A Passover Message
It was hard to believe that Spring was ever going to arrive this year. There’s still a large pile of ugly, dirty snow, piled high in the corner of the Costco parking lot in Brooklyn, where I have just returned from purchasing large quantities of food for our family Passover Seder that will take place this Monday evening. For me, Passover marks the beginning of Spring, because our Torah (The first five books of the Hebrew Scripture) mentions that the while the Exodus from Egypt took place on the 15th of the month of Nisan (Hebrew month, not the car company), Torah also refers to the month as Aviv, which means Spring in Hebrew.
While the Gregorian calendar might name March 20 as the first day of Spring, for Jews, our calendar is a lunarsolar one, and is connected to the moon, the climate and agriculture of the ancient Land of Israel, and the dates of our Pilgrimage Festivals, of which Passover is the first.
Passover marks not only the Exodus from Egypt, but also the pilgrimage ancient Jews took to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices. The first observance of Passover is said to have taken place in the Sinai desert, but ancient Jews did not celebrate Passover with a typical Passover meal and Seder (that tells the story of the Exodus, and God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt). What began as a yearly observance of commemoration of that miracle of deliverance, ultimately morphed into a date in which Jews would flock to Jerusalem, offer their communal barley and paschal sacrifices, eat a communal meal with other pilgrims and then tell the miraculous story of the Exodus from Egypt, possibly around a campfire. It is not until many centuries later that the idea of a formal Seder meal was even discussed by the rabbis. And so it seems that Passover is the Feast of Unleavened Bread (matzah) as well as the Exodus from Egypt. (It is unlikely that Jesus’ Last Supper was what we would call a Seder, but Jesus was probably in Jerusalem, like many Jews, for the Pilgrimage Festival of Passover.)
But as interesting as the origins of Passover are to me from an historical or anthropological perspective, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is the unifying story of the Jewish people, that ultimately teaches ethics to live lives of empathy and understanding that all peoples are created in God’s image.
When we are commanded in our Haggadah (the story of our Exodus, and the book that contains all of the Passover rituals to be observed at the Seder meal) we are enjoined to “see ourselves as we were personally redeemed from Egypt,” and learn that being a slave is the greatest form of human degradation, and to know that we were once slaves implores us to fight against any form of slavery. What that suggests to me in 2017 is that fighting against oppression is not really a choice, but a commandment – wherever it may be. We need to ask ourselves, what are we moderns slaves to? Perhaps it’s materialism, stubbornness, or perhaps even an addiction. We are also commanded to eat Matzah (that cardboard tasting flatbread) during the week of Passover, that the Israelites had to eat because, leaving Egypt in such a hurry when Pharaoh finally relented, meant that we didn’t have time to allow our bread to rise, hence it was flat. But it is also known as Lechem Ahni – poor-person’s bread. It is a reminder that we must take care of those in our midst who are not as fortunate as we are.
Passover is paradoxical. We rejoice in our freedom, and we remember those who are not free. We tell the story of our enslavement and celebrate that we can eat delicious food in large quantities with our family and friends, inviting all who are hungry to come and eat. And while we recall all of the difficulties of our history, we also celebrate our freedom.
Wishing all who celebrate Passover, a Zissen Pesach to you and yours, (a sweet Pesach in Yiddish) and to all who observe Easter, may it be a meaningful one for you and your family.