Religion, nation, culture, ethnicity, it’s hard to tell what Judaism actually is. The Passover holiday gives us the information we need to figure out the real answer. The question as to when the original Jewish people was born is complex. Was it Abraham, the father of it all? Isaac, the first promise fulfilled? Jacob AKA Israel and the 12 tribes, the first entirely Jewish family? We must not forget that from the moment of Jacob’s last communication with God at the end of Genesis until His appearance to Moses at the burning bush, God was incommunicado. What was Judaism in the meantime, and how did it keep its distinctness?
From the time of Joseph’s rule over Egypt until the exodus, the Jewish people were just a family with 3 or 4 generations of cultural tales about what happened to their forefathers. They had no law besides circumcision and not to eat the sciatic nerve of an animal, but they had no national consciousness, nor could they be sure of their God’s actual existence. But then something incredible happened. They became enslaved. Now they had a few shared cultural tales plus a shared national experience.
Then, of course, they were taken out through miraculous wonders that made such an impression that the family never separated. The God that took them out of this place claimed to be the God of everything, but also the God of their family specifically, and He proved it rather well through the plagues that differentiated between Israel and Egypt. If He is the God of everything and also their own personal God, then that creates a very unique reality. It means that the Creator of everything assigned a specific job to the family he chose, which morphs the cultural family into a nation with a mission. It’s just unclear what that mission is. But no need to worry. Shortly thereafter, this family starts getting commanded to do things. Make yourself a calendar, roast a lamb, smear its blood on the doorpost, eat matzah, tell the story of your exodus every year, redeem your firstborn cattle.
With commandments, or in other words a constitution, the nation begins to adopt its mission and turns from a cultural nation to an ideological nation.
As the generations continue to turn and the family matures, they become more independent and operate on their own, without constant parental assistance. During their Passover holiday, they expand and beautify their national birthday with the Passover Haggadah, the Passover Seder Plate, and four Kiddush cups of wine with Elijah’s cup, an ordered, structured feast.
Think about this. Religions generally celebrate the birth of their leaders, or events in their leader’s lives. Judaism has no holidays centered around its leaders, either their birth or anything that they do. Abraham’s birthday is unknown and Moses’ is only loosely extrapolated, and even so, it is not a holiday. Judaism’s holidays or only nationally oriented. Is there any other faith that celebrates its national birthday?
The answer is simple. No other faith has a national birthday, so it must focus on the birth of its leaders, and its holidays center around things that happen to its leaders. Passover is a unique thing in the generations of mankind. It marks the birth of a people, the oldest national birthday still celebrated today.