What is the hidden meaning of the Passover celebration,
and WHY are so many so ignorant of the profound and
deep significance of the various emblems of Passover?
Many thousands, missing these vital ingredients, have been
woefully misled into stunning error and misunderstanding!
In this article, we take a deep look into the fascinating
inner mysteries of the Passover celebration.
William F. Dankenbring
Around the middle of the second
millennium before the present era, or about 3,500 years ago, the family of
Jacob numbering about 70 souls, went down to Egypt to escape famine in the land
of Canaan. As they remained in
Through a remarkable series of miracles, God used Moses to rescue His people from the Egyptian servitude and bondage. After an incredible series of ten plagues upon the Egyptians, on the night of the Passover, Pharaoh finally relented, and gave the Israelites their freedom -- and commanded them to make haste, and leave the country, "ASAP" -- as soon as possible -- for the Egyptians were fearful they would all perish in the calamity and catastrophe which had befallen Egypt.
Says Lesli Koppelman Ross in Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holidays Handbook:
"During the night, as their firstborn were struck down, the Egyptians urged the
Israelites to leave, taking their flocks and belongings with them. And so, already
dressed for a hasty getaway, 600,000 Israelite men, plus women and children (said
to have totaled three million), walked out of the house of bondage.
"Realizing the valuable resource he had released, Pharaoh reneged
-- just as he had
following every other plague, once he was out of immediate danger. He sent his
chariots and soldiers after the Israelites . . . who were immediately ready to turn
tail and resubjugate themselves to Pharaoh rather than die in the wilderness. It
would be one of their many expressions of losing faith, indications that getting the
people out of slavery was much easier than getting the slavery out of the people"
(Celebrate!, page 4).
At the Red Sea, God miraculously delivered His people once again -- causing the waters to roll back, creating a dry roadway for Israel to walk through to freedom, but when the Egyptian army assayed to follow them, He caused the sea waters to return, drowning every last one of the Egyptian soldiers.
Passover Commanded To Be
God in His Word commanded His people to observe this miraculous deliverance and salvation of an entire nation as an annual festival, called the Passover, or Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. He commanded:
"And this day shall be unto you for a MEMORIAL; and ye shall keep it a FEAST
to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance
FOR EVER. Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall
put away leaven out of your houses . . ." (Exodus 12:14-15).
The Passover, therefore, has a very clear historical connection. It is, on one level, the celebration of an ancient and very meaningful historical event -- the deliverance of our ancestors from Egyptian slavery. However, in a deep sense, it is much more than that. Joel Ziff, in Mirrors in Time, writes about the Passover celebration, saying:
"The liberation from slavery in Egypt marks the birth of the Jewish [or Israelitish]
nation; it also serves as a symbol for all periods of exile and redemption in Jewish
history. The exodus represents deliverance, not just from oppression in Egypt but
from all exiles in the past, present, and future. It speaks both to the inevitability of
oppression throughout history, as well as to the trust in an equally inescapable libera-
tion. The event serves not only as a marker of turning points in the development
of the Jewish people; it is also symbolic of critical moments in our own lives. For
this reason, we read in the Hagaddah that 'each of us is obligated to consider our-
selves as coming out of Egypt.' The coming out of Egypt is an archetypal image of
life transition. It embodies every narrow passage we traverse as we give birth to
ourselves: leaving home, career changes, marriage, divorce, birth, sickness, death,
addiction, and recovery from trauma" (p.61-62).
Along this theme, Ziff points out that the inevitable difficulties of life from time to time can overwhelm us, leaving us feeling defeated, hopeless, and depressed. He goes on:
"If we view these experiences solely as oppressive events, we find ourselves also
enslaved in Egypt and unable to escape. The stress can destroy our will, energy,
and capacity to respond constructively. The story of slavery in Egypt offers us a
different possibility: the Israelites not only overcome the adversity; they develop
into a nation. Viewing our lives through the mirror of the Israelites' experience,
we may be able to envision a similar outcome for ourselves in which we not only
overcome difficulties but also develop new capacities in the process" (p.62).
