Passover Guide for the Perplexed, 2016
Based on ancient Jewish sages, April 19, 2016
1. Is Passover relevant in 2016? The ancient Jewish sage, Rabban Gamliel realized the permanent relevance of the Passover legacy to Jewish challenges, and instructed: “Each generation must consider itself as if it was liberated from Egypt.”
2. Moreover, according to the late Israeli philosopher/historian, Israel Eldad, the Passover legacy cemented the Jewish Revolution against the Egyptian crown, Jewish nationhood and the Jewish state. The Passover legacy has accompanied the Jewish people for the last 3,400 years, since the transformation – against seemingly insurmountable odds - from slavery to deliverance and sovereignty via a series of super-natural events: the Ten Plagues, and especially the 10th Plague, which killed every Egyptian first-born, but passed-over (Passover) the Jewish first-born; the deliverance/Exodus from slavery in Egypt, a super-power; the parting and crossing of the sea; the reception of the Ten Commandments; rebounding from the crises of the Golden Calf and the Ten Spies; defiance of the 40-year military, social, economic, external and internal odds in the desert; and, finally settling the Land of Israel.
Eldad wrote that according to “realistic” assessments, Judaism and the Jewish people were expected to be extinct/fossils by 2016, but instead they have risen to new heights, contributing immensely to the well-being of humanity, while some of their formidable enemies have suffered major setback and some have become extinct/fossils.
He added that the sea of history has parted many times since the Biblical Exodus, featuring the Jewish people marching on relatively dry grounds (although soaked with much Jewish blood) to the Promised Land - in defiance of destruction, exile, expulsion, auto-da-fe’ (execution by burning), the Holocaust, pogroms, violent anti-Semitism, conventional warfare and terrorism – while their enemies drowned.
For instance, in 1897, Theodor Herzl, the Father of modern day Zionism, “crossed the sea” with very few true believers, and led to the eventual reconstruction of the Jewish Commonwealth. In 1947-49, Ben Gurion, Israel’s Founding Father, “crossed the sea” with only 600,000 fellow Jews, and re-established the Jewish State. In 1967, Prime Minister Eshkol “crossed the sea” and reunited Jerusalem and reclaimed Jewish control of Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights. In 1981, Prime Minister Begin “crossed the sea” and destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor, which spared the US a nuclear war in 1991.
3. Passover highlights the central role of women: Yocheved, Moses’ mother, hid Moses and then breastfed him at the palace of Pharaoh, posing as a nursemaid; Miriam, Moses’ older sister, was her brother’s keeper; Batyah, the daughter of Pharaoh saved and adopted Moses (Numbers 2:1-10); Shifrah and Pou’ah, two Jewish midwives, risked their lives, sparing the lives of Jewish male babies, in violation of Pharaoh’s command (Numbers 1:15-19); Tziporah, Moses’ wife, saved the life of Moses and set him back on the Jewish course (Numbers, 4:24-27). They followed in the footsteps of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, the Matriarchs who engineered, in many respects, the roadmap of the Patriarchs.
4. The Passover legacy constitutes the foundation of Judaism, and is therefore included in most Jewish blessings. Passover symbolizes the rejuvenation of nature and mankind, spiritually and physically, individually and collectively/nationally. Passover stipulates that human rejuvenation – just like the rejuvenation of nature - must be driven by roots/memory/history. Therefore, parents are instructed to educate their children about the lessons of Passover. Passover was an early – and much more successful - edition of the (19th century) Spring of Nations. It is celebrated in the spring, the bud of nature. The Biblical scroll of Song of Songs, which highlights spring, is read during Passover. Spring, Aviv (אביב) in Hebrew, consists of two Hebrew words: Father – אב - of 12 – יב – months/tribes. Spring is mentioned 3 times in the Torah, all in reference to the Exodus. Passover – which commemorates the creation of the Jewish nation – lasts seven days, just like the creation of the universe.
5. Passover is the oldest Jewish national liberation holiday, highlighting the mutually inclusive aspects of Judaism: religion, nationality, culture/morality, language and history. Passover underlines the centrality of spiritual, physical, individual and national liberty and optimism, playing a critical role in preserving Judaism, Jews and the yearning to reconstruct the Jewish Homeland during the super-challenging 40 years in the desert and the 2,500 year of exile, destruction, pogroms, the Holocaust, boycotts, wars and terrorism.
6. The Passover legacy inspired the 17th century early Pilgrims of the Mayflower (1620) and Arbella (1630), who considered themselves the people of the “modern day Exodus,” departing from “modern day Egypt,” crossing the “modern day Red Sea” and heading towards the “modern day Promised Land.” Hence, the abundance of sites in the US, bearing Biblical names (e.g., 18 Jerusalem). The Exodus also shaped the worldview of the 18th century Founding Fathers, who viewed themselves as the people of the “modern day Covenant,” and has impacted the American ethos until today.
