The History and Mystery of Passover

March 24, 2013 in Publisher's Corner

Traditional Passover Meal

A traditional Seder meal setting.

This Monday at sundown begins one of the Jewish religion’s most important holidays: Passover — Pesach or פֶּסַח in Hebrew. Critical to the Christian faith as well, it marks the beginning of the Easter season. The Passover holiday observance is associated with the persecution and flight of the Hebrews from Egyptian enslavement. According to biblical history, the Egyptians were punished by God — not to be actually named in text — with 10 plagues for their sins. The last, and perhaps most terrible to ancients, was the culling of the firstborn. Only the Jews were spared this terrible fate by marking their doors in a lamb’s blood, said to indicate to the Angel of Death to pass over that home.

The ten plagues visited on the Egyptians in Exodus in order were:

I) The turning of the waters of Egypt to blood, killing all fish and making the water unpotable.

II) A swarm of frogs.

III) A swarm of gnats or lice.

IV) The devastation of their lands by wild animals.

V) Pestilence.

VI) Boils.

VII) Hail.

VIII) Locusts, said to have devoured any remaining crops and food.

IX) Darkness, covering the land of Egypt for three days.

X) The death of the first born of every family, including Egyptian livestock.

Moses is the prophet credited in Exodus for helping to lead the Jewish People from the repressive rule of the Egyptians. He is said to have been placed as a baby in a basket, and floated down the river Nile to escape a culling by the Egyptians themselves. They regarded the then increasing Israelite population as a threat to their rule.

Reportedly, that very same infant was rescued from the Nile by one of Pharaoh’s own daughters. He was named Moses, which means “one who is pulled out”, and adopted into the Egyptian royal family. Reaching adulthood, Moses became aware of his Jewish heritage, as well as the brutal treatment of his people at the hands of his adopted family. He then is said to have fled his life of luxury to become a simple shepherd in the Sinai peninsula.

Moses is told to have 40 years later received a message from God to return to Egypt and free his Jewish kin from bondage. Hearing God, he responded, “Hineini!”, הנה אני, or “Here I am!” in Hebrew.

Upon return, Moses approached Pharaoh several times according to the Bible, explaining his people needed leave to celebrate a three-day religious holiday in the country, only to be denied. It is then said God unleashed the 10 plagues as punishment for Pharaoh’s blasphemy. After the 10th plague struck, Pharaoh relented and released the Jews. They made quick their escape.

An important part of the week-long Passover holiday is the Seder meal. It is traditional for Jewish families to gather on the first night to celebrate the significance of Pesach. Ritualistic in nature, the holiday contains many symbols important to recalling the flight and sorrow of the Hebrews during this time of trial. These symbols include eating matzah, or unleavened bread, which represents the crisis of the Jews as they fled Egypt — they had not the time to let their bread rise. The consumption of bitter herbs, dipped in salt, is said to represent the tears of the Jews. Four cups of wine also are consumed at various stages in the Haggadah, הַגָּדָה, or “telling” narrative, which describes the escape of the Jews from Egypt.

This evening, the publisher, editor in chief, secretary and all invited staff of The Hammill Post shall celebrate a traditional Seder meal with friends and loved ones.