The Korban Pesah stands out as the sole Korban that must be fire roasted—“Tzeli Eish.” Every other Korban that is consumed may be prepared “B’Chol Ma’achal,” in any manner one desires, cooking, baking, frying etc. Why does Hashem require that we fire roast our Korban Pesah?
Some Mefarashim (Rashbam and Ibn Ezra) explain that just as the Korban Pesah we ate in Mitzrayim the evening before we left was eaten quickly, it should also be prepared quickly. These Mefarashim argue that fire roasting is the quickest way to prepare the Korban Pesah.
This explanation appears difficult in light of the fact the Hashem requires the Korban Pesah to be roasted whole, רֹאשׁוֹ עַל-כְּרָעָיו וְעַל-קִרְבּוֹ. If Hashem were interested in the Korban Pesah being prepared quickly then He would have permitted us to slice up the animal and then fire roast it.There are people who to this day offer a Korban Pesah; these are the Samaritans who regard Har Gerizim as holy. The people, pronounced by Hazal to be non-Jews, are the miniscule remnant of the ubiquitous Kutim of the Mishnah, referred to by the Tanach as the Shomeronim. While we certainly reject their Korban Pesah as invalid, the Shomeronim do teach us that it takes three to four hours to fire roast an uncut lamb. This hardly seems to be a quick/Hipazon manner of food preparation.
An interesting pragmatic explanation for the fire roasting requirement is that pots for cooking were unavailable for Jews, since they were all packed away in anticipation of the imminent Geulah, exit from Mitzrayim.
Hizkuni, though, offers a powerful explanation. He writes that when fire roasting a whole lamb the smell will spread throughout the neighborhood and make its way to the Egyptians noses. The lamb is cooked whole in order to lengthen the roasting process as well as to make it clear that we are roasting a lamb, regarded by the Egyptians as a god. We may understand this as an opportunity to educate the Mitzrim about theological matters. A more compelling explanation is that the long-lasting and spreading smell is intended to impact us.
It seems that Hashem seeks to train us to practice Judaism openly and not to be embarrassed about our way of life. For example, if we need to recite a Beracha among those who do not observe Torah, we need not cover our mouths in shame. Rather, we should take pride in our Mitzvah observance. If we need to pray in an airport and no private area is available to do so, we need not cringe and rush through the Tefillah. Ashreinu Mah Tov Helkeinu, we are proud to be Jews and live what is the Rolls Royce of lifestyles, the best possible life—the life of Mitzvah adherence.
An open demonstration of Judaism was critical for soon-to-be former slaves to free themselves from subservience to their soon-to-be former Egyptian masters. The Korban Pesah and the seder today reminds us to free ourselves from “slavery” to the dominant world culture and to take pride in our way of life. When we openly and proudly live a Torah life, we are the Jews who are truly free—free to live the most wonderful and fulfilling life available to humanity.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck.