by Gerald Boerner
Today we switch our consideration from the observation of Holy Week from that of the Christian celebrations to that of the Jewish celebration of Passover. While Passover is more than a single day, it is the basis upon which the Christian celebration is founded. Passover reflects the celebration of the sparing of Jewish firstborn sons during the period of the Exodus from Egypt. So, take time to read this posting for a better appreciation of the real meaning of Easter. GLB
“And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.”
— Bible quotes
“And the Jews’ passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves.”
— Bible quotes
“Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover.”
— Bible quotes
“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.”
— Bible quotes
“After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.”
— Bible quotes
“And they kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at even in the wilderness of Sinai: according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel.”
— Bible quotes
“And his princes gave willingly unto the people, to the priests, and to the Levites: Hilkiah and Zechariah and Jehiel, rulers of the house of God, gave unto the priests for the passover offerings two thousand and six hundred small cattle and three hundred oxen.”
— Bible quotes
“For a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good LORD pardon every one / That prepareth his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.”
— Bible quotes
Jewish Observation of Passover
Passover is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays (Yom Tov), and is commemorated by many affiliated and nonaffiliated Jews alike as a time to contemplate the endurance of the Jewish people throughout history.
Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan (equivalent to March and April in Gregorian calendar), the first month of the Hebrew calendar’s festival year according to the Hebrew Bible.
In the narrative of the Exodus, the Bible tells that God inflicted ten plagues upon the Egyptians before Pharaoh would release his Hebrew slaves, with the tenth plague being the killing of every firstborn male, from the Pharaoh’s son to the firstborn of the dungeon captive, to the firstborn of cattle. The Hebrews were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord passed over these homes, hence the term "passover". When Pharaoh freed the Hebrews, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread to rise. In commemoration, for the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason it is called "The Festival of the Unleavened Bread". Matza (flat unleavened bread) is the primary symbol of the holiday.
Together with Shavuot ("Pentecost") and Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals (Shalosh Regalim) during which the entire Jewish populace historically made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans still make this pilgrimage to Mount Gerizim, but only men participate in public worship.
Date in the Spring and Length
Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, which corresponds to the full moon of Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew calendar, in accordance with the Hebrew Bible. Passover is a spring festival, so the 14th day of Nisan begins on the night of a full moon after the vernal equinox. To ensure that Passover did not start before spring, the tradition in ancient Israel held that the first day of Nisan would not start until the barley is ripe, being the test for the onset of spring. If the barley was not ripe an intercalary month (Adar II) would be added. However, since at least the 12th century, the date has been determined mathematically.
In Israel, Passover is the seven-day holiday of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, with the first and last days observed as legal holidays and as holy days involving abstention from work, special prayer services, and holiday meals; the intervening days are known as Chol HaMoed ("festival days"). Diaspora Jews historically observed the festival for eight days, and most still do. Reform and Reconstructionist Jews and Israeli Jews, wherever they are, usually observe the holiday over seven days. The reason for this extra day is due to enactment of the Sages. It is thought by many scholars that Jews outside of Israel could not be certain if their local calendars fully conformed to practice of the Temple at Jerusalem, so they added an extra day. But as this practice only attaches to certain (major) holy days, others posit the extra day may have been added to accommodate people who had to travel long distances to participate in communal worship and ritual practices; or the practice may have evolved as a compromise between conflicting interpretations of Jewish Law regarding the calendar; or it may have evolved as a safety measure in areas where Jews were commonly in danger, so that their enemies would not be certain on which day to attack.
Karaite Jews and Samaritans use different versions of the Jewish calendar, which are often out of sync with the modern Jewish calendar by one or two days. In 2009, for example, Nisan 15 on the Jewish calendar used by Rabbinical Judaism corresponds to April 9. On the calendars used by Karaites and Samaritans, Abib or Aviv 15 (as opposed to ‘Nisan’) corresponds to April 11 in 2009. The Karaite and Samaritan Passovers are each one day long, followed by the six day Festival of Unleavened Bread – for a total of seven days.
Origins of the Festival
The commandment to keep Passover is recorded in the Torah in the Book of Leviticus:
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month between the two evenings is the LORD’S Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD; seven days ye shall eat unleavened bread. In the first day ye shall have a holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of servile work. And ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD seven days; in the seventh day is a holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of servile work. (Leviticus 23:5)
The biblical regulations for the observance of the festival require that all leavening be disposed of before the beginning of the 15th of Nisan. An unblemished lamb or goat is to be set apart on Nisan 10, and slaughtered on Nisan 14 "between the two evenings", a phrase which is, however, not defined. It is then to be eaten "that night", Nisan 15, roasted, without the removal of its internal organs with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Nothing of the sacrifice on which the sun rises may be eaten, but must be burned. The sacrifices may only be performed in Jerusalem.
The biblical regulations pertaining to the original Passover also include how the meal is to be eaten: "with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’s passover" (Exodus 12:11).
