Chipazon - Rapid Redemption

  • Rav Alex Israel


In memory of Pinhas ben Shalom (Paul) Cymbalista zl.

Niftar 20 Nissan 5752. Dedicated by his family.





            The speed or haste of the redemption constitutes a central characteristic of the Exodus and a prime motif of the Seder. This is most pronounced in the context of matza, as we recite:


Why do we eat this matza? The dough of our ancestors did not have time to rise when God, the King of Kings, appeared and redeemed them. As it states, “And they baked the dough that they took out of Egypt as cakes of matza, but not chametz, for they were expelled from Egypt and they could not delay. And they had also not prepared food for themselves” (Shemot 12:39).


The bread “did not have time to rise,” and the Israelites “could not delay.” Bnei Yisrael abandoned Egypt in somewhat of a hurry, and the 18-minute timeframe in which one must bake matzais reminiscent of this ancient time-pressure.


            This hurried flight from Egypt is manifest in other key symbols of Pesach as well. The korban Pesach itself was marked by a certain element of haste. Bnei Yisrael were explicitly directed to eat their Pesach lamb in a rushed and expedient manner:


You shall eat it [the korban Pesach] in the following way: Your loins girded, with shoes on your feet, your staff in your hand – eat it hurriedly – it is a Pesach for God.”[1] (Shemot12:11)


If God instructs us to eat the korban Pesach “hurriedly,” then the speed or haste that characterized the Exodus is not incidental or spontaneous. It was rather carefully planned and crafted, becoming part of the fabric of Pesach itself. God Himself indicated that the night of Yetziat Mitzrayim would be one of chipazon – hurried panic.[2]


            What is the purpose of all this hurrying? Why not take it slowly?


Matza Mystery


            We must begin by telling the true story of the matza. The storyline narrated by the Haggada – that matza is a result of the surprise withdrawal from Egypt, which led to the inability to bake bread in normal fashion – needs some further explanation. After all, Bnei Yisrael knew that they were leaving. Why had they “not prepared food for themselves?” Moreover, as many have noted, Bnei Yisrael already ate matza on the night of the Exodus, before they left the borders of Egypt. God had instructed them:


They must eat the meat on this night broiled, with matzot and bitter herbs together. (Shemot 12:8)


If we ate matza before the Exodus, then why do we dramatize the scene in which the bread failed to rise and it “turned out” as matza? It didn’t “turn out” that way! We ate it that way beforewe left!


            If we examine the evidence carefully, we can reveal the straightforward reading of the text regarding the matza. Let us begin by posing the following question: When, at what time of day or night, were the Israelites planning to leave Egypt? Bnei Yisrael had been clearly instructed:


Let no man leave the house until morning. (Shemot 12:22)


The plan was to wait until daylight and to leave in an organized fashion. However, after the devastating plague of the Firstborn:


Egypt forced the people to hurry, ejecting them from the land, for they said: We are all dead. (Shemot 12:33)


And in the very next verse, we read about the dough that failed to rise!


            We can easily reconstruct what happened: On the eve of their departure, while eating the korban Pesach, the Israelites ate matza as commanded. Still, they knew that they were to travel the next day, and they thus began to prepare travel provisions. As noted by the mishna, there was no restriction banning the consumption of chametz for seven days at this point,[3]and they thus began to knead dough to bake normal, leavened bread to take with them on their journey. They assumed that they would travel only in the morning, and there would thus be enough time for the dough to rise and to bake it in a regular oven.


            But then the Egyptians forced them out of their homes sooner than anticipated. Everything happened faster than planned! With no choice, they wrapped their dough and placed it in their bags. In transit, with no ovens to bake bread, they baked the dough the way one bakes when one is on the road – on a taboon or something similarly portable. This method cannot produce puffy, airy bread, of course; it bakes matza (or something akin to pita bread).


            Thus, matza resulted from a combination of factors. First, the dough had not risen because they were pushed out earlier than anticipated (12:35). Second, they baked it “as matzacakes rather than risen bread” (12:39) because the conditions did not favor baking real bread. There are no ovens in the desert. “For they had been forced out of Egypt!” Their bakingmatza was a result of their being taken by surprise. “They had not made provisions” – the left in a panicked and disorganized fashion.


