The full moon on 15 Nissan is a piece of evidence supporting the veracity of the Torah’s account of the Exodus
The first day of Pesach is the 15th of Nissan. The Torah tells us in verse 29 of Chapter 12 of Exodus, read in its context, that at midnight on the 15th, G-d slew the firstborn of Egypt. There must have been a great deal of activity that night. We are told in verse 31 that Pharaoh called to Moses and Aaron at night and told them to leave Egypt with the Children of Israel. We are told in verse 33 that the Egyptians – the Hebrew word for “Egypt” is used – urged the Children of Israel – the word for “people” is used – to leave. This urging is not stated expressly to have occurred at night but the context seems to indicate that. Pharaoh and the Egyptians must have needed to confer urgently during the night. And the Children of Israel, whilst confined to their dwellings (verse 22), must have had much to do.
I noticed a few years ago that the moon is full on the night of 15 Nissan – a fact not mentioned in the Torah or in any of our commentaries as far as I am aware. Of course, the full moon would have provided much-needed light to assist in the dramatic activities of the night, and even to some extent to provide light to the dwellings of the Children of Israel. When a judge finds a piece of evidence which neither of the parties has mentioned, but which accords strikingly with the version of one of them, he is likely to attach great importance to that finding. I do. For me, the fact that the moon is full during the night of 15 Nissan is a powerful piece of evidence supporting the veracity of the Torah’s account.
Podcast ChaiFM - Insights 11 & 13
Afterword: They Left At Night
My attention has been drawn to Deuteronomy 16.1, where Moses states that G-d brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt at night. This led to my examining again Exodus 12.22, which I refer to in Insight 13, and where Moses instructs the Children of Israel not to leave their dwellings “until morning”. Until now I have equated “morning” with “dawn” or “daybreak”.
Perhaps that is wrong, and perhaps “morning” simply means “after midnight”- how common are expressions like: “I haven’t slept since one o’clock this morning.” Significantly, the text in Exodus 12.22 does not use such words as “daybreak” or “dawn”.
Significantly too, G-d tells Moses and Aaron that the people are to slaughter a lamb at dusk, and eat it that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and “with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet and your staff in your hand and ye shall eat it in haste.” (Exodus 12.8-11)
The impression the text creates is that they were to be ready to leave Egypt soon after eating, but, of course, after the slaying of the firstborn at midnight. That they had to leave in a hurry, and that they left while it was still night, is strikingly consistent with Exodus 12.31-34 which states that
My own researches have led me to Numbers 33.3 where it is stated that “on the day after the Passover offering the Children of Israel went out with a high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians”. The Passover offering occurred at dusk on the 14th of Nissan (Exodus 12.6), and the next day, the 15th of Nissan, commences on the night following that dusk in accordance with Jewish Law. It follows that Numbers 33.3 is consistent with their having left Egypt at night. If that is so the full moon would have enabled their leaving to occur “in the sight of all the Egyptians”.
If the verse is conveying that the going out occurred in daylight, we have an apparent contradiction between Numbers 33.3 and Deuteronomy 16.1. I believe that the contradiction can easily be resolved, and that the verses, properly understood, tell a credible story.
It must have taken a few hours for the large expedition involved to be collected and moved out of Egypt; hence it follows that, although they commenced leaving at night, they were, when daylight dawned, still “in the sight of all the Egyptians”. It follows that the apparent contradiction between Numbers 33.3 and Deuteronomy 16.1 dissolves on a proper consideration of the facts.
It follows too that the cumulative effect of Exodus 12.22, Numbers 33.3 and Deuteronomy 16.1 may be that the Children of Israel commenced their journey at night, but were still in Egypt at daybreak.
If that is so, or if, of course, they left Egypt entirely at night, the full moon on the night of the 15th of Nissan becomes all the more necessary; apart from packing and gathering their flocks and herds, they had to deal with the Egyptians, requesting of them “jewels of silver and jewels of gold and raiment.” (Exodus 12.35) And, of course, three million people with all they had, had to leave Egypt, and they surely needed light to do so.
This makes the new moon on the 15th of Nissan all the more necessary, and the account of the Five Books all the more credible.
The interpretations I have applied here are consistent, I believe, with South African law on the interpretation of documentary texts: in Swart v Cape Fabrix 1979(1) SA 195 (A) South Africa’s then highest court stated that it would be wrong to view words in isolation, but that words had to be viewed in the context of the document concerned as a whole; this was affirmed in the Supreme Court of Appeal judgment of Natal Joint Municipal Pension Fund v Endumeni Municipality 2012(4) SA 593(SCA) at 609B, in which case, at 609D-F, Wallis JA also stated that “(m)ost words can bear several different meanings or shades of meaning and to try to ascertain their meaning in the abstract, divorced from the broad context of their use, is an unhelpful exercise”.