The period of slavery in Egypt was not an "accident," Ziff points out. It was part of God's Plan that Israel should go down to Egypt, and there multiply into a nation. It was also part of His Plan that they should become enslaved, so that they could experience the process and the events of the Exodus -- the redemptive process which involved the participation of the Israelites, and the miraculous intervention of Almighty God. The primary lesson this should teach us is that since God is ultimately in control of the Universe, and everything within it, there is always "hope" for the future, no matter how bleak or desperate the present circumstances.
Egypt the Womb and Narrow Passage
How can we understand the Exodus in a positive way, and apply it to our own lives?
The Hebrew word for "Egypt" is mitzrayim, and means "narrow place." If you look at a map, you will see that the Nile river runs from the south of Egypt to the north, emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. Most all life and population in Egypt is along this thin line, the Nile, located within twenty miles or less of the river. The rest of Egypt is trackless desert, for
the most part.
Egypt, then, represents a narrow, confining, constricting place or passage. Shneur Zalman, the founder of modern Hasidic Judaism, associates Egypt with the narrowness of the womb. Just as Egypt offered sanctuary to Jacob and his family, initially, so the womb offers warmth, sustenance and protection for a newly conceived baby. But as the fetus reaches full term, and is ready for delivery, the womb becomes a constricting, oppressive place. It is time for the "birth" to take place, and for the new baby to be "ejected" from the narrow, oppressive "womb."
So it was in Egypt. What was at first a place of refuge became, in time, a narrow and oppressive reality. Says Joel Ziff, "The image of the splitting of the sea [the Red Sea when Israel left Egypt] is suggestive of the breaking of the waters that occurs just before birth. The exodus becomes the passage through the birth canal."
In essence, the Israelites in Egypt were just as helpless as a baby in a mother's womb, totally dependent on the womb, placenta, and mother's sustenance. Says Ziff,
"The journey through these straits cannot be accomplished without outside
intervention. The Israelites cannot mobilize to fight their oppressors: they
can only cry out in their suffering. They are reluctant even to support Moses
as he begins his struggle. The God of the exodus is all-knowing, an omniscient
God who hears the cries of the Israelites ascending to heaven and descends to
earth to see their plight. The God of the exodus is all-powerful, an omnipotent
God who calls Moses from the burning bush, brings ten plagues upon the
Egyptians, and leads the people out of Egypt with an outstretched arm" (p.65).
As we see our lives from this vantage point, and in this mirror image, we can validate our own personal struggle to cope with situations, life's pains and sufferings, and crises that rock our own existence. Like Israel, we can acknowledge our own powerlessness and helplessness, and cry out to the Most High God for help, escape, and relief from oppression.
In the midst of crisis, we can cry out to God, and He who changes not will reach down and rescue us from trouble and suffering, affliction and pain, just as He did for Israel 3,500 years ago. The theme of Passover is an eternal, on-going, everlasting theme -- the theme of deliverance, redemption, and salvation.
Egypt -- the Smelting Furnace
The Word of God tells us, "But the LORD hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance" (Deut.4:20). Egypt is compared here to an "iron furnace." Furnaces that smelt iron ore create very intense heat, in order to melt the ore into a liquid form. Raw metal is exposed to extreme heat. As the ore melts, impurities are separated from the pure liquefied metal, and the metal can now be mixed with other metals to create a new, stronger substance.
Even so, in the heat and fire of oppression, spiritual impurities can be smelted out and removed from the people, transforming their character. As Joel Ziff explains, "In the heat of the fire of crisis, the old Ego melts, the impurities within ourselves can similarly be removed, and the Essence can be reshaped, allowing for creation of a new material, a new Ego that is suited to the new conditions we face" (p.67).
"Each of these images -- the birth, the seed, and the smelting furnace -- not only
suggest an external change, they also provide an image of internal transformation:
a baby is born, the seed germinates, and a new substance is created" (ibid.).
Thus for the change and transformation to take place, the heat and fire of crisis -- oppression -- spiritual Egypt -- is necessary! It is the conditioning agent that accelerates the process of change, and new spiritual growth and development!
