By Rabbi David Markel Hall
Passover is the first commanded feast given to Israel. It marks the Exodus from Egypt and symbolizes the removal of G-d’s chosen people from the world system. For seven days we are to eat unleavened bread. The first and last days are commanded assemblies and no ordinary work is allowed except the preparation of food. The closing evening of the 14th of Abiv we are to have a memorial of the exodus from Egypt. Chag haMatzah begins that evening and continues throughout the seven days. In the Diaspora we observe two evenings for Pesach observance, Abiv 14 and 15 but in Israel only the 14th.
G-d made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He told them that they would become a great multitude that no man can number and that nations will come from their descendants. Later Joseph, a son of Jacob, found himself in Egypt and served Pharaoh and Egypt ultimately saving the nation and that region from a horrible drought. Among those saved were his own family who moved to Egypt to escape the famine.
Over four hundred years passed and Egypt had turned the family of Joseph into slaves. Additionally, many of the descendants of Abraham acclimated to the ways of the Egyptians. When the Egyptians tried to weaken Israel by killing their newly born sons, their cry became so intense that G-d raised up from the chaos Moses, who was destined to lead His people out of that culture and back to the ways of the one known at that time as El Shaddai.
Moses was pulled out of the system first. He journeyed to the land of his fathers and came to the household of Jethro a polytheist priest of Midian. He served Jethro for several years, tending sheep and ultimately married one of Jethro’s daughters. While serving Jethro, G-d spoke to Moses from a burning bush, which curiously enough was not consumed by the flames. During this meeting with El Shaddai, Moses learned the true name of the creator of the universe. HaShem sent him back to Egypt on a mission to deliver the Israelis out of the hand of the Egyptian slave masters.
During the observance of Passover, the background information is recounted along with the story of the miraculous events preceding our departure from Egypt.
This night of observance is called "Pesach" or Passover. It predicted the death of the children of Egypt and the saving of Israel before the event even took place. We will discuss this more at length later.
We use a booklet guide for the evening called "Haggadah". It helps us tell the story and uses special ceremonial foods to illustrate life in Egypt and the Exodus. Bitter herbs such as horseradish brings tears to our eyes as we discuss how our fathers suffered in Egypt. We dip our vegetables in salt water to remind us of the tears our fathers cried in bondage. The food is consumed along with bitter herbs to bring a solemn feeling to the occasion. In all these things we bless the wonderful creator who delivered us from bondage and created the fruit of the vine.
There are four cups of wine consumed at the Seder. Each cup has special meaning.
The first cup is sanctification. It tells the purpose for all of these events and means "set aside for special purpose". His commandments cause us to be set aside as special and make us a "peculiar" people.
The second cup is "the cup of plagues". It reminds us that we were redeemed from the curses that befell Egypt. Before drinking this cup, we dip our little finger of the right hand into the full cup of wine and drop wine on a napkin while reciting the plagues.
The third cup is "the cup of redemption". It is also known as the cup of Elijah the prophet. It points out that our redemption is not complete. We are still waiting the final redemption which will happen when the Messiah comes to us for the final time and we see His kingdom established here in this earth. Many of us sing the song "Eyliyahu Hanavi". This song tells us, one day soon, the prophet Elijah will come in preparation for the coming of Messiah son of David.
The fourth cup is the cup called "Hallell" or "praise". After drinking this final cup of wine, we sing Psalm 136. "Give thanks to the L-rd for he is Good, His love endures forever. . . "
As stated earlier, before drinking the second cup we name the plagues. HaShem hardened Pharaoh's heart, who then refused Israel the privilege of leaving Egypt. This happened ten times in spite of the fact that Moses demonstrated to Pharaoh, repeatedly, the awesome power of HaShem.
The final plague was the death of the first born children of Egypt. The night before Israel left Egypt, G-d commanded Israel to keep a special feast which is a "night to be much observed". It commemorated the event of the killing of the firstborn children of Egypt and the separation of Israel who did not lose one sole during that awesome event. This was the ultimate demonstration of the power of HaShem, that He could selectively chose who would live and who would die. With that final plague, Egypt "thrust out" Israel from their midst. They were even willing to pay Israel to leave their land. Israel carried much gold, silver and precious jewels away from Egypt into the wilderness.
During the very observance of that first Passover, the spirit of HaShem moved across the land and cries of despair could be heard everywhere as the children of Egypt died. The children of Israel had marked the door posts and mantel of their homes with the blood of the sacrificed lamb. As G-d saw the blood, marking the home, He would "pass over" and not take the lives of any who were within the home.
Marking the door post and mantel with blood forms the Hebrew letter Chet. This is the first letter of a two letter word, Chet Yod "Chie" which means "life".
Nerot - Two candles: represents the light of G-d which is to be given to the world around us.
Matzah: Unleavened bread which is said to be the bread of affliction.
Tasch: A cover used to hold the three Matzah (looks like crackers) which are called "a unity" when placed in the Tasch. It is said to represent the unity of worship or the unity of the patriarchs. Messianic believers see this as a picture of the oneness of our G-d.
Afikomen: or final dessert. Messianic believers see this as the second appearance of Moshiach. The middle cracker of the "unity" is called "Afikomen". It is broken just as the Messiah Yeshua was broken. It "reappears" after the seder meal and is tasted by all.
Pesach: a lamb shank bone. It represents the lamb which was slaughtered in days of old at Passover. Because there is no temple in which to slaughter the lamb, we use the shank bone of a lamb to represent this sacrifice. There is a mixture of feelings in Judaism about whether or not to eat lamb at Passover. Orthodox and many conservative are strongly against the use of lamb at the seder. Others wouldn’t have a seder without lamb. For this reason, we do not use lamb at our seders either. We are mourning the loss of the temple.
Karpus - Parsley: Represents "New Life" because it is springtime.
Charoset: a mixture of chopped apples, nuts, dates, wine, honey and or other similar ingredients with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon which represent the mortar used to build the treasure cities of Egypt.
Maror: Bitter herbs which help us experience the bitterness of life in Egypt. It actually brings tears to our eyes as we eat it.
Beytzah - Roasted Egg: an egg which has been cooked and the flame of fire brushing the shell. It represents the roasted sacrifices which we can no longer offer up to G-d.
During the month prior to Chag haMatzah; the feast of unleavened bread, we clean our homes of all possible Chametz; products or residue which might contain leavening such as bread, crumbs etc. We believe this is where "spring cleaning" came from.
The Brit Chadisha (New Covenant) equates leavening to sin. Removing sin from our lives is like coming out of Egypt. In this case, Egypt represents the world system. When we are removed from it (Egypt), the bread will not be so pleasant to the flesh. Also, G-d removed from us the system of governments and humanist thinking. He took us into the wilderness (a place of discomfort) to worship and sacrifice to Him.
For one full week we are not to have any leavened products in our homes. Nor are we to consume any leavened products outside our home. The picture is one of being chosen by G-d, set aside as special by His commandments, and recognizing how difficult it is to remove sin from our lives.
The first and last days of the feast are commanded assemblies. We come together to observe the start and completion of this rite. Special Holy Day prayers are said and we reflect on the nature of this week without leavening.
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