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Three kosher-for-Passover matzot
Happy Passover! Chag Sameach (Joyous Festival)!
“This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the LORD. This is a law for all time.” (Exodus 12:14)
Tonight is the first night of the festival of Pesach (Passover), one of the most widely kept Jewish holidays.
A Jewish man reads from the Passover Haggadah during the Seder.
Passover: The Feast of Unleavened Bread
The name “Passover” is derived from the tenth plague—the Death of the Firstborn—that fell on Egypt when Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go.
For the tenth plague to skip the Jewish People, God told them to slaughter a lamb and mark their doorposts with its blood so that the destroyer would know to “pass over” that home.
“When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” (Exodus 12:13)
In this tenth and final plague, Jewish (and Egyptian) firstborns were only spared by the blood of the lamb when it was applied to the doorposts of their homes in obedience to God’s instruction.
“The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:13)
Foreseeing their speedy deliverance after this final plague, God also instructed them to prepare unleavened bread as there was no time for the bread to rise, which is why this weeklong feast is also called the Festival of Unleavened Bread. (Exodus 12:15)
“Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.” (Exodus 12:17)
Passover at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem
In homes and synagogues in Israel and around the world, the Jewish People will celebrate the Exodus of the Israelites from ancient Egypt over 3300 years ago.
With family and friends gathered around the table, God’s miraculous, divine rescue operation to deliver the ancient Israelites from oppression, bondage and slavery will be told at the Passover Seder, a special ritual meal held on the first two nights of Passover.
The traditions of retelling the Passover story originate in this Biblical command:
“When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as He promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians.’” (Exodus 12:25–27)
That story will be recounted using a special book called the Haggadah (telling).
Everyone present will once again hear how God confronted Pharaoh through Moses, telling him, “Let my people go, so that they may worship Me.” (Exodus 8:1)
Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt: the avenue of ram-headed sphinxes, a symbol of the god Amun. Each one is holding a statue of the Rameses II in its paws. Because sheep were associated with several Egyptian deities, the sacrifice of a lamb at the First Passover would have been interpreted as a humiliation of these false gods.
Judgment through Plague
God determined that He would deliver His people from bondage in Egypt and judged those who stood in the way of His plan.
“So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.” (Exodus 3:20)
God poured out His wrath upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians in the form of the Ten Plagues (Eser Hamakot).
Each of the Ten Plagues proved the supremacy of YHVH, the one true God, over all the false “gods” of Egypt.
Death of Pharaoh's Firstborn Son, by Lawrence Alma Tadema
The first plague, for example, was Dam (Blood).
When God commanded Moses to lift up his rod over the Nile River and all the water turned to blood, He humiliated the many gods of the Nile that the Egyptians worshiped, such as Osiris, god of the underworld; Sobek, the crocodile god; and Khnum, guardian of the Nile.
Likewise, each one of the plagues dramatically demonstrated the power of the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, over Egypt’s false gods and the deceptive demons of darkness behind them. (Revelation 16:13–14)
Interestingly, in the end-time battle, when the world is caught up in worshiping the anti-Messiah, some of the same plagues that were poured out on Egypt will be repeated as God pours out His judgment: blood, hail, darkness, and painful sores.
“The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land. Ugly and painful sores broke out on the people wh o had the mark of the beast and worshiped his statue. The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea. It turned into blood like the blood of a dead person. Every living thing in the sea died....” (Revelation 16:2–4)
An Orthodox Jewish boy eats a piece of matzah.
The Order of the Passover Seder
The Passover Seder (Order) is a 15-step process with some highly symbolic essentials.
The Seder's 15 steps and its elements are prescribed by the Haggadah (Telling). We will spotlight several of these steps.
Each Seder starts with Kadesh (Sanctification), which is the reciting of the blessing over the first cup of wine:
"We sanctify the name of God and proclaim the holiness of this festival of Passover. With a blessing over wine, we lift our wine, our symbol of joy; let us welcome the festival of Passover.
"In unison, we say…
"Our God and God of our ancestors, we thank You for enabling us to gather in friendship, to observe the Festival of Freedom. Just as for many centuries the Passover Seder has brought together families and friends to retell the events that led to our freedom, so may we be at one with Jews everywhere who perform this ancient ritual linking us with our historic past. As we relive each event in our people’s ancient struggle, and celebrate their emergence from slavery to freedom, we pray that all of us may keep alive in our hearts the love of liberty. May we dedicate our lives to the abolition of all forms of tyranny and injustice." (Haggadot)
The Four Cups and handmade Shmurah (guarded) matzah, which is made from grain that has remained under strict supervision since harvesting to ensure that no fermentation has taken place.
There are four cups of wine during the Seder, one for each of the four promises of God in Exodus 6:6–7:
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out [the cup of sanctification] from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them [the cup of judgment], and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment [the cup of redemption]. I will take you as my own people [the cup of praise], and I will be your God.” (Exodus 6:6–7)
Here in Israel, we drink a fifth cup of wine to commemorate the fulfillment of God’s final promise to bring us back into our own land.
“And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am YHVH [the LORD].’” (Exodus 6:8)