Egypt, then, is a symbol for slavery, confinement, oppression. In The Secrets of the Haggadah: A Commentary on the Passover Hagaddah, by M. Glazerson, we read:
"What was Pharaoh's underlying reason for oppressing the Jews? He wanted to
break down the barriers which separated Jew from Egyptian; he wanted the Jews
[or, Israelites] to assimilate and to mingle with his people. What factor protected
the Jews from the dangers and consequences of assimilation? Their having preserved
their unique language. It guaranteed their separation, their distinctiveness, and their
Satan the devil has always sought to break down the barriers which separate God's people from the world -- society at large. The friendship of the world, the apostle John warns us, is a great danger. He said, "Love not the world [Egypt], neither the
things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15). "Assimilation" is one of Satan's chief tactics to destroy God's people.
Liberation from Slavery
The first key to redemption, the first step, actually, is to recognize our problem, and our hopelessness without outside help, and then to cry out for that help.
Many people, in various kinds of "slavery," are in denial of their problem, and so long as they deny they have a problem -- whether it is alcohol or drug addiction, or smoking, or some other noxious habit -- they cannot overcome it or be freed from it. First they must acknowledge the true situation -- the true plight -- their "problem." They must face it.
Writes Joel Ziff on this problem:
"Although the Israelites were unable to mobilize to free themselves, their ability
to know they were enslaved and their willingness to cry out literally moved the
heavens, bringing God to earth. Their cries were so powerful that God initiated
the redemption . . .
"As we experience the suffering of our condition and our inability to make changes
in it, we begin to cry out for help. . . When we feel buffeted by circumstances beyond
our control and find ourselves unable to act effectively, we can identify with the
powerlessness of the Israelites in their slavery and find our own pain reflected in
the mirror of the story. The expression of our pain is not a negative quality: it marks
the end of denial and illusion, it acknowledges the reality of our powerlessness, and
it implies hope that help is possible.
"When we cry out for help, we are beginning to reconnect with the Essence of life . . ."
(Mirrors in Time, p.72).
The freeing of the Israelite slaves required many steps. Ten plagues were poured out on the Egyptians, before they were ready to allow the slaves to depart. The slaves themselves had to see their condition, and cry out to heaven in agony and desperation, for help. Says Joel Ziff:
"The liberation from slavery involved two seemingly contradictory qualities:
(1) acknowledging powerlessness as a basis for hope and (2) a commitment to act in spite
of powerlessness. Both qualities are needed in this phase of self-development. We need
to trust we will receive help even though we are powerless; we also need encouragement
to be self-reliant and take initiative to change our situation" (p.74).
Hope impels action. Urgency and crisis drive us to seize the initiative to do something about the problem before us. Says Ziff, "Paradoxically, the more we acknowledge our powerlessness, the more our hope is reinforced. The acknowledgment of powerlessness serves as a foundation for building hope. The oppression of slavery inevitably gives way to liberation" (p.76).
"The liberation from slavery requires active intervention from God, but human
initiative and action are also required in the process. Only when the Israelites
cry out does God respond with miracles of the plagues. At the time of the last
plague, the Israelites are asked to slaughter a lamb . . . and to mark their door-
ways with its blood. When Pharaoh finally allows them to leave, the Israelites
immediately act to escape from their slavery: they leave in the middle of the night,
not even waiting for their bread to rise. At the sea, when the Israelites are unable
to cross, Moses turns to God. God promises to respond, but the Israelites must
take the first step. Nachshon, one of the Israelites, acting on faith, enters the
water. When the water reaches his nostrils, the sea splits" (p.77).
The Paradigm of Slavery to Freedom
Irving Greenberg in The Jewish Way, also points out that there is much more to the festival of the Passover than just an ancient historical event. He writes:
"On another level, however, the entire experience is highly paradigmatic. Slavery
is merely an exaggerated version of the reality endured by most human beings.
