The Torah story up to this point does have some halachic content, but the halachic code proper begins with Sh’mot 12. The subject of the chapter is the establishment of the calendar. “This month,” it informs us, “shall be for you the beginning of the months” (Ex. 12:2).
The first law of the newly freed nation of Israel is to have a means of denoting the passage of time. An appropriate idea, since history is what happens in time, and time is the measure of history. But who makes history happen?
On the verse about the first of the months, the Midrash Sh’mot Rabbah says that the angels asked God when He intended to establish the festivals of the year. God answered, “Until now the calendar has been My responsibility. Now I have handed it over to Israel themselves. They will decide on the dates of their festivals and you and I will go along with what they decide”.
The implication may be that in ancient times our history happened to us – i.e. it was decided On High – but there came a moment when we assumed the responsibility for making our own history.
What about the factors beyond our control that constantly affected us, often against our will?
We cannot say that we made these events occur – but what we learned to do was to decide on our own response, on how we handled what happened.