Thor: Ragnarok . As I learned Thor‘s chariot was pulled by two goats Tanngrisnir ( snarler) and Tanngnjóstr (teeth grinder).

Thor (1910) by Johannes Gehrts

When Thor was hungry, as he had an epic appetite, he would kill and cook the goats. After eating them Thor resurrected them with his hammer and they would be brought back to life the next day. Once while on one of their many adventures Thor and Loki stayed a night at the home of peasant farmers. Thor invited them to share with them his goat meal. Despite Thor’s warning against it, Loki suggests to the son of the farmer that he should taste of the goat marrow because it will make him like a god. Sure enough the mortal follows the suggestion of the trickster and breaks one of the bones to taste of the divine marrow.  When Thor resurrects the goats the next morning, he finds that one of the goats is lame and becomes enraged. As a result, Thor maintains  the farmer’s son and his sister as his servants and join Thor and Loki on their adventures.

While I know that a lamb is not a goat, there is something interesting here between these two narratives. Many believe that the lamb was a god to the Egyptians. The act of sacrificing the Egyptian god was itself an act of defiance and demonstrated the Israelite commitment to leave and not return. In light of this story of  Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, maybe the prohibition of breaking the bones is not that we are like dogs gnawing on bones. Maybe the prohibition is meant to stop us from listening to Loki the trickster. We might mistakenly think that we could become gods and ultimately just become servants. Our tradition is full of commandments that help us preserve the memory of our  exodus from Egypt. I believe this prohibition to breaking the bones of the Passover sacrifice is  to teach us humility. It is to remind us that this is a story of our liberation not our apotheosis.

-Also on Thor: Ragnarok: The Binding : Fenrir and Isaac  and Gog, Magog, & Ragnarök 

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