Rabbi Hirschfield: Things to Know About Passover
Posted by Dr. Fay on March 26, 2013
Passover 2013 started last night at sunset and will last until next Tuesday at sunset as Jews around the world celebrate the Exodus from Egypt when God delivered them out of slavery. It is also a celebration of the Passover meal the Israelites ate at God’s instruction the night of the 10th Plague, when Jewish lives were spared when the Death Angel passed over Jewish homes where the blood of a sacrificial lamb was applied to the door.
We at SPIB want to wish all of our Jewish friends and others who celebrate Passover and its significance a very blessed Passover experience. Chag Sameach.
FOX News had posted an excellent video and article by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, in which he explains the meaning of Passover and the traditions practiced during its celebration. Here are excerpts from his article, which you can read here.
1. When does Passover 2013 begin and how long does it last?
Passover 2013 begins at sundown on Monday, March 25th. That is the date, this year, which corresponds to the 15th of Nissan, the day according to the Bible, on which the first Passover occurred and on which all subsequent Passovers always begin.
The holiday lasts for 7 days in Israel and 8 days everywhere else, reflecting a long-held custom honoring the fact that maintaining an accurate liturgical calendar far from Israel, where Jewish religious authority was centered in ancient times, was not so simple. It’s a “belt and suspenders approach”, designed to make sure nobody fails to observe the holiday on the appropriate day.
2. What is Passover all about, and is it the same as Pesach?
Passover and Pesach are the same thing. One is simply English and the other is Hebrew. In either case, it is the holiday celebrating the Exodus of the ancient Israelites from their slavery in Egypt.
Simply put, like America itself, Passover is about freedom.
The specific “passing over” for which the holiday is named refers to the way in which God passed over, or protected, the homes of the Israelites during the night they prepared to begin their journey into freedom.
3. Why is Passover the Most Celebrated Jewish holiday in America?
Simply put, like America itself, Passover is about freedom. It celebrates the eternal quest for human dignity and the freedom which is perhaps the greatest expression of that dignity.
Nowhere, and at no time, in 3,000 years of Jewish history have Jews known the kind of centuries-long freedom and security which are the American Jewish experience. The Passover story of freedom — of the journey from oppression to opportunity — is also the American story at its best, not just for Jews but for all people, and it rings deeply true when it is told at Seder tables across this nation.
8. Is Passover Only for Jews?
Definitely not! While Passover marks the birth of the Jewish people as a free nation, it speaks to the larger human impulse to be free, and that is why so many people, both Jewish and not, celebrate the holiday.
In addition to the large number of Jewish families which either include non-Jewish members or welcome non-Jewish guests to their own Passover celebrations, increasing numbers of Christian communities celebrate their own Seders, emulating what must have been an important part of Jesus’ life experience in the first century.
9. Was the Last Supper a Seder?
The Last Supper is often explained, based on the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, as having been a Passover Seder. Certainly the time of year at which Jesus came to Jerusalem fits, and the communal meal at which he gathered his disciples is suggestive of something like a Seder, with ritualized eating, drinking and teaching through conversation. Of course, those are also regular features of any classically Jewish meal of religious import. Also, according to the Book of John, the Last Supper was the day before Passover.
Scholars can continue to fight this out, but one thing is clear: both the Last Supper and the Seder point to the power of celebrating one’s most deeply held values in the presence of those about whom we care, and in the context of a freely offered table.
10. How are Passover and Easter related?
While the tradition of calculating the date of Easter based on the date of Passover ended many centuries ago, the holidays share some very deep truths of which all people can avail themselves. Who doesn’t need to be reminded that however dark life may be, that however cold and lifeless the winter has been, the promise of spring, and the possibility of rebirth and renewal is always there?
Whether discovered in the story of a nation making the journey from Abraham’s early successes to the Israelites’ slavery and subsequent redemption, or in the story of one who lives, dies and is born again, we must all celebrate that life holds more possibility and potential than we first imagine — that there is reason for hope, and that in celebrating triumphs of hope from the past, we can unleash new stories of hope in the present and in the future.
11. Passover and Our Founding Fathers
The Exodus from Egypt was central in the minds of the new United States’ Founding Fathers. When Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams gathered to create a seal for our nation, Franklin chose a design of Moses extending his hand over the Red Sea, thereby overwhelming Pharaoh who is sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand. Rays in the clouds were drawn as reaching out to Moses, expressing that he acted by command of God. The motto included was: “Rebellion To Tyrants Is Obedience To God,” which was later adopted by Jefferson as his personal motto.
12. Moses Was A Hero to the Pilgrims
Moses was an American hero long before there was a United States of America. The Pilgrims described themselves as the chosen people fleeing their own pharaoh, King James. When they set sail on The Mayflower in 1620, they carried Bibles emblazoned with Moses leading the Israelites to freedom. Then as now, they found themselves in the story of leaving Egypt.
13. What the Word Egypt Really Means and Why It Matters for All of Us
Egypt is not “Egypt” in the Bible. In the original Hebrew, it is called “Mitzrayim”, which means tight places. To be in Mitzrayim/Egypt is not simply to be a slave in a story from long ago. It is the paradigmatic experience of being stuck between a rock and a hard place – an experience which virtually all people have at some point in our lives.
Passover reminds all people that while getting jammed up can, and likely will, happen to each of us, there is always the possibility of redemption and release. Whoever you are, and whatever faith you follow, Passover invites us to take stock of where we are stuck, and seek the help we need to get un-stuck. That we will ultimately be successful is the eternal promise of Passover.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of “You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism,” and president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.