            Thus, the night of the Exodus was filled with surprise and certainly involved an atmosphere of panic. It was a hurried affair. Some aspects were choreographed by God, as He designated that they should eat in a hurry. Other aspects happened more spontaneously – for example, the hurried evacuation from Egypt. The matza is our enduring symbol of the Exodus’ speed.


Midnight or Morning?[4]


            Why should the korban Pesach be eaten in a hurry? As the Netziv describes it, the korban was eaten “like a man who is in a hurry to leave.” The korban Pesach was the first fast food.


            The Ibn Ezra beautifully picks up on the tension between the redemption of midnight and that of the morning, connecting it to our chipazon theme. The Israelites had been told to eat the korban Pesach “by morning” (Shemot 12:10, 22), indicating that the Exodus would take place only after daybreak. Yet the key moment of redemption would appear to be midnight: “And Moshe said, ‘So says the Lord – At midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt and every firstborn will die’” (Shemot 11:5-6).


            Should the Israelites eat the korban Pesach by midnight or by the morning? The Ibn Ezra suggests a practical consideration for the speed of eating:


“The stick in hand” – to guide their donkeys… And as for the hurrying, it is in order that they not delay, to facilitate their eating before the moment in which the “Destroyer” would arrive in which God would leap over their homes. Hence, God commanded that the lamb be fire-roasted so that it would cook speedily. And likewise our Rabbis said: It must be eaten by midnight.


There was a need to eat quickly in order to consume the Pesach before midnight. It is hurried eating that precipitates the Geulat Mitzrayim, and it is hurried food that commemorates it.


Rav Kook and the Sanctity of Israel


            If we can agree that chipazon is a hallmark of the Egyptian redemption, we need to probe further as to the purpose of this hurry. What is it about the mechanics of Yetziat Mitzrayimthat necessitates this accelerated, frenzied pace?


The chipazon was at its root God’s idea. It was to create Israel and raise it by circumventing the normal process of development. Every nation develops by natural order, rising to its material and spiritual standard gradually. The great potential that lay dormant in a state of enslavement, the nation materially and spiritually diminished, suddenly, surprisingly, burst forth from potential to reality... Behold! A nation was founded, created in an instant! The main reason was so that the national entity should not be influenced by other cultures. (Olat Re’iya)


Rav Kook explains that the suddenness of the Exodus is a Godly act, as it is unnatural for a national entity to be created in a rapid timeframe. Usually, national emancipation is a slow and gradual process, as institutions are built, infrastructure grows, and governance emerges. A nation develops organically and draws its cultural roots from many sources. An example would be countries that were part of the British Commonwealth, for example India, or even Israel. Many of those countries’ parliamentary systems are formed in the image of the colonizing power that governed their countries prior to independence. An emerging country inherits and absorbs the infrastructure of its predecessor.


            Why did God prefer to intervene, to control events and to disrupt natural historical mechanisms? Why not wait for political history to take its course? Rav Kook explains that it was essential for Am Yisrael to be developed and born in an atmosphere of kedusha. It was imperative for Am Yisrael to absolutely avoid Egyptian values and culture absolutely;[5] Israel had to develop on exclusively holy, Godly foundations, on independent cultural bedrock. But how may this be achieved? A nation is not born in a day! Every society absorbs elements from the cultures that surround it.


            This is the reason for chipazon, an instantaneous geula and an unnatural birth for our nation. Am Yisrael could not afford slow development that would inevitably imbibe and incorporate the imprint of Egyptian political, moral, and cultural life. An entirely new national entity was to emerge, guided and influenced by God alone. This is the source of Israel’s sanctity. Hence, the nation was created “in a moment” as an act of God, a new fresh creation that immediately set forth to the desert. There they would develop further as they accepted the Torah and formed their national institutions.


