The Abomination of Egypt
“Rabbi Ḥiyya began by quoting: And in the first month on the fourteenth day of this month, a Passover offering to YHWH [Numbers 28:16]. Why is the paschal sacrifice a lamb? The Egyptians worshipped the lamb, which was one of their gods, for they worshipped the constellation Aries. Come and see: It is written: For the abomination of Egypt we shall sacrifice to YHWH [Exodus 8:22]. What is the abomination of Egypt? Could it be that because it is hateful to them it is called the abomination of Egypt? On the contrary, it is called the abomination of Egypt because it is the Egyptians’ idol and their god. It is similarly written: The abhorrent things of these nations [Deuteronomy 18:9].
Come and see the wisdom of Joseph, as is written: And from the pick of his brothers he took five men (and presented them to Pharaoh) [Genesis 47:2], and he taught them to say, ‘Your servants are shepherds’ [ibid. 3]. And would a king who was ruler over the country and who was like a father to the king have done such a thing to his brothers to make them hate them and not show them consideration [for every shepherd is abhorrent to Egypt (Genesis 46:34)]? But in reality the abomination of Egypt is what their idol and their god was called. Therefore is it written: For the abomination of Egypt we shall sacrifice to YHWH [Exodus 8:22].
Joseph said to himself: All the best of Egypt is the land of Raamses, and this part of the country they set aside for their idols, for them to be pastured and go to their hearts’ delight. And all the Egyptians consider those who tend their idols as gods themselves. [Therefore] I shall arrange it so that my brothers inherit that country, and the Egyptians shall bow down to them, and will accord them proper treatment, and this is what is written: For every shepherd is abhorrent to Egypt [Genesis 46:34]. [For this reason] they will treat them as their god.
Rabbi Yose said: Haven’t we learned, just as the blessed Holy One punishes idolaters, so will He punish idolatry itself [cf. BT Avodah Zarah 54b]? If this is so, why did Joseph make his brothers into idols? He replied to him: Joseph did not make his brothers into idols but into rulers over the idolatry of the Egyptians, and thus subdued their idolatry under their hand so that they would smite it with the rod. Joseph said: If my brothers control their idolatry, then how much better that they will have rule over them themselves, which is why he settled them in the best of the country and made them rulers over all the land.
And so, why is the paschal sacrifice a lamb? The answer is because a lamb was the idol and god of the Egyptians. Said the blessed Holy One: From the tenth of the month, take the fear of the Egyptians, capture and bind it and let it be imprisoned and hold it in your keeping one day, and two, and three days, and on the fourth day carry out its sentence, and assemble over it.
And when Egypt heard the voice of their idol which was being held by Israel, and they were unable to rescue it, they cried and it was as difficult for them as though they themselves had been tied up for the kill. Said the blessed Holy One: Let it be in your possession day after day for four days, so that they may see it when it is bound and imprisoned, and on the fourth day, bring it out to be killed and let the Egyptians see how you enact judgment on it. And this was harder for them to bear than all the plagues that the blessed Holy One brought on them.
Subsequently, they cast it into the fire, as it is written: Their images you shall burn in fire [Deuteronomy 7:5]. Said the blessed Holy One: Do not eat from it raw (nor in any way cooked in water, but fire-roasted…) [Exodus 12:9] so that they will not say: They were so desirous of, and had such a longing for our idol that they ate it [insufficiently roasted]. But it was decreed that it should be eaten roasted and not boiled, for had it been boiled it would have been covered [under the water of the pan] and they would not have seen it, but its correction is that they should see it like this when it is being burnt in the fire, since its odor then spreads.
Moreover, its head bent to its legs so that they should not say that it was some animal or other thing, but that they should recognize it as their idol. Moreover, it was not to be eaten out of lust, but on a full stomach by way of disgrace and contempt. Moreover, and no bone shall you break in it [Numbers 12:46], but they should see its bones cast into the marketplace and be unable to rescue it. For this reason it is written: YHWH had dealt punishment to their gods [Exodus 33:4]—many judgments. Moreover, your staff in your hand [Exodus 12:11], but not a sword, spear, nor any other instrument of war [in order to demonstrate that you are not afraid of them]…
Rabbi Yehudah said: We have already learned that the Egyptians worshipped the constellation of Aries, which is why they worshipped the lamb. Rabbi Yose said: If that is so, they should have worshipped a ram rather than a lamb. He answered him: They worshipped them all. But the constellation of Aries ascends and descends: as a ram then like a lamb, for which reason they worshipped them all. He said to him: What I have heard is that every large animal was an idol for them, which is why the blessed Holy One killed all the firstborn of the cattle. And we have already learned that these were the rungs on high [of impurity], which are so called.
Joseph said, ‘the best of the land of Egypt,’ which is Raamses—and this is the land that they set aside for their idol to pasture in to its heart’s content. And all the Egyptians considered those who tend their idols as themselves idols. And this is why Joseph requested from Pharaoh [the land of Raamses to tend their flocks], in order to place his brothers in control over the gods, of Egypt, so that they should be subjugated under them as slaves under their king, and that all of them should be subjugated under the name of יהוה on their part, and that none should rule in the world excepting the name יהוה, and that all the appointed chieftains should also be subjugated to Him.
And to show them that He will in the future punish them, it is written: and from all the gods, of Egypt I will exact retributions: I am YHWH [Exodus 12:12], because they mislead mankind and make themselves divine; and since the appointee of the ram [Amun-Ra] is greater than the appointees of the other gods, the blessed Holy One commanded Israel: Let every man take a lamb for a father’s house, a lamb for a household [Exodus 12:3, טָלֶה (taleh) lamb, which is the sign of Aries, has a numerical value of 44, as does דָם (dam) blood, which alludes to מַאְדִים (Ma’adim) Mars]; and He gave them control over it, and they took hold of it as they did for one day, and for two and three days, and subsequently they brought it out for judgments before the eyes of all Egypt, to demonstrate that their god is at Israel’s disposal to enact judgment on it.
Therefore is it written: Do not eat from it raw [Exodus 12:9], so that it should be judged in the roasting fire. And He commanded that its bones be cast with contempt into the marketplace, wherefore is it written: And no bone shall you break in it [ibid. 46]. And He commanded that on the fourth day, after it had been bound for three days, judgment be enacted upon it. And this was harder for them than all the plagues with which the blessed Holy One smote them through the Faithful Shepherd [Moses]. Furthermore, He commanded that it not be eaten with appetite. And immediately on their seeing its bones in the marketplace and being unable to rescue it, this was the most difficult thing for them. Furthermore, it is said about them: and your staff in your hand [ibid. 11], to subdue all the idols of Egypt under their hands. And since their gods are the first-born of the chieftains, it is written: (And it happened at midnight that) YHWH struck down every firstborn (in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and every firstborn of beasts) [ibid.29]” (Ra’aya Meheimna Pinḥas).