For example, Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” referred to King George as “the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharaoh of England.” The second and third US presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and the relatively-secular Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, proposed the Parting of the Sea as the official US seal. The proposal was tabled, but the chosen seal features thirteen stars (colonies) in the shape of a Star of David. Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale University – which features on its shield “Urim and Thummim,” the power of the High Priest during the Exodus - stated on May 8, 1873: “Moses, the man of God, assembled three million people – the number of people in America in 1776.” “Go down Moses” and “Let my people go” became the pillar of fire for the Abolitionist Movement. Harriet Beecher Stow, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was motivated by the Passover legacy, in general, and the laws of Moses, which condemn slavery, in particular. Harriet Tubman, who risked her life smuggling slaves to Free States and Canada, was known as “Mama Moses.” Her biography is titled “The Moses of Her People.” Theodore White wrote in The Making of the President 1960: “It is as if Kenndey, a younger Moses, had led an elderly Joshua [LBJ] to the height of Mount Nebo…and there shown him the Promised Land which he himself would never be entering, but which Joshua would make his own.” On December 11, 1964, upon accepting the Nobel Prize, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was referred to as the Moses of his age, said: “The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh’s court centuries ago and cried, ‘Let my people go!’” In 2016, the bust of Moses faces the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and the statue of Moses, holding the Tablets, towers above the US Supreme Court Justices.
The deeply-rooted linkage between Passover, the US and Israel is accurately described by King Solomon’s momentous lesson (Ecclesiastes, 4:12): “A triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”
7. The numerical value of the Hebrew letter of the Exodus – יציאת מצרים – is 891, which is equal to the combined numerical value of the three leaders of the Exodus, Moses (משה - 345), Miriam (מרים - 290) and Aaron (אהרן - 256).
8. David Ben Gurion, the Founding Father of the modern Jewish State: “More than 300 years ago, a ship by the name of The Mayflower left Plymouth for the New World. It was a great event in American and English history. I wonder how many Englishmen, or how many Americans, know exactly the date when that ship left Plymouth, how many people were on the ship, and what was the kind of bread the people ate when they left Plymouth.
“Well, more than 3,300 years ago, the Jews left Egypt…and every Jew in the world knows exactly the date we left. It was on the 15th of [the month of] Nissan. The bread they ate was Matzah. Up to this day, all the Jews throughout the world on the 15th of Nisan eat the same Matzah, in America, in Russia. [They] tell the story of the exile from Egypt, all the sufferings that happened to the Jews since they went into exile. They finish with these two sentences: ‘This year, we are slaves; next year, we will be free. This year, we are here; next year, we will be in Zion, the land of Israel.’ Jews are just like that." (The Anglo-American Committee, March 11, 1946, http://bit.ly/evSqbP).”
9. The ancient Jewish yearning, "Next Year in the rebuilt Jerusalem" concludes the annual reciting of the Haggadah, the Passover saga. It reaffirms the ancient Jewish commitment to build homes all over Jerusalem, the 3,300-year-old indivisible capital of the Jewish people.
10. Passover has four names: The holiday of Pesach (פסח, “passed-over” and “sacrifice” in Hebrew), the holiday of liberty (חירות), the holiday of Matzah (מצה) and the holiday of spring (אביב). The number 4 features in the Passover Saga, representing the four women who shaped the life of Moses (Batyah – Pharaoh’s daughter, his savior; Yocheved - his mother; Miriam - his sister; and Ziporah – Jethro’s daughter, his wife); Joseph’s four enslavements- twice to the Midianites, once to the Ishmaelites and once in Egypt; the 4 times that the word “cup” was mentioned by Pharaoh's jailed wine-butler when recounting his dream to Joseph; the 4 Sons (human characters) of the Haggadah; the 4 glasses of wine drunk during the family/community Seder on the eve of Passover; the 4 Questions asked during the Seder, and the 4 stages of the divine deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The 4th Hebrew letter (ד) is an abbreviation of God.
11. Passover is celebrated on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, ניסן – the first month of the Biblical Jewish year, and the introduction of natural and national spring (Nitzan is the Babylonian word for spring and the Hebrew word for bud). Nissan is the month of miracles (Ness - נס is miracle in Hebrew): the Exodus, the parting of the sea, the entry into the Promised Land (the 10th day of Nissan), Jacob wrestling the Angel, Devorah's victory over Sisera, Daniel in the Lion's Den, etc. The birth of the Jewish people was through non-normative, miraculous events, shaping the positive, non-normative nature of Jewish history. If the Jewish people were normative, there would not be any Jews left following the litany of catastrophes that have afflicted the Jewish people since inception.
The 15th day of any Jewish month features a full moon, which stands for optimism – the secret Jewish weapon - in defiance of darkness. This is consistent with the 15 parts of the Haggadah (the Passover saga); the 15 generations between Abraham's message of monotheism and Solomon's construction of the first Temple; the 15 words of the ancient blessing by the Priests (recited until today by parents, blessing their children while welcoming the Sabbath), and the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat, Arbor Day – the "Exodus" of vegetation. The Hebrew value of 15 corresponds to two Hebrew letters, which are the abbreviation of God –יה.
12. Passover is the first of the three Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem, followed by Shavou’ot (Pentecost), which commemorates the receipt of the Ten Commandments, and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) and named after Sukkota - the first stop in the Exodus.
The Passover Seder is concluded by the statement: "Next Year in the rebuilt, unified Jerusalem!"