God’s Redemption and Man’s Redemption


            But this redemption comes at a price. Even a Godly redemption, with all the good it entails, has side-effects that can be more complicated. If God can create a nation instantaneously, can human beings manage with such rapid change, such a jump in lifestyle?


            The Sefat Emet sees a more ambivalent and nuanced narrative embedded within the element of chipazon. God can redeem suddenly, in a moment, but humans change slowly. God can impose a new order, miraculously and immediately: “He spoke and it was; commanded and it stood” (Tehillim 33:9). Man, in contrast, needs to develop at a natural pace, gradually growing stage by stage.


            In the middle of their flight from Egypt, Bnei Yisrael were instructed by God to “return back,” to make an about-face and to head for the Red Sea. The Sefat Emet uses this as a metaphor for a step back, a rethinking:


“Speak to the Children of Israel that they return back” (Shemot 14:1): After the Children of Israel left Egypt be-chipazon, in a non-gradual manner – an unstable state of being – they were instructed to retreat and return… so that there would be some stability. (Sefat Emet 5634/1874)


Egypt was a miracle – a huge leap without intermediate stages – and hence it was only temporary. God wished that the redemption remain… so that it remain in his heart even in times of God’s withdrawal. Hence, He commanded that they go back and raise themselves up, and thus, “They cried.” One may ask: After they saw God’s infinite miracles [in Egypt], why did they despair [at the Red Sea]? But they knew that now they must overcome on their own basis. (Sefat Emet 5631/1871)


In every situation, tahara (purity) precedes kedusha (holiness)… but in Yetziat Mitzrayim, the holiness came from “above” [from God] before the Children of Israel had managed to purify their souls. This is the unusual aspect of Pesach in that it came without a [prior] process, as it says [in the Midrash] – they were on the 49th degree of impurity and their freedom prevented their descent to the fiftieth… and they received a temporary state of kedusha. However, now, afterwards, they need to purify the 49 levels with the Sefira [Ha-Omer, which has 49 days].


In Egypt, the Israelites could not free themselves. They were a slave nation; they lacked the independence of spirit and national courage to emancipate themselves, and God took them out miraculously. During the Ten Plagues, God acted; the nation waited passively. And indeed, this is what we celebrate on Seder night – the “Mighty Hand and the Outstretched Arm” of God.


I – Not an angel;

I – Not a Seraph;

I – not another agent;

I and no other!


            Indeed, Moshe’s name is not in the Haggada, and the people of Israel were relatively passive in the process of the Exodus. God freed the nation despite the fact that they had done little to deserve it.


            But this sudden transition means that the nation did not absorb the process of nationhood, of autonomy, and of national spirit into their lives; they were underdeveloped. According to the Sefat Emet, the nation’s complaints in much of Shemot and Bamidbar are a direct outgrowth of the speed of redemption. Why did the nation complain so much? Why were there so many failures and upheavals – Korach, the spies, the Golden Calf? Because the nation was immature; they lacked mechanisms to function in moments of crisis. They did not yet have a rich cultural heritage to draw upon, giving them stability in moments of despair. They lacked the institutions that give society its order. They had come out of Egypt physically, but psychologically and culturally, they remained unstable for a long time.


            It all happened too fast. The accelerated pace of change left the people in a fragile state. But could it not have happened more smoothly? Why did God allow this to happen? Waschipazon a bad thing?


            In this connection, I think about the Olim (Jewish Immigrants to Israel) from Arab Lands in the 1950’s, as well as the Ethiopians today. These populations moved to Israel from very different societies. They came from religious, patriarchal, traditional societies. On arrival in Israel, they faced formidable obstacles, a colossal culture shock. Unable to adapt, their world collapsed. Older generations were estranged from the young, the youth became bitter, the community was poor, and modern education was an enormous challenge. For the Olim in the ‘50s, it took a generation, maybe two, for hundreds of thousands of people to find their feet.


            The government promised it would not make the same mistakes with the Ethiopian Beta Yisrael aliya, but the same cycle prevailed, the same social problems and generation gaps. Why? Because it can be no other way! When you emancipate a people be-chipazon – suddenly time-warping them from one cultural reality to a very different one – there is a very slow, gradual process of adaptation. Did these Olim have to come? Yes! But was there going to be a crisis? Most definitely.


