Passover and…Sex?

Movie screens suggest that sex is public and everyone’s business.  However, just try criticizing sexual misbehavior and you will be quickly told that sex is private and none of your business.  So, which is it?


It’s actually neither, or maybe we should say both.  Sex should be private but it is everybody’s business. 


Society rightly cares about what people do in their bedrooms.  Polygamy, promiscuity, incest, homosexuality and adultery have broad social consequences.  It is naïve to believe that, “What people do behind closed doors is only their own business.”  Reality demands that we acknowledge the genuine psychological, emotional, economic and civic consequences of these unions.


But nowadays many accept the strange notion that sex is nobody else’s business.  Fortunately, the holiday of Passover reminds us that this is untrue.


Exodus chapter 12 informs us that the Seder in Egypt included eating the Passover lamb.  There were rules surrounding that original Biblical Seder which can offer guidance for our times.  Three of these rules were:


(i)   Each family gathered to eat its own lamb; 

(ii)  The lamb’s blood was painted on the doorposts of each home;

(iii)  Males participating in that Seder had to be circumcised.


Years of slavery in Egypt damaged Jewish family life.  For its very first ritual as a nation, God gathered the Israelites, not into political, tribal, gender, or labor groupings but into individual families. By asserting the bond between husband, wife and children, God was reestablishing the importance of the family as society’s fundamental element. Hence, rule number one.


Painting blood onto the front door informed the world that behind that door lived a unique group of people.  Behind that door a man and woman engage in physical intimacy and behind that door they raise the children who, spiritually through adoption or physically through birth, are the fruit of that special union. That bloody door symbolized a boundary between the home of one’s blood family and the rest of society.  It reminds us today that the bonds uniting a family are entirely different from the bonds uniting a labor union or a tennis club.  Thus, rule number two.


Finally, being an uncircumcised Jew is incompatible with Passover because God did not take disparate individuals out of Egypt; He took a nation composed of families. All families and all societies thrive when everyone recognizes that sex is everybody’s business. When a baby boy is circumcised, there are two main requirements:  The procedure must be conducted during daylight and preferably in the presence of many people.  Thus every Jewish male knows that in broad daylight before other members of his community, a sign was placed upon his genital organ to remind him that what he does with it will always concern the community.


Society flaunts sex publicly while claiming it is private. Yet the truth is that sex is a private act with immensely powerful public impact.  Passover reminds us that how a country treats sex and family impacts every aspect of its existence.  Mishandling this volatile area can jeopardize a nation’s vitality, economy, and culture. The same is true within families.  There is a wise and Biblical way to teach the next generation about sex and family, and many wrong ways.  Families thrive when it is done correctly and are imperiled when it isn’t.  Pretending that sex is nobody’s business can wreak havoc.


1 thought on “Passover and…Sex?”

  1. Thank you for your insight, Rabbi. I don’t think I have ever come across any of your material without learning something profound.
    I’ve read that passage in Exodus many times, and I always missed the point of the gathering into families.

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