In the “movie version” of the Passover story, we watch the people of Israel paint the blood of the Passover offering on their doors as a sign that marks their houses for protection against what will be the last of the plagues. In the “movie version” of the story, the blood is brushed onto the outside of doorway. But this is not a foregone conclusion in the conversations of ancient sages.
Did our ancestors paint the outside of their doors, or was it the inside? Listen to the opinions in the following midrash and take note of how this ancient text argues with itself!
They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they are to eat it (Exodus 12:7). This means: put the blood on the inside of the door. Now, you say it means on the inside. But perhaps it really means put the blood on the outside! But the Torah argues for “inside” when it says: When I see the blood I will pass over you (Exodus 12:13). When I see means the blood that is visible to Me, but not to others—this was the view of Rabbi Ishmael.
Rabbi Yonatan agreed that the blood was painted on the inside of the door, but he relied on a different part of the verse quoted by Rabbi Ishmael: Now, you say it means on the inside. But perhaps it really means put the blood on the outside! But Torah argues for “inside” when it says: And the blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you (Exodus 12:13)—a sign for you, but not for others.
But Rabbi Isaac says: I say that it means on the outside, so that when the Egyptians see it, they will tremble in their guts! (Mekhilta d’Rabbi Ishmael, Pisha chapter 6)
Rabbi Ishmael (2nd century) and Rabbi Yonatan (3rd century) converse across the generations. Both agree (against the movie makers) that the blood was put on the inside of the door but each has his own reasoning. Is the marking for God’s sake or for Israel’s sake? Rabbi Isaac (3rd century) sees the blood as a mark of confrontation and defiance that will be unsettling to the now fearful Egyptians.
It is our turn to enter the conversation and extend it to a new generation. Where would you put the sign?