In the Land of Egypt

“Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt…” (Exodus 12:1, NKJV).[i]

This chapter details the exodus from Egypt, the laws of the Passover, and the plague of the first-born. But it opens with an intriguing phrase, “in the land of Egypt.” Since we know the story is unfolding in Egypt, why is it necessary for God to reiterate an obvious fact?

The Passover is one of the most significant events in Jewish history, and on a cursory level we understand the meaning of this feast; God fulfilled His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, to free us from the bondage of slavery and bring us into the land of Canaan that He promised to our forefathers. Messianic Jews and increasingly more Christians are seeing the spiritual correlation in the Passover to the giving of the new covenant in Yeshua; His death, burial and resurrection, and our freedom from the bondage of sin, which is akin to spiritual slavery. But how can we connect Yeshua to the Passover and our exodus from Egypt? And, do we fully comprehend the depth of God’s inconceivable work and the full measure of His cost to redeem us, both physically and spiritually? For a more in-depth view let us turn to Midrash Exodus Rabba 15:5:[ii]

R. Shimon’s introductory statement:

  • R. Shimon said: Great is [God’s] love of Israel,
  • that the Holy One blessed be He revealed Himself in a place of idol worship, a place of filth, and a place of impurity in order to redeem them.

The Mashal:

  • This may be compared to a Kohen (a priest of the lineage of Aaron),
  • whose Terumah (portion of the offering set aside for the sons of Aaron) fell into a graveyard.
  • He said, ‘What shall I do?
  • To render myself impure is impossible,
  • and to abandon my Terumah is impossible.
  • Better to render myself impure one time,
  • and return and purify myself,
  • rather than lose my Terumah.’

First part of the Nimshal:

  • Thus, our fathers were the Terumah of the Holy One blessed be He,
  • as it says, “Israel is holy to God, the first of His grain…” (Jeremiah 2:3);
  • they were among the graves,
  • as it says, “because there was no house that had no dead” (Exodus 12:30),
  • and it says, “and Egypt were burying those whom God has smote among them, all the first-born” (Numbers 33:4)
  • The Holy One Blessed be He said, ‘How will I redeem them?
  • to abandon them is impossible.
  • It is better to go down and to save them,’
  • as it says, “And I will go down to save him from the hand of Egypt” (Exodus 3:8).

Second part of the Nimshal:

  • When He took [them] out,
  • He called to Aaron (high priest of Israel),
  • and he purified Him,
  • as it says, “And he will atone for the Holy of Holies” (Leviticus 16:33);
  • “and he will atone for the Sanctuary” (Leviticus 16:16).

There is much to unpack in this rather complex Midrash. First and foremost we are told that the entirety of the Exodus is a demonstration of God’s immeasurable love for Israel. But there are at least two specific themes that need to be expanded. The first correlates to Aaron and his foreshadowed role in purification of God’s sanctuary through atonement for the nation of Israel, or the idea of Aaron purifying God as it says, “and he purified Him.” The second expansion correlates to the Terumah, for it is much greater than just a tithe or a charitable offering.[iii]

Let us match the Mashal and the Nimshal within the Midrash. This will reveal the metaphoric elements as they relate to our biblical understanding of the narrative, “in the land of Egypt.”

The prooftexts (Petihta), i.e. the scriptural references in the Midrash help us match the elements by clearly showing that Israel is the Terumah—that she is holy to God; the graveyard literally is Egypt in the wake of the plague of the first-born; that God intentionally defiled Himself by going down and entering a graveyard to rescue Israel; and that God is subsequently purified by Aaron, a man born of the flesh. The prooftext addressing the purification ritual of the sanctuary, including the holy of holies is the one commanded for the Day of Atonement. Its purpose was to atone for human impurity, not for God’s. However, it appears that God must undergo some form of purification after descending into Egypt, and that purification He receives from a human being, namely Aaron.

But why not simply leave us with the introduction, “God loves us?” And why not send someone else, a non-Kohen to retrieve Israel? We know that God’s commandment forbade a Kohen, a priest from entering a graveyard since this would render him impure. After some contemplation we see that the Kohen decides to enter the graveyard and retrieve His Terumah rather than abandon it. This is no small matter since deliberate violation of this command carried the penalty of lashes, and disqualified the Kohen from fulfilling his priestly function for the duration of his impurity. There is more to understand including several missing elements in the Nimshal. With the knowledge of both Hebrew and New Testament scripture, let us expand and fill in the missing narrative [shown in brackets]:

We can now draw our final conclusions from the Midrash. Let us first addresses Aaron and his foreshadowed role in purification of God’s sanctuary through atonement for the nation of Israel, or the idea of Aaron purifying God. “Then the Lord said to Aaron: You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear the iniquity related to the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear the iniquity [impurity] associated with your priesthood” (Numbers 18:1). Aaron and his sons are at the very core of the Levitical priesthood. Descendent from Levi through Kohath, Aaron and his brother Moses were given a mantel and calling that can only have belonged to God Himself. As such, they would sit in the place of Yeshua until He would rightfully come to the earth, and take for Himself His own priesthood according to His own divine order of Melchizedek. The rest of the Levites, the sons of Kohath, Gershon and Merari who were outside the lineage of Aaron, were given to Aaron as a gift to assist in the labor and services of the tabernacle.

