A few years ago, when I was trying to purge our home of some of the hundreds of stuffed animals we had somehow acquired, I put a whole bunch in a bag and asked my children to take a look through it to be sure I had not chosen to donate something that was important to them. Needless to say, they removed a few; among them was a purple lamb. My daughter explained, “We can’t get rid of this one. We need it for Passover.”
Our daughter is a natural leader. We discovered this (as many parents do!) when she was about 2 and insisted on being the “leader” every time we walked up and down the stairs to our second floor condo in Chicago. This got extremely annoying, especially when one of the grown-ups was trying to carry up many bags of heavy groceries at the pace of a toddler. So when Passover rolled around, we decided we would explore leadership at our seder.
At one point, we asked all of the children to be shepherds like Moses and move all of the stuffed animals from one end of the house to the other. A while later, we quietly moved one animal, the purple lamb, to another side of the room. When one of the children noticed it and asked, “Why is that animal over there?” we answered by telling the following midrash.
“ … When Moses our teacher was shepherding Jethro’s flock in the wilderness, a lamb scampered off, and Moses followed it until it approached a shelter under a rock. As the lamb reached the shelter, it came upon a pool of water and stopped to drink. When Moses caught up with it, he said, “I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty. Now you must be tired.” So he hoisted the lamb on his shoulder and started walking back with it. The Holy One then said, “Because you showed such compassion in shepherding the flock of a mortal, as you live, you shall become shepherd of Israel, the flock that is Mine.” (Exodus Rabbah 2:2).
This Shabbat, we will read about the three pilgrimage festivals: Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. Unlike the other summaries of the festivals in the Torah that focus primarily on how to celebrate the holidays, this Deuteronomic recapitulation highlights their rationale (Etz Hayim, p. 1081), the “why” of the festivals. Perhaps this reminds us, too, that during this holiday we should consider not just how Moses, empowered by God, led us out of Egypt, but also why Moses was chosen as our leader.
Ever since our first “Seder of the Purple Lamb,” we have repeated this activity in our home as part of our Passover ritual. We hope that it has also become part of our children’s way of being in the world. As we move now from Egypt to Sinai, may we all find the inspiration and the opportunity to walk in Moses’ footsteps.