Oppression and deprivation are not that dissimilar. The most devastating effect
of slavery, ultimately, is that the slave internalizes the master's values and accepts
the condition of slavery as his proper status. People who live in chronic conditions
of poverty, hunger, and sickness tend to show similar patterns of acceptance and
passivity. . . .
"The freeing of the slaves testified that human beings are meant to be free. History
will not be finished until all are free. The Exodus shows that God is independent
of human control. Once this is understood by tyrants and their victims then all
human power is made relative. Freedom is the inexorable outcome, for only God's
absolute power can be morally legitimate.
"The Exodus further proves that God is concerned. God heard the cries of the
Israelites, saw their suffering, and redeemed them. But the God of Israel who acted
in the Exodus is the God of the whole world; God's love encompasses all of human-
kind. . . . In Jewish history, Exodus morality, from which Jewish ethics and Jewish
rituals are derived, was made universal and applied to ever-widening circles of human-
kind. So the Messiah and the concept of a messianic realm are really implicit in the
Exodus model itself. Messianic redemption is the Exodus writ large" (p.35).
Every year, therefore, on the anniversary of its occurrence, the Exodus saga is re-enacted at the Passover table. Every Jewish family recreates the Exodus from slavery to freedom at the Passover seder, or dinner, in song, story, food, and dress. This observance creates a marvelous sense of family unity, cohesiveness, and togetherness -- a bond that cannot be broken. The proper celebration of the Passover creates a fusion of a transcendental reality, establishing a reality and foundation so powerful that it can never be shaken or destroyed.
The goal of celebrating the Passover is not just merry-making and frivolity. The goal is to go back thousands of years, "and to experience, first, the crushing bitterness and despair of slavery and, next, the wild, exhilarating release of freedom. The reenactment stretches for seven days . . . On the first nights at the festive meal or seder, through use of the haggadah, the family re-stages the night of the actual exit from Egypt." This reenactment becomes a very personal, and even private, experience, as we relate the story of the Passover deliverance to our own personal lives, with our own problems, afflictions, trials, and difficulties.
Greenberg goes on:
"Properly staged, the seder is the climax of liberation. On this night oblivion yields
up its prey. Pharaoh's tyranny and genocide stalk the land again. But the [Israelitish]
people rise up and set out for the Promised Land -- slave again, free again, born again"
(The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays, Rabbi Irving Greenberg, p.40).
The Celebration of Passover
in Ancient Times . . .
After the time of Joshua and the elders who outlived him, the Israelites pursued an on-again-off-again relationship with God, and the book of Judges records many apostasies and revivals of true worship, until the time of Samuel, who restored true worship. Apostasy set in again in the latter part of Solomon's reign. The next mention of Passover being restored is in the reign of king Hezekiah, and then it was ignored again until the reign of Josiah, shortly before the destruction of the First Temple in 587-86 B.C. The book of Chronicles states, "Since the time of the prophet Samuel, no passover like that one had ever been kept in Israel" (II Chron.35:18).
The Jews who were exiled to Babylon after the destruction of the Temple, continued to celebrate the Passover as a model for their own hoped-for deliverance. Even those who remained in foreign lands and did not return to Judea after the Persian king Cyrus made it possible, still observed Passover, long after others returned to the Promised Land, when the Temple was rebuilt in 516 B.C. Of course, those who remained in foreign countries, observed the Passover without the sacrifice of the lamb, which could only be done at the Temple.
Passover observance was restored in Judea under Ezra and Nehemiah, and continued until the apostasy of the Macabbean period, when the evil king Antiochus Epiphanes subdued the nation, and slaughtered those Jews who remained faithful to God. Many of the faithful rebelled, however, leading to the Macabbean revolt in 167-164 B.C. From that time on, Passover continued to be widely celebrated among the Jews.