And the Lord said, “you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:6). This promise was given to Israel, and we see the Church, the Kahal or Ecclesia as a fulfillment of this foreshadow and a recipient of His promise through Israel, “for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1Peter 2:9). Jew and gentile together as “one new man” are given to Yeshua as a gift, a Terumah to assist in His labor and service of the tabernacle of God—a building not made of stone, but of flesh, and the place that God has chosen for His Holy habitation. “Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2Corinthians 3:3). For, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people” (Revelation 21:3). “This in fact is the whole [purpose] of man, and the purpose for which he, and all the worlds, both upper and lower, were created: that God should have such a dwelling-place here below — how this earthly abode for God is the purpose of all creation.”[iv] [1]

Let us now explore the Terumah. On its surface, the Terumah was an offering, the portion of the tithe set aside by the Israelites for the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron. But the translation fails to convey the subtleties and multiple layers of meaning contained in the original Hebrew language. In fact the word does not mean a ‘gift’ or an ‘offering’ at all. It is derived from two separate roots that mean both ‘to separate and to elevate.’ This is much more than just an ordinary gift or a charitable donation of expendable funds.

The word Terumah was used by God in requesting the Israelites bring an heirloom, something of immeasurable value to help build the tabernacle. How many people will take an expensive and irreplaceable heirloom and give it away to a friend or much less a stranger? As such, this word also describes Yeshua, the Christ, for “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Yeshua is of the blessed lineage and covenant promise made to King David, as it says: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren” (Deuteronomy 18:15). Yeshua died on the cross in order to purify and build the true tabernacle of God, the Church. He was both separated from the Father and elevated to a place of glory. The sages tell us that when one takes his material possessions and separates them for God, he uplifts those very possessions as well as himself. So too with Yeshua. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). For this we see that God the Father and the Son are both glorified in His Sacrifice. To the one receiving the Terumah, this portion becomes an inheritance, so we, the Church are Christ’s inheritance. We are Christ’s Terumah. Like Him, we also are separated and lifted up as an heirloom, an offering of immeasurable value.

Continuing with our exploration of the Midrashic narrative, it shows us that the Kohen is God, Blessed be He. Moses and Aaron were only a foreshadow. God is so enamored and so in love with Israel that He cannot fathom abandoning us in a graveyard, even though He Himself will become defiled if He comes down to retrieve us. Egypt was a graveyard in the wake of the plague, but also the whole world is a graveyard for it is defiled with death. Further, the Lord had exiled Israel to all the nations. God’s intoxicating love brings Him to a place where He does not consider sending anyone but Himself to redeem us, and so He, Yeshua, God’s Terumah came in the flesh and was dropped into a graveyard, so that we might be swept up together with Yeshua in His arms and presented as a sweet Terumah unto Yahweh. “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).

Regardless of the cost to Himself, Yeshua was willing to retrieve His precious possession even if it required a penalty. “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). In lowering Himself, Yeshua underwent the same ritual purification as Aaron, a man born in the flesh. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). As Aaron purified God, so Yeshua purified the Father by atoning for human iniquity. This is a difficult statement as we know that God is anything but impure since there is no iniquity in Him, nor can He become impure since He cannot sin. Yet the scripture is clear when it says that He became our sin. He became our impurity. Yeshua came to fulfill His law which required a man born of the flesh to atone for God’s sanctuary. So, how did God reconcile our impurity which He became? He crucified it with Himself on the cross: “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin…” (Isaiah 53:10).

In conclusion, this Midrash helps us understand why God said: “in the land of Egypt.” For it is the complete story of the Passover and the spiritual translation to Yeshua. The Passover and the exodus from Egypt are integrally connected to Yeshua’s declaration of the New Covenant on the evening of the Passover. These are not separate events, but rather a continuation of one active progression of God’s redemption and salvation for Israel, and now all of humanity. “It shall come to pass in that day That the Lord shall set His hand again the second time To recover the remnant of His people who are left, From Assyria and Egypt, [and from the whole earth]…” (Isaiah 11:11). This Midrash also clearly helps us understand the immeasurable cost that God paid in order to redeem and purify His sanctuary from human sin. In Yeshua, we the Church, Jew and gentile together as One New Man are Crist’s Terumah and the sanctuary of God, atoned for and purified by His own blood, the blood of Yeshua, God’s Terumah. Oh, the depth of God’s love for us is so great that it defies understanding.


[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise noted, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.
[ii] Peters, Mimi. Learning to read Midrash. Urim Publications. ISBN 965-7108-57-8.
[iii] Chabad of the West Side, New York, NY. Terumah—No Small Token. Friday, February 27, 2004.
[iv] Lessons in the Tanya, Likutei Amarim, Chapter 33, March 9, 2016. Chabad.org.