I listened. Oh, I was a good listener. The fire danced as Papa solemnly began to tell us stories about our past, “V-shinantam l-vanecha, v-dibarta bam b-shivt'cha b-vaytecha, u-v-lecht'cha ba-derech, u-v-shachb'cha u-v-kumecha.”
It always started this way, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.”
So I sit and wait for the ancient story that hesitates briefly on Papa’s lips.
“Many miracles had been performed right in front of the very eyes of Pharaoh, yet he remained a stubborn goat and refused to let our ancestors go to worship God. Of course, God knew Pharaoh’s heart was little more than stone. The people cried out to Yahweh for help – and help came.
“The people were gathered and Moshe and Aaron told them to find a young goat or lamb for sacrifice. Four days later, each family slaughtered their perfect lamb. The blood was drained from the animal and hyssop was used to smear the blood on the top and sides of the door where the lamb would be eaten. The blood stained the wood, yet no one complained.”
I watched Papa and imagined the blood soaking into the doorway. Fire played in Papa’s eyes as he made ready to begin my favorite part of the tale.
“That night,” he began quietly, “the Israelite families ate the roasted lamb and ate bread made without yeast. This meal was not a pleasant family get together. There could be no food left over and Yahweh had said it should be served with bitter herbs – celebration would come later.
“So, children, why was this night so special?”
I watched as my brother Dan raised his hand. Papa never even looked my way and I never raised my hand.
“This was the night the death angel visited all of Egypt,” Dan said proudly.
“Yes, you have listened well.” Papa asked another question, “Were not the people of Israel frightened knowing that God’s vengeance was being poured out on Egypt?”
Sarah raised her hand, “No, Papa, they had the blood of sacrifice protecting them.”
“Very good, Daughter.” Papa smiled as he continued, “Think of the Israelite women who cried quietly as they hear the wailing of Egyptian mothers. Their firstborn child was required for defying God.”
Sarah held her ears to ward off the long ago wail.
“But the Israelite families? The blood of obedience had kept them safe. Yahweh’s anger passed over the house of obedience. V-haya im shamoa tish'mu el mitzvotai asher anochi m'tzaveh etchem ha-yom, l-ahavah et Adonai Elohaychem, u-l-avdo b-chol l'vavchem u-v-chol nafsh'chem. V-natati m'tar artzchem b-ito, yoreh u-malkosh; v-asafta d'ganecha, v-tirosh'cha v-yitzharecha.”
I could only watch as one by one my family began to recite the words of God’s promise, “And it shall come to pass if you surely listen to the commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul, that I will give rain to your land, the early and the late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil.”
Papa smiled sadly at me as the embers of the fire bubbled and popped in the throes of death. I heard a story I could never tell. While I could understand I couldn’t speak. My life was spent seeing without comment, hearing without word to express the longings of my heart.
That night my dreams were filled with trembling thoughts of waiting as the death angel had his way in Egypt – grateful for the protecting blood of lambs. I was awakened by cross voices as they walked past. I wanted to tell Papa, but there were no words.
I stood as the crowd demanded that a man be crucified. I had never seen a crucifixion because it was such a dishonorable way to die. The crowd was angry as they waited throughout the day to learn what would happen to the man.
I should have gone home, but I couldn’t. Somehow there was something important going on – I could hear it.
Tears came readily as I watched that man drag a cross through Jerusalem, bloodied and broken. Followed by a hammer, some nails and soldiers who relished their ability to inflict pain.
No one noticed as I watched him die.
Why couldn’t anyone else see it?
His blood soaked a doorway.
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