. . . And During the Time of Christ
Describing the Passover scene in and around Jerusalem, during the time leading up to and including the time of Christ, Lesli Koppelman Ross vividly writes:
"The residents of Jerusalem welcomed the population-doubling pilgrims into
their homes, providing free accommodations (the city was considered the common
property of all the people); the travelers customarily left the skins of the paschal
lambs for their hosts in appreciation. Overflow crowds stayed in surrounding
villages or camped in the fields. A carnival atmosphere pervaded, the days and
nights filled with festive meals, music, Torah study, and Temple pageantry, which
began on the morning of erev Pesakh (Nisan 14).
"Through a series of signals from the Temple, and the Mount of Olives opposite,
the people were informed when to stop eating leavened foods, and when to destroy
any leavened food left in their possession. Starting at noon on Nisan 14, in three
groups successively crowding the Temple courtyard, the Israelites brought their
paschal offerings, and unlike the other sacrifices, slaughtered the animals themselves
with the assistance of the priests and to the accompaniment of the Levite orchestra.
"As prescribed by Torah, each family unit roasted its own lamb on a portable clay
stove set up in the home courtyards. Dressed in white, groups embracing different
status and economic strata joined together. With biblical references, they told the
story of the night of the Exodus, based on Torah's commandment to pass it on to
one's children (Exodus 12:26-27, 13:8, 13:14; Deuteronomy 6:20)" (Celebrate! The
Complete Jewish Holidays Handbook, p.8).
During the last century prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, the Pharisees dominated the religious life of the Jewish people. Says Lesli Koppelman Ross,
"During the Roman occupation, Passover's theme of redemption fanned the hopes
of a messianic deliverance. Having long believed that God would again provide
miracles such as those experienced at the Exodus, the Jews anticipated a new Moses
who would lead them to freedom on the eve of Passover. With this expectation the
Jews continued to celebrate Pesakh as a commemoration of the first deliverance and
the imminent occurrence of the second" (ibid., page 8).
In the time of Jesus Christ, the Jews were observing the Passover with a distinctive Messianic hope and expectancy. Little did they know that their Messiah had come, right on schedule, but that He had come as the "suffering Passover lamb," and not as the conquering King, as they expected. He came to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies of the suffering servant who would give His life for His people (Isaiah 53), as the Passover Lamb, to be sacrificed for the sins of the entire world.
During that time, the Passover was celebrated throughout Judea and the Diaspora, even by those who were unable to go up to Jerusalem. Says Lesli Koppelman Ross:
"Outside Jerusalem, where the sacrifice could not be made (some people symbolically
ate roast lamb), Passover was observed with services at the local synagogue and at
home with the same family service performed at the capital. It consisted of a kiddush
(sanctification over wine); eating herbs -- or some spring vegetable -- dipped in vinegar
or red wine; three questions asked by a child about the out-of-the-ordinary rituals being
performed at the table; the household head's answers to the questions personalized
according to the child's level of comprehension; explanations of the significance of the
night of Nisan 14; a meal of the paschal lamb, matzah, bitter herbs (maror), and a pasty
mixture of fruit, nuts and wine called kharoset; a cup of wine following the post-meal
grace; and for those who had eaten the actual paschal lamb (in Jerusalem only),
chanting of Hallel (Psalms of Praise, 113-118)" (p.8).
Thus the observance of the Passover during the time of Christ was remarkably similar to the customary Jewish observance as it is done, today, around the world. Note, however, that no lambs were sacrificed outside of Jerusalem, where the Temple stood. In all out-lying regions, the Passover was celebrated without the Passover lamb itself, because it was forbidden by God Himself for any sacrifices to be made outside of the Temple precincts. For God had commanded explicitly in the book of Deuteronomy:
"Thou mayest NOT sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which
the LORD thy God giveth thee: But at the place the LORD thy God shall
choose to PLACE HIS NAME IN, THERE thou shalt sacrifice the passover
at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out
of Egypt. And thou shalt roast and eat it in the place which the LORD thy
God SHALL CHOOSE: and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy
The Jewish people observed this Festival with great joy and rejoicing, during the time of Christ. As a youth, Jesus Himself observed it "as the custom was" with His own family, and
relatives. We read in the book of Luke, "Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast" (Luke 2:41-42).