            The Sefat Emet says that after chipazon – God’s sudden redemption – the process of nation-building begins. After the rush of the Exodus, the Jewish People now engage in building from within during the period traditionally know as the Omer. As Am Yisrael travel from Egypt to the acceptance of Torah at Sinai, the people grow and mature, slowly learning and building the structures that become the Jewish People.


            Thus, chipazon is sudden divine redemption. It is astounding, overwhelming, and rapid. We remember it because it was critical; had God waited for us, who knows whether we would have ever left Egypt? But it is only the beginning. Chipazon has its vulnerable aspects as well.


The Passion of the Beginning


            On a very different but connected plane, let us conclude with the writings of R. Tzadok Ha-Kohen of Lublin. He makes a fascinating comment about chipazon, suggesting that in our religious lives, we need to identify a moment of enthusiasm and capitalize upon that moment, leveraging the inspiration to move ahead to religious action:


The beginning of a person’s entry to Divine Service must be be-chipazonjust as we find in Egypt, where the lamb was eaten in a rush, as opposed to the celebration of Pesach in subsequent years (Pesach Dorot). This is because the beginning necessitates that one break the ties of worldly desire by which one is entangled. Hence, one must preserve the moment in which one feels the impetus to serve God and to seize the moment – fast – and maybe one will see success. Later, one can move more moderately and steadily as inPesach Dorot. (Siman #1)


For Rav Tzadok, chipazon represents a feeling of passion and enthusiasm, an inspired moment, a surge of momentum and desire. Like a first love, there is a sense of urgency, a rush of emotion, a heightened emotional state.


            But why is it necessary? Whenever one wishes to change something in life, there is inertia. We are always bound by bonds of comfort and familiarity. These are the most threatening hindrances to change, growth, and development.  In life, one needs more energy to start than to continue.


            How do we counter the negative forces that persuade us to resist change? The answer is chipazon, speed. Jump out of bed! “Just do it!” Chipazon is the flurry of starting; it is a force, an energy, a spirit of carpe diem. One must harness this enthusiasm to conquer inertia, habit, and laziness. Sometimes, if we fail to seize the initial momentum, we get stuck in the details, the bureaucracy, the logistics, and a wonderful idea evaporates and never happens.


            Just as a person needs to muster incredible forces to change, a nation needs colossal ideological energy to propel itself out of familiar surroundings, transporting it to a new place. For Rav Tzadok, chipazon is the passion and rush of energy of Yetziat Mitzrayim. It is the excitement, the thrill of the revolution, the rush of independence, the defiance, the ecstasy of freedom.


            Rav Tzadok tells us to celebrate our passions, leveraging us to action; otherwise, logistical obstacles can be so formidable that we may simply stay put! A heightened ideological and emotional momentum was essential to the success of Yetziat Mitzrayim, and it is similarly critical to kick-start our religious lives.


[1] I have always been puzzled by the close of this verse, “Pesach hu la-Hashem!” Rashi explains that this refers to God jumping over the houses; in other words, if you follow these instructions, God will spare you. This strikes me as an additional metaphor of speed, as one cannot jump slowly! Thus, this phrase further contributes to the description of the haste, the ferocious pace, of the Exodus. See Dr. Avivah Zornberg, Particulars of Rapture, pp. 169-75.

[2] This is the translation of Rashi, Shemot 12:11.

[3] Pesachim 9:5. According to this mishna, we must explain why Shemot 12:15 was not passed on to the nation. Read 12:1-29 and 13:1-7 carefully. Which commands were applicable that year and which for future years? Which laws were transmitted to the people in Egypt and which were given only after the Exodus?

[4] See Berakhot 9.

[5] The Rambam refers to the cultural environment in which Am Yisrael was forged in his explanation of many mitzvot, such as the prohibition of eating chametz and the command to offer korbanot. In his Guide of the Perplexed, he frequently grapples with which aspects of Egyptian culture should be adopted and adapted or, alternatively, rejected.