One of the most celebrated festivals within Judaism is Passover. It is a time when one reflects on the miraculous event when God “by strength of hand” delivered the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage over 3000 years ago. Passover, a one day memorial that is followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread a week long celebration, is characterized by the observance of several unique customs and traditions within our congregation.
The purpose of this page is to give an overview of the historical development of Passover and to discuss its contemporary significance. Specifically, the following topics will be addressed:
- A narration of the important developments leading up to the Passover event;
- A discussion of the contemporary characteristics of Passover.
There is ample evidence throughout the Bible that Passover was an important historical event to the ancient Israelites. Among the references are Exodus 12:14-28, 13:6-16; Leviticus 23:5-8; Numbers 9:1-12, 28:16; II Kings 23:21-22; II Chronicles 35:1-19; and Ezekiel 45:21-23. In each of these scriptural references, details about the Passover are addressed.
To have a thorough appreciation of Passover, however, one must have an understanding of the major developments that preceded the Passover event. Recounted primarily in Genesis chapter 15 and Exodus chapters 1-15, some of these major events include the Divine Prophecy foretold to Abraham, the eventual oppressive servitude of the Children of Israel, the Divine selection of Moses as a deliverer, the subsequent “Ten Plagues” inflicted on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and finally the climatic departure of the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage.
Abraham’s Dream of Horror
Many years prior to the Children of Israel’s captivity in Egypt, it was Divinely revealed through a dream to Abraham, the Patriarch of the Judaic faith, that his descendants would one day be enslaved. Genesis 15:12-14 states:
“…thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs… and shall serve them… [for] four hundred years….” [But] “afterward shall they come out with great substance.”
Although this prophecy was several generations removed from this actual occurrence, it comes to fruition through a meandering course from Abraham to Joseph to Moses.
Servitude in Egypt
Exodus 1:1-7 enumerates how the Children of Israel immigrated to Egypt from a neighboring land. According to this brief passage, Jacob’s sons along with their families, totaling 70 “souls”, came to live with their brother Joseph who was a high official in Egypt. After that generation died, their descendants multiplied greatly in population.
As time passed, “there arose a new king over Egypt who knew not Joseph.” Fearing that the growing Israelite population was an imminent political and military threat, the Pharaoh imposed measures to enslave them. Taskmasters were appointed to inflict work and toil on the Israelites, and mid-wives were ordered to murder male babies immediately after birth.
Moses: The Deliverer
As their suffering increased, the Children of Israel cried unto the God of their forefathers for mercy. Hearing their groaning and remembering His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God commissioned Moses at the “burning bush on Mt. Nebo” to deliver His people from the Egyptians. Moses returned to Egypt, and accompanied by his brother Aaron, confronted Pharaoh. When Moses and Aaron first encountered Pharaoh he chided them and mocked their God. Furthermore, instead of releasing the Israelites as Moses had requested, Pharaoh ordered that the afflictions of the enslaved population be intensified.
The Ten Plagues
Due to the stubbornness of Pharaoh, however, the Lord afflicted the Egyptians with a series of “plagues” to persuade a change of heart. Beginning with the plague of blood and followed by the plagues of frogs, lice, flies, death of cattle, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness Pharaoh remained inflexible despite the sufferings of his fellow Egyptians.
As a consequence, the Lord inflicted yet one more plague upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians that proved to be the clincher–the death of the Egyptian first born. According to Exodus 11:4-5, all the first born of Egypt would die, including Pharaoh’s household, his countrymen, and their beasts. Yet, the Children of Israel would be spared.
At midnight on the fourteenth day of Abib, the death angel “smote” the lives of the Egyptians. On the other hand, the lives of the Children of Israel were spared as the death angel “passed over” the houses of the Israelites. Broken-hearted by this disaster, Pharaoh freed the Children of Israel and permitted them to depart Egypt.
As a commemoration of their new independence, the Children of Israel were commanded to observe Passover as a memorial and ordinance forever. See Exodus 12:14-17.
The Passover Instituted
Exodus chapter 12 gives an account of how the Passover was first instituted. According to this account, the Children of Israel were commanded to obtain an unblemished male lamb of the first year on the tenth day of Abib and to hold it until the fourteenth day. On the evening of that day, the lamb was slaughtered and roasted whole over a fire. Then, the entire assembly of the Children of Israel ate the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. This event, which institutionalized the Passover as a memorial, was observed for seven days with the eating of unleavened bread. See Exodus 12:18 and Deuteronomy 16:1-3.
We believe that Prophet William S. Crowdy brought back the “ancient of days.” Thus, the ancient festival of Passover still has tremendous relevance today. On the eve of the fourteenth day, the members of our religious congregation assemble at Belleville to observe the seder. Seder, a Hebrew word which means “order of service”, consists of a special service and festive meal. The worship service (referred to as Haggadah which means “telling the story” or “recital”) consists of songs, prayers, blessings, and the history of the Passover exodus.
The seder meal has specially designated dishes which include matzah (unleavened bread), bitter herbs, spring greens, charoset, lamb, a roasted egg, salt water, and wine. Each food item on the table has a symbolic meaning. Matzah has several meanings. Among those it recalls the haste the Children of Israel had to depart Egypt, which prevented ample time for the dough to rise; hence, unleavened bread.
The bitter herbs usually consisting of horseradish, symbolizes the bitterness the Children of Israel endured while in bondage. Spring greens usually represented by parsley, celery, or lettuce symbolizes that Passover is a spring festival. Charoset, a paste-like mixture of nuts, apples, raisins, honey, and cinnamon, represents the mortar used by the Children of Israel to build the Egyptian cities.
The lamb represents the paschal lamb of Biblical times. The salt water represents the tears that were shed by Israelite mothers when their sons were taken from them and murdered. The roasted egg represents the freewill offering which was represented each day of this Feast during the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem. Finally, the wine represents joy and gladness.
During the week-long celebration of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, matzah (unleavened bread) should be eaten. See Exodus 12:15. Matzah is a flat, unleavened wafer made from water and flour of any of the five grains–wheat, rye, barley, oats, or spelt (a primitive species of wheat).
Aside from eating matzah, there are other special dietary restrictions that should be observed during the Passover week. Most restrictions evolve around the eating of leavened foods. See Exodus 12:15,19; and Deuteronomy 16:4. According to Exodus 12:20; and 13:7, leavened food is even prohibited from being in the home during Passover. Leavened foods come from any of the five grains; namely, wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats. The only exception is matzah, because of its biblical mandate to be used. Foods that are considered unleavened and can be eaten during Passover fall into the following categories:
- Kosher meats (e.g. beef)
- Kosher fowl (e.g. turkey, chicken)
The final feature of the Passover is the prohibition to work on the first and last day of the festival. According to Leviticus 23:7-8 and Numbers 28:18,25 work is forbidden. These days are memorials and holy convocations for the entire house of Israel.
Passover, probably the most celebrated festival in Judaism, puts the adherent of the faith in close touch with his ancient forebearers who won religious freedom and political independence from the Egyptians. Although 3000 years removed from the actual event, the miraculous intervention by God is a living testimony that God can deliver His people from their modern day Egypts.