In so doing, of course, He set an example for us, His followers -- Jews and non-Jews alike -- to do as He did (see John 2::13, 23; 5:1; 11:55-56; I Pet.2:21; I John 2:6).
The Passover Lamb -- the First Step
Greenberg goes on to tell us, "Jewish tradition understood the sacrifice of the lamb to be the first step of liberation. Even when God is the deliverer, freedom cannot simply be bestowed. People must participate in their own emancipation." The death of the lambs, then, in effect, was only the beginning of the story of redemption and salvation. There was much that the people had to do, in participating in their own redemption and salvation. They had to apply the blood of the lamb to their door-posts. They had to get ready to leave Egypt. They had to eat the Passover, and then they had to work -- hike -- out of Egypt, beginning early the next morning!
We read in the Scriptures:
"Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it
out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth
day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel
shall kill in in the evening [ben ha arbayim, a Hebrew expression which means,
literally, "between the two evenings" -- the latter part of the afternoon, generally
from about 3-5 PM]" (Exodus 12:5-6).
Says Irving Greenberg about the Passover sacrifice of the lambs:
"In biblical times, the Paschal sacrifice was so central that the word Pesach
(Passover), simply used, could refer either to the sacrifice or to the holiday.
Failure to join in the Passover sacrifice meal meant cutting oneself off from the
Jewish people, denying the common destiny experience of the folk. When the
Temple was destroyed, ending all sacrifice, the central ritual act was ripped out
of the Passover holiday, so rabbinic Jews expanded every other procedure to focus
on communicating the lesson of liberation. What the sacramental Temple sacrifice
could not fully accomplish, the participatory seder could" (p.40).
The first step to freedom and liberation from slavery was the ritual of the Passover lamb. The Israelites had to choose their lambs on Nisan 10, then keep them until the 14th (Exodus 12:3-6). Toward the end of the 14th, when the sun was descending in the afternoon sky (Deut.16:6), they had to slay their lambs, and then take of their blood and strike it on the door-posts (Exo.12:7), and then roast the lambs and eat them that night -- with "unleavened bread, and with bitter herbs they shall eat it" (verse 8). The Passover lamb was the first step, and the central event, of the Passover holiday. Everything revolved around it.
Further insight into the Passover is given in the book The Essence of the Holy Days: Insights from the Jewish Sages, written by Avraham Yaakov Finkel.
The Festival of Our Freedom
We read of the Passover: "Passover, the festival of our freedom, is the first in the cycle of the three pilgrimage holidays. On this holiday we relive the agony of Egyptian bondage and the glorious events of the Exodus that led to the emergence of the Jewish people." The author points out that this festival is celebrated in the month of Nisan, in the spring, when the dormant earth begins to blossom, and nature is "born anew." He adds, "Like every birth, the genesis of the Jewish nation was accompanied by harrowing birth pangs" (p.139).
For 210 years, Finkel points out, the people of Israel had been enslaved by the Egyptians, toiling in the hot sun, under the task-masters' whips, doing backbreaking, mind-numbing labor. Broken in body and spirit, they descended to the depths of despair, to a "spiritual nadir, where only physical survival occupied their mind and where spiritual values were all but forgotten." He relates:
"The sages tell us that they passed through the 'forty-ninth gate of spiritual
impurity.' Had they passed the fiftieth gate, they would have been irretrievably
lost. The metaphor implies that the people of Israel adopted the cultural mores
of Egypt and became virtually indistinguishable from their overlords" (p.140).
Egypt, then, was a type of "sin" -- all the sins and evils of the flesh and spirit. It represents the power of sin and evil in our life -- the evil tendency or inclination. While in Egyptian slavery, our forefathers descended into the depths of sin -- they plunged into the nadir of hell. They adopted Egyptian customs and beliefs, and idolatry, and lost most of their knowledge of the true God and His commandments. They even
lost count of the weekly Sabbath day, being forced to work in slave-labor for seven days a week. If Israel had become completely "evil" and "corrupt," represented by the fiftieth gate of corruption, they would have been unredeemable -- unsalvageable -- and irretrievably lost.
