The Torah in Parashat Bo presents numerous laws relevant to the korban pesach – the special sacrifice offered on the afternoon of the 14th of Nissan, commemorating the original sacrifice offered by Benei Yisrael on the eve of the Exodus. These include the prohibition of “etzem lo tishberu vo,” which forbids breaking any bone of the sheep offered as the korban pesach. This prohibition is listed among the 613 Biblical commands (Rambam, Sefer Ha-mitzvot, lo ta’aseh 121; Sefer Ha-chinukh, 20).
The Sefer Ha-chinukh, in explaining the reason underlying this prohibition, writes, “It is not honorable for princes and dignitaries to drag bones and break them like dogs. Doing so is appropriate only for the poorest among the nation who are hungry.” As we celebrate the Exodus, the Chinukh explains, we must conduct ourselves in a respectable, noble and dignified manner, and so we must refrain from breaking the bones of the pesach sacrifice. People would often break open the bones when eating meat in order to retrieve the marrow, but doing so gives the appearance of poverty and desperation, as though we need to scavenge for every morsel of nourishment we can find. Therefore, on Pesach, when we are to conduct ourselves as members of nobility, celebrating our having been chosen by God as His treasured nation, we must eat like wealthy noblemen, and not like desperate paupers.
The Tur (in Peirush Ha-Tur) offers an additional approach, associating this prohibition with the fact that the korban pesach was normally eaten in groups. As the Torah forbids leaving over meat from the sacrifice until the next morning, families would generally join together to offer a korban pesach collectively. The Tur writes that if the Torah permitted breaking the bones to access the marrow, then members of a group would find themselves dividing the bones, to ensure everyone received a precisely equal share. In order to obviate the need to divide the animal’s bones, the Torah simply forbade breaking bones of the pesach sacrifice.
The Tur does not explain why the Torah did not want groups to have to divide the bones among themselves. The likely reason, as some have suggested, is that dividing the bones gives an appearance of pettiness that is unbefitting members of royalty, as we are to see ourselves on Pesach. Preoccupation with such trivialities, ensuring that no individual’s share slightly exceeds another’s, is childish, and unbecoming of Am Yisrael, who were taken from Egypt and brought to Sinai to be “a kingdom of priests and a sacred nation.” The “regal” quality that ought to characterize the celebration of the Exodus on Pesach must be expressed not only in luxury and comfort, but also in maturity, in a standard of conduct that is rational, sensible and refined.
The Tur’s understanding of this prohibition reminds us that membership in God’s special nation demands, perhaps before anything else, that we avoid petty, petulant behavior. We must live with an ambitious sense of mission that automatically prevents us from preoccupying ourselves with trivialities and from feeling slighted and aggrieved by minor, inconsequential infractions. As members of “royalty,” we should regard our time and our attention as too precious to be wasted on, and our dignity too important to be compromised by, petty and childish bickering.