Some of these details can be corroborated, and to some extent amplified, in extrabiblical sources. The removal (or "sealing up") of the leaven is referred to the Elephantine papyri, an Aramaic papyrus from 5th century BCE Elephantine in Egypt. The slaughter of the lambs on the 14th is mentioned in The Book of Jubilees, a Jewish work of the Ptolemaic period, and by the Herodian-era writers Josephus and Philo. These sources also indicate that "between the two evenings" was taken to mean the afternoon. Jubilees states the sacrifice was eaten that night, and together with Josephus states that nothing of the sacrifice was allowed to remain until morning. Philo states that the banquet included hymns and prayers.
The Biblical commandments concerning the Passover (and the Feast of Unleavened Bread) stress the importance of remembering:
And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt; and thou shalt observe and do these statutes." (Deuteronomy 16:12)
Exodus 12:14 commands, in reference to God’s sparing of the firstborn from the Tenth Plague:
And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.
Exodus 13:3 repeats the command to remember:
Remember this day, in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength the hand of the LORD brought you out from this place.
Origin of the Name
The verb "pasàch" is first mentioned in the Torah account of the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:23), and there is some debate about its exact meaning: the commonly held assumption that it means "He passed over", in reference to God "passing over" the houses of the Hebrews during the final of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, stems from the translation provided in the Septuagint (παρελευσεται in Exodus 12:23, and εσκεπασεν in Exodus 12:27). Judging from other instances of the verb, and instances of parallelism, a more faithful translation may be "he hovered over, guarding." Indeed, this is the image used by Isaiah by his use of this verb in Isaiah. 31:5: "As birds hovering, so will the Lord of hosts protect Jerusalem; He will deliver it as He protecteth it, He will rescue it as He passeth over" (Isaiah 31:5) Targum Onkelos translates pesach as "he had pity", The English term "Passover" came into the English language through William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible, and later appeared in the King James Version as well.
The term Pesach may also refer to the lamb or kid which was designated as the Passover sacrifice (called the Korban Pesach in Hebrew). Four days before the Exodus, the Hebrews were commanded to set aside a lamb.(Exodus 12:3) and inspect it daily for blemishes. During the day on the 14th of Nisan, they were to slaughter the animal and use its blood to mark their lintels and door posts. Up until midnight on the 15th of Nisan, they were to consume the lamb. Each family (or group of families) gathered together to eat a meal that included the meat of the Korban Pesach while the Tenth Plague ravaged Egypt.
In subsequent years, during the existence of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem, the Korban Pesach was eaten during the Passover Seder on the 15th of Nisan. However, following the destruction of the Temple, no sacrifices may be offered or eaten. The Seder Korban Pesach, a set of scriptural and Rabbinic passages dealing with the Passover sacrifice, is customarily recited during or after the Mincha (afternoon prayer) service on the 14th on Nisan. The story of the Korban Pesach is also retold at the Passover Seder,meaning order, and the symbolic food which represents it on the Seder Plate is usually a roasted lamb shankbone, chicken wing, or chicken neck.
Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread
Historically, these terms have been used interchangeably: "Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching." (Luke 22:1)
However, at least from the first century, it was commonly held among Pharisees, that the Feast of Unleavened Bread started the day following the Passover feast, and lasted seven days:
"The feast of unleavened bread succeeds that of the passover, and falls on the fifteenth day of the month, and continues seven days, wherein they feed on unleavened bread; But on the second day of unleavened bread, which is the sixteenth day of the month, they first "partake of the fruits of the earth, for before that day they do not touch them, (Antiquities of the Jews Book 3, Chapter 10, Section 5)."
Historic Offering, "Korban Pesach"
When the Temple in Jerusalem was standing, the focus of the Passover festival was the Korban Pesach (lit. "Pesach sacrifice," also known as the "Paschal Lamb"). Every family large enough to completely consume a young lamb or wild goat was required to offer one for sacrifice at the Jewish Temple on the afternoon of the 14th day of Nisan, and eat it that night, which was the 15th of Nisan. If the family was too small to finish eating the entire offering in one sitting, an offering was made for a group of families. The sacrifice could not be offered with anything leavened, and had to be roasted, without its head, feet, or inner organs being removed and eaten together with matzo (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs). One had to be careful not to break any bones from the offering, and none of the meat could be left over by morning.
Because of the Korban Pesach’s status as a sacred offering, the only people allowed to eat it were those who have the obligation to bring the offering. Among those who can not offer or eat the Korban Pesach are: An apostate (Exodus 12:43), a servant (Exodus 12:45), an uncircumcised man (Exodus 12:48), a person in a state of ritual impurity, except when a majority of Jews are in such a state (Pesahim 66b), and a non-Jew. The offering must be made before a quorum of 30 (Pesahim 64b). In the Temple, the Levites sing Hallel while the Kohanim perform the sacrificial service. Men and women are equally obligated regarding the Korban Pesach (Pesahim 91b).