Avraham Finkel goes on, explaining how the 49 steps of spiritual contamination, of Egypt (7 X 7 = 49), are countered by the seven weeks (7 X 7) or 49 days of "counting the omer," a daily ritual which begins the second day of Passover (Nisan 16th). He writes:
"The forty-nine levels of wisdom are represented by the forty-nine days of the
counting of the Omer. The fiftieth day, Shavuot, the day of the Giving of
the Torah, parallels the fiftieth Level of Wisdom.
"As a counterpart to the fifty levels of Wisdom and Holiness, there are fifty
Levels of Spiritual Contamination, because God created the world in perfect
balance, making 'the one opposite the other' (Ecclesiastes 7:1): the good and
the evil inclination, the forces of holiness opposite the forces of impurity.
"In Egypt, the people of Israel degenerated, declining morally to the forty-ninth
Level of Spiritual Contamination. They needed to be extricated from that
state. God wanted to lift Israel gradually from these forty-nine Levels of
Immorality by illuminating on each of the days between Pesach and Shavuot
the Level of Holiness corresponding to the Gate of Spiritual Contamination
on the opposite side of the scale. We relive this tikkum, correction or restoration,
of gradual ascent to kedushah, holiness, each year in the Counting of the Omer
on the forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot. Shavuot thus represents
` the illumination of the fiftieth Gate of Binah, Understanding, and Kedusha,
Holiness" (The Essence of the Holy Days, Finkel, p.162).
When God called His people out of this Egyptian servitude and bondage -- both physical and spiritual -- He did so by a mighty hand and stretched out arm. But in so doing, He began to bring them back to Him, by teaching them His ways and laws. In memory of the Passover deliverance which He gave them, He commanded them to observe the Passover "for ever," throughout all their generations.
The Passover holy days remind us of the power of God to miraculously deliver His people from slavery -- slavery to sin, to corruption, to Satan the devil, to human fleshly inclinations, and to human "nature." The Counting of the Omer, meanwhile, reminds us that we must be overcomers -- we must change and divest ourselves of the attitudes and sins we inculcated in Egypt, and we must become "a new creation," fashioned according to holiness and godliness. Each day as we leave Egypt and approach Sinai, "Revelation," we must put off sins and grow more in the character and likeness of God (see Eph.4:20-24; Col.3:1-17).
Says Lesli Koppelman Ross in Celebrate! --
"One lesson of the Omer period . . . is how easy it is to slide back into familiar
ways. . . . Remember the ancient Israelites who, not a week out of Egypt, were
ready to forego liberty and return to their miserable lives -- yearning for the
comfort of the familiar evil over fear of the unknown.
"Slavery does offer a certain freedom that can be attractive: the freedom from
responsibility for yourself and others, the freedom from having to establish goals,
figure out how to reach them, or think beyond the moment. It takes strength and
guts to walk out of a known situation, which for all its pain, is predictable. It is
human nature to want to stay put, within the stability of the status quo. The
danger is that often in those situations you don't even know that you are mired
in a negative situation, one you don't realize until too late" (p.14).
Thus we ought to be able to see the intimate, clear, and powerful connection between Passover and the counting of the Omer to Pentecost -- Shavuot -- which has been called "the eighth day of Passover, and which completes the Passover holy days. Passover represents the "beginning" of our salvation and deliverance; the counting of the Omer represents our overcoming and getting rid of sin and all contamination and spiritual corruption; and Shavuot represents the finishing of our salvation, when we meet God, at the Revelation of the Messiah. Passover represents the "cross of Christ," where it all began -- but that was just the beginning. It was not all "finished" at the cross -- rather, our salvation only BEGAN at the cross!
The Essence of True Freedom
The two words generally used for "freedom" in the Torah are khofesh and deror. However, these words are not applied to the Exodus "freedom," because they imply lack of restraint, complete self-determination -- undisciplined freedom, which in the end leads to further bondage and renewal of slavery to the desires of the flesh. The Israelites, however, were given the freedom of kerah, which is freedom to live a certain kind of life, one "according to God's system of discipline." It is the kind of freedom summarized in the Ten Commandments, which guarantees justice and freedom for everybody, the entire community -- freedom under law, regulated by laws of justice, and freedom which requires self-control.
