The Original Fast Food Nation

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In the Torah portion for this week, Beshallach, the Israelites leave Egypt after 200 years (or as some say, 400 years) of slavery. Previously, they had been instructed to take a lamb and slaughter it, placing the blood on the lintels of their homes. They were to eat this roasted lamb “your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and you shall eat it hurriedly; it is the pesach offering to the Lord.” (Ex 12:11)

The Hebrew word behipazon, “hurriedly” gives a clue to the nature of this meal; it is the original “fast food”, eaten in haste, eaten while standing up perhaps and dressed for a quick exit. However, the name of the food also gives us a clue-“Pesach” which can mean “compassion”.

The plain sense of the text is that God showed compassion upon the Israelites by sparing them the final plague and freeing them from Egypt. But, as I have previously written, the great Bible commentator Nechama Leibowitz argues that the experience of slavery was necessary in order to instill in Jews forever the qualities of compassion, caring for the oppressed and a fierce commitment to justice. That too, can be the meaning of “pesach”. The moral of the story is that fast food can lead to obesity, but sometimes it can lead to other things as well.

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