Sat | Oct 20, 2018

The origins of Passover - Part II

Published:Saturday | June 2, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The Bible story is that after the avenging angel killed all the first-born male children of men and animals in Egypt, Pharaoh, who had enslaved the Israelites for over 200 years, drove the Israelites out of Egypt after the first-born males of the Israelites were spared God's wrath.

The homes of these males were spared after the Israelites were told to mark their door frames with the blood of a lamb. These homes were passed over by the avenging angel. Thus, the term Passover.

For decades, some Christians have been celebrating Passover, a very important festival on the Jewish calendar. Known as Pesach in Hebrew, it is a liberation festival that is commemorated in spring from the 15th to the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan (March 30-April 7, 2018).

Passover, lasting seven days in the Jewish state of Israel, is observed mainly by avoiding leavened food, eating Seder meals, including four cups of wine; eating Matzah food and bitter herbs; and the telling of the Passover story, and by extension, the story of Exodus.

 

STRICT HOLIDAYS

 

The first and last two days are strict holidays when candles are lit at night, and grand meals are eaten. No working, driving, writing, and switching on or off electrical devices is permitted. Most forms of work are allowed on the days in between called Chol Hamoed.

Spring-cleaning homes and ridding them of leavened grains (chametz) or any food or drink consisting of only a trace of wheat, barley, rye, oats, etc, or their derivatives, is a major part of the commemoration, because the consumption of leavened food such as bread, cake, cereal, pasta, alcoholic beverages, or anything not guarded against leavening or fermentation is forbidden during the celebrations.

The process consists of a ceremonial search for and burning of chametz. It is an exercise to remember the unleavened bread that the Israelites brought with them into the wilderness on their way to Mount Sinai after they fled Egypt. In place of leavened foods, matzah, a flat, unleavened bread is eaten, especially on Seder nights. The shmurah matzah is ideal since it is guarded against moisture from the moment the grain is harvested.

In Hebrew, Seder means 'order'. Thus, the Passover meal is eaten in a particular order: Prayers are recited, and songs sung. Each item on the plate has a specific historical meaning relating to the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

 

MEANING OF THE MEAL

 

The Seder nights, observed on the first two nights of Passover, are the highlight of the festival. It is a family-centred tradition and is full of ritualism. It includes eating matzah and bitter herbs "to commemorate the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites".

Drinking four cups of wine or grape juice is a celebration of freedom and is done at different points in the Seder. Each of the glasses has a name. The first is the cup of satisfaction, the second is judgement, the third is redemption, and the fourth is called praise. They are symbolic of the glasses that Jesus used in the Last Supper.

Another important feature of the Seder is the recitation of the Haggadah, which tells in great detail the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. It is said to be a fulfilment of a biblical obligation to tell children about the Exodus on the night of Passover.