Experiencing this wonderful Jewish meal and interactive
"happening" is to live through all the varied themes of the Passover
The most obvious theme of the festival is redemption.
In the Exodus
story, which Jews are commanded to tell their children every year on Passover,
the Jews were redeemed physically from slavery. While Pesach is "z'man
heyruteinu," the season of our freedom, it is also a festival that
speaks of spiritual redemption. Jews were freed from mental as well as physical
slavery. It was as a physically and spiritually free people that the Jewish
nation prepared to receive the Torah on Mt.
notion of spiritual redemption is in part demonstrated by the fundamental
Jewish idea that in every generation every individual is obliged to view him or
herself as though he or she had actually gone forth from Egypt. Egypt is "Mitzraim"
in Hebrew. It stems from the root "tzar," which means narrow
or constrained. In order to leave Egypt, each individual must break out of
personal narrowness, becoming free to achieve his full spiritual potential.
Another explanation of the root "tzar" is calamity. In this
view, "Mitzraim" represents the country of calamities that
befall the Jews.
The seder includes many allusions to a future messianic redemption. One of
the clearest symbols of the presence and hope of future redemption is the Cup
of Elijah that is placed on every seder table. Contained within the
salvation from Egypt are the seeds of future redemption, as the Torah states,
"This same night is a night of watching unto the Lord for all the children
of Israel throughout their generations" (Exodus 12:42).
An illustration of the coexistence of past and future redemption at the
Seder is the unusual way of reciting Hallel
of praise). The haggadah
splits Hallel into two parts, so that from kiddush at the beginning of
the seder until the meal in the middle, the seder emphasizes past redemption,
such as the Exodus, and from the meal to the end it looks to the future
Passover also contains a strong connection to the theme of creation. It is
one of the four new years of the Jewish calendar. Nisan,
the time the festival occurs, was traditionally seen as the first month of the
Jewish year. Pesach celebrates spring, rebirth, and renewal, symbolized by the
green "karpas" and the egg on the seder plate. It is also a
time of "beginning," as exemplified by the first grain harvest and
the birth or creation of Israel as a nation. As a newborn nation, the Jews
began their journey to receive Torah on Mt. Sinai.
preparation is the theme of the weeks and days leading up to Pesach. Every
speck of hametz
(yeast or leaven) must be removed from the house in the days before sitting
down to the seder table. On Passover, we also rid ourselves of spiritual
"hametz"--any type of arrogance, indulgence, or self-assertion.
As slaves, Jews had no choice but to be self-denying. After liberation, they
had to freely choose to humble themselves and subject themselves to God's
sovereignty. Traditional Judaism interprets hametz as a metaphor for the "yetzer
hara"--the evil inclination. The absence of leaven is epitomized
the flat bread Jews eat during Passover. Matzah is also a link between exile
and redemption. It is the bread of affliction, eaten by slaves who did not have
decent food. It is also a symbol of freedom, because when the Jews left Egypt,
they rushed away with unleavened bread.
Another notable theme of the Pesach seder is the repetition of patterns of
four. This is based on the verse in Exodus that states, "I am the Lord,
and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I
will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with
an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I will take you to Me
for a people, and I will be to you a God…" (Exodus 6:6-7). Among many
other patterns of four at the seder, we drink four
cups of wine, ask four
questions, and speak about four
types of children.
In telling the story of the escape from Egypt and the plagues that preceded
it, Jews also highlight God's role in the redemption. Moses is not mentioned in
the traditional Haggadah lest too much focus center on him and his role rather
than on God, the Sovereign of the Universe. The Haggadah emphasizes that it was
not a messenger or angel,
but the almighty God who redeemed the Jews. The events and circumstances of the
Exodus, from the calling of Moses at the burning
bush to the plagues
brought against the Egyptians, proved beyond any doubt to Pharaoh and all
humankind that the one God is Sovereign over all the earth. Beyond that, the
Exodus is a formative experience for the Jewish people. What was once a group
of slaves gains an identity as a nation. This event laying the foundation for a
relationship with God.
beginning our exegesis of the passover, a few remarks about the very word
"passover" are in order. Most
of the brethren, indeed perhaps all, take the word "passover" as
referring to the passion of the Savior.
But among the Hebrews, the feast in question is not called pascha but
phas, ...which, translated, means "passage."... And if one of us in
discussion with the Hebrews should rashly say that the passover is so named
because of the passion of the Savior, they will laugh at him as one ignorant of
the meaning of the word.
as quoted in Spirit and Fire, Hans Urs Von Balthasar
comments, anyone? It strikes me that if we begin to see Christ as our Exodus, then the Holy Scriptures open our eyes in a whole new way.