Women were obligated, as men, to perform the Korban Pesach and to participate in a Seder.
Today, in the absence of the Temple, the mitzvah of the Korban Pesach is memorialized in the Seder Korban Pesach, recited in the afternoon of Nisan 14, and in the form of symbolic food placed on the Passover Seder Plate, which is usually a roasted shankbone. The eating of the afikoman substitutes for the eating of the Korban Pesach at the end of the Seder meal. Many Sephardi Jews have the custom of eating lamb or goat meat during the Seder in memory of the Korban Pesach.
The Passover Seder
It is traditional for Jewish families to gather on the first night of Passover (first two nights in communities outside the land of Israel) for a special dinner called a seder (סדר—derived from the Hebrew word for "order", referring to the very specific order of the ritual). The table is set with the finest china and silverware to reflect the importance of the meal. During this meal, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special text called the Haggadah. Four cups of wine are consumed at various stages in the narrative.
The Haggadah divides the night’s procedure into 15 parts:
- Kadeish קדש —
recital of Kiddush blessing and drinking of the first cup of wine
- Urchatz ורחץ —
the washing of the hands – without blessing
- Karpas כרפס —
dipping of the karpas in salt water
- Yachatz יחץ —
breaking the middle matzo; the larger piece becomes the afikoman which is eaten later during the ritual of Tzafun
- Maggid מגיד —
retelling the Passover story, including the recital of "the four questions" and drinking of the second cup of wine
- Rachtzah רחצה —
second washing of the hands – with blessing
- Motzi מוציא —
traditional blessing before eating bread products
- Matzo מצה —
blessing before eating matzo
- Maror מרור —
eating of the maror
- Koreich כורך —
eating of a sandwich made of matzo and maror
- Shulchan oreich שולחן עורך —
lit. "set table"—the serving of the holiday meal
- Tzafun צפון —
eating of the afikoman
- Bareich ברך —
blessing after the meal and drinking of the third cup of wine
- Hallel הלל —
recital of the Hallel, traditionally recited on festivals; drinking of the fourth cup of wine
- Nirtzah נירצה —
These 15 parts parallel the 15 steps in the Temple in Jerusalem on which the Levites stood during Temple services, and which were memorialized in the 15 Psalms (#120-134) known as Shir HaMa’alot (Hebrew: שיר המעלות, "Songs of Ascent").
The seder is replete with questions, answers, and unusual practices (e.g. the recital of Kiddush which is not immediately followed by the blessing over bread, which is the traditional procedure for all other holiday meals) to arouse the interest and curiosity of the children at the table. The children are also rewarded with nuts and candies when they ask questions and participate in the discussion of the Exodus and its aftermath. Likewise, they are encouraged to search for the afikoman, the piece of matzo which is the last thing eaten at the seder. Audience participation and interaction is the rule, and many families’ seders last long into the night with animated discussions and much singing. The seder concludes with additional songs of praise and faith printed in the Haggadah, including Chad Gadya ("One Little Kid" or "One Little Goat").
Passover in Sermons, Liturgy, and Song
The story of Passover, with its message that slaves can go free, and that the future can be better than the present, has inspired a number of religious sermons, prayers, and songs — including spirituals (what used to be called "Negro Spirituals"), within the American African-American community.
Rabbi Philip R. Alstat, an early leader of Conservative Judaism, known for his fiery rhetoric and powerful oratory skills, wrote and spoke in 1939 about the power of the Passover story during the rise of Nazi persecution and terror:
Perhaps in our generation the counsel of our Talmudic sages may seem superfluous, for today the story of our enslavement in Egypt is kept alive not only by ritualistic symbolism, but even more so by tragic realism. We are the contemporaries and witnesses of its daily re-enactment. Are not our hapless brethren in the German Reich eating "the bread of affliction"? Are not their lives embittered by complete disenfranchisement and forced labor? Are they not lashed mercilessly by brutal taskmasters behind the walls of concentration camps? Are not many of their men-folk being murdered in cold blood? Is not the ruthlessness of the Egyptian Pharaoh surpassed by the sadism of the Nazi dictators?
And yet, even in this hour of disaster and degradation, it is still helpful to "visualize oneself among those who had gone forth out of Egypt." It gives stability and equilibrium to the spirit. Only our estranged kinsmen, the assimilated, and the de-Judaized, go to pieces under the impact of the blow….But those who visualize themselves among the groups who have gone forth from the successive Egypts in our history never lose their sense of perspective, nor are they overwhelmed by confusion and despair…. It is this faith, born of racial experience and wisdom, which gives the oppressed the strength to outlive the oppressors and to endure until the day of ultimate triumph when we shall "be brought forth from bondage unto freedom, from sorrow unto joy, from mourning unto festivity, from darkness unto great light, and from servitude unto redemption.
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Think Exist: Passover Quotes…