The Gemara in Masekhet Pesachim (59a) teaches that the korban pesach – the sacrifice offered by all Benei Yisrael on the 14th of Nissan – is exceptional in that it is offered after the tamid shel bein ha-arbayim – the daily afternoon sacrifice. The rule of “aleha hashleim kol ha-korbanot kulan” (Pesachim 58b) establishes that the afternoon tamid sacrifice must be the final sacrifice offered each day (just as the morning tamid must be the first sacrifice offered each day). The korban pesach marks a striking exception to this rule, as it is sacrificed after the offering of the tamid.
Not only does the korban pesach mark an exception to this rule, but it disrupts the entire schedule of the Beit Ha-mikdash. The Mishna (Pesachim 58a) teaches that normally, the afternoon tamid was slaughtered eight-and-a-half (halakhic) hours into the day, and offered on the altar an hour later. On Erev Pesach, the process began an hour earlier, in order to allow time for all the pesach offerings that were brought afterward. When the 14th of Nissan fell on Shabbat, the offering of the tamid was moved up even earlier – to six-and-a-half hours into the day – in order to allow time for all the pesach sacrifices to be roasted before the onset of Shabbat, when roasting became forbidden.
This unique feature of the korban pesach perhaps points to one of the important general themes of the celebration of the Exodus.
Fixed routines, schedules and habits are, on the hand, vitally important sources of stability and consistency. So much of the good we do is done by force of habit and routine, by our having grown accustomed to acting and living a certain way. The value and importance of routine is symbolized by the tamid sacrifice, which was offered each and every morning and afternoon in the Beit Ha-mikdash, without exception, thus embodying the notion of consistency in our service of God. At the same time, however, set routines can stifle us, and even “enslave” us. They run the risk of discouraging bold ambitions and aspirations, of blocking our minds from extending “out of the box,” from thinking creatively and with ingenuity, and from striving to new heights of achievement. Steady good habits prevent us from falling into bad habits, but they also threaten to hold us back from working to develop even better habits.
One of the themes of the Exodus, and of our celebration of Pesach, is the breaking of presumed norms. In the ancient world, it was accepted that the powerful exploit the weak, and thus it was natural for the mighty Egyptian empire to feel perfectly entitled to enslave the helpless Israelite population living in its borders. The society was constructed based on a caste system whereby those born into the slave class forever remained part of the slave class. This basic order was shattered through the miracles of the Exodus. And thus we proclaim at the seder as we prepare to tell the story of the Exodus, “All who are hungry shall come and eat.” We affirm that people’s present conditions do not have to dictate their future conditions, that the hardships to which we may have grown accustomed until now will not necessarily continue, because the current order of things is subject to drastic change. We then add, “Now – we are slaves, but next year – free people; now – we are here, but next year – in Jerusalem.” The seder experience is to assure us that we are not “enslaved” by our current condition, that we are capable of growing, changing and improving, that just as our ancestors were instantly transformed from lowly slaves into a proud, free nation, we are all capable of transforming ourselves into much better and more accomplished people.
Appropriately, then, the pesach sacrifice is the only offering that disrupts the basic structure of the Temple rituals. Notwithstanding the importance of the message of the tamid, of the consistency wrought by a fixed, orderly routine, our focus on Pesach is to shift towards freeing ourselves from the constraints of our habits and familiar structure. It is a time to feel empowered with the confidence of knowing that we are not slaves to our past or present, that we can rise higher and extend beyond our current condition. Just as our ancestors achieved freedom from the chains of actual bondage, so are we to aspire to freedom from our perceived constraints, and trust that we can be far greater than we are now.
(Based on a derasha by Rabbi Dov Loketch)