Passover

Passover

August 17, 2011 Back

Background

After more than two-hundred years of unimaginably difficult labor and slavery in Egypt, G-d finally delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh’s cruel kingship.  G-d sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message, “release my people, so that they may serve me.” At first, Pharaoh refused. G-d, in return, sent plagues upon Pharaoh. The plagues ruined everything:  from the still waters, through the plants and livestock and finally Pharaoh’s own subjects; nothing and no one remained unaffected. It took ten plagues to make Pharaoh accede to Moses’ request, and he finally let his people go. When G-d struck the final plague, that of the first born, he passed over the homes of the Israelites and they were untouched by the fatal plague. Ever since then, on the fifteenth of the month of Nissan, the Israelites hastily prepared to leave Egypt; to leave bondage and enter into an eternal bond with G-d as a consolidated nation. While baking bread for the long journey ahead of them, they realized that they did not have time to wait until the bread rose, and so they left Egypt with the bread still not risen. For this reason we eat matzo on Passover and refrain from eating leavened bread.The story of the Exodus is one of Judaism’s main principles of faith; it is tied hand-in-hand with the belief that we received the Torah from G-d in Mount Sinai.

The Ten Plagues

The Torah describes how Pharaoh, who ruled the then-most important empire in the world, argued with eighty-year-old Moses and eighty-three-year-old Aaron.  One might ask the question- why did Pharaoh not have them both executed? Why did he even bother arguing with them, time and again, in stead of utilizing his supreme power and be rig of them both? The underlying reason for this question lies within the perception that we have of people in today’s terms. We have grown accustomed to viewing people in the Bible as “regular people,” people of the common era. This, however, is a mistake.  The confrontation we see here is not merely a power-struggle between Moses and Pharaoh. Rather, it was an idealistic disagreement regarding faith in  G-d.

Moses told Pharaoh that G-d exists and He is the one who created the world. Moses cotinues and tell Pharaoh that he must acknowledge the following:

G-d’s existence
G-d’s providence
G-d’s ability to change creation and nature

Pharaoh, however does not accept any of the above. The purpose of the plagues, then, was not merely to punish Pharaoh but to teach him basic principles of faith.

Even the very nature of the plagues reveals G-d’s omnipresent and sovereignty over everything:

Blood- all the water in Egypt turned into blood. Legends tell us that when an Egyptian saw an Israelite drinking water out of a jar, they snatched the jar and attempted to drink. However, they minute the jar was in possession of the Egyptian, the water in the jar turned into blood.
Frogs- frogs were so pervasive during this plague, that they filled every corner of the land and every room in every Egyptian’s house.
Lice- During this plague, the Egyptians could not bear the lice and acknowledged G-d’s sovereignty. Pharaoh, however, did not.
Horde (“Arov”)- wild animals that killed both man and cattle.
Dever- death of the livestock.
Boils- health of the Egyptians was damaged.
Hail- the hail that came down from the sky was much more potent that hail nowadays, as it was mixed with fire.
Locusts- the locust devoured the every bit of vegetation that remained after the hail.
Darkness- the Torah tells us that the darkness was so complete, that people could not move for the entire duration of the plague. Additionally, we learn that the darkness was so heavy, that it was tangible.
First Born- every first-born in Egypt, including Pharaoh’s, died.
After the final plague Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites go.

The Seder Night

The Seder is the first night of Passover. At the Seder night, every person must see him or herself as if they personally were slaves in Egypt and then were redeemed by G-d.  Sitting at the Seder table, we read from the Hagaddah, which is a compilation of stories from the Torah as well as legends and words of wisdom from Rabbis of the days of old. At the center of the table is the Seder plate, a traditional plate, or bowl, on which are placed six types of foods that represent spiritual concepts:

The Charoset, a sweet mixture of fruits, wine and honey, represents the mortar that the Hebrews used to build cities in Egypt.
The maror, bitter herbs,  and chazeret, horseradish, symbolize the hardships that the Hebrews underwent.
The karpas, any vegetable other than bitter herbs, usually potato or celery, is dipped in salt water and stands for the many tears shed by the enslaved Hebrews.
The hard-boiled egg represents the korban hagigah, the festival sacrifice, that was offered in the Temple.The z’roa, usually a chicken wing or roasted lamb, represents the korban haPesach, the Passover sacrifice. The z’roa is only symbolic and is not eaten.
Of  course, we recite blessings over wind and matzo before commencing the actual meal. Seder meals typically last for many hours and are often accompanied by song and stories.

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