This kind of Torah freedom is explained in Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holidays Handbook, by Lesli Koppelman Ross:
"The Jewish concept of freedom means the unrestrained ability to have a relationship
with God, show obedience to Him, and accept Torah, which sets the Jew on the path
to life that will allow him/her to fulfill his/her role in the overall plan for the world.
The only way to be free to worship God is to be free of an earthly master. There is a
universe of difference between being a servant (ehved) of Pharaoh and a servant --
like Moses -- of God (ehved l'Elohim). Under human oppression, those in bondage
labor for the aggrandizement of others, or because someone wants to break their spirit.
Under God, we can choose obligations that are aimed at the benefit for all" (p.11).
The Bitter Herbs -- Maror
God commanded the Israelites to eat along with the Passover lamb, and unleavened bread, "bitter herbs," or maror in Hebrew. The word means "bitterness." The purpose of the maror, or bitter herbs, at the Passover table, is to remind us of the bitterness our ancestors (or we, ourselves, as we put ourselves in their place) were forced to suffer in Egyptian bondage. For this reason, many use horseradish on Pesach night, and eat it along with other bitter herbs, such as romaine lettuce, endive, or even iceberg lettuce. During the seder, maror is eaten twice -- once alone, and once with matzah, in a "sandwich."
A third item eaten at the Passover table is called charoset. It is a mixture of apples, figs, dates, or even pomegranates, walnuts, almonds, cinnamon, ginger, particularly those fruits mentioned in the Song of Songs (they serve as a metaphor for Israel), grated together to form a thick mixture. It symbolizes the mortar and clay (khar-sit) the Israelites were forced to mix and use to build Pharaoh's buildings. Red wine is added, to make the mixture appropriately pasty, reminding us of the blood shed by the Israelites in bondage, the blood of the male infants Pharaoh shed, and the blood of the first plague God put upon Egypt. The charoset is eaten together with the maror, and represents "hope," reminding us that even in affliction and suffering (maror) there is still hope for the future.
A fourth item of Passover is called karpas. Toward the beginning of the seder, a small piece of karpas -- parsley, celery, or even radish -- is dipped into salt water or vinegar and eaten. This reminds us of the bitterness of affliction, and the salt water reminds us of the tears shed by the Israelite slaves in Egypt.
Chametz and Matzah
Two of the vital elements of Passover involve bread. One kind we are to totally eliminate during the Passover holidays; the other kind we are to partake of daily. These are leavened bread and unleavened bread. The word for "leaven" in Hebrew is chametz. The word for unleavened bread is matzah. Says Avraham Finkel:
"The words chametz, vmg,and matzah,um, have two letters in common, the
mem and the tzadi. They differ only in the third letter. Chametz has a chet,j
whereas matzah has a het,h , two letters that are almost identical.
"Indeed, chametz and matzah bear many similarities. both are made of flour and
water and baked in an oven. The difference is seen when we wait and do nothing.
The dough of chametz begins to rise, and its taste becomes sour. However, pro-
ducing matzah is very hard work, requiring constant kneading of the dough.
"Matzah stands for diligence and zealousness; chametz stands for idleness and
sloth" (The Essence of the Holy Days, p.148-149).
"Chametz is a metaphor for the yetzer hara, the evil tendency, which is rooted
in pride. The leavened dough has the bloated shape of pompous self-importance
and arrogance. Like the rising dough, pride grows continually. The search for
chametz, in a figurative sense, is the self-examination we should undertake to
pinpoint our evil tendencies. The burning of the chametz symbolizes the heart-
felt elimination of our negative inclination" (p.149).
Thus we have two opposites -- two contrasts -- represented
by the leavened bread and unleavened bread, during the Passover feast. One is full of sin and pride, the puffed up self-importance of pride and sin. That is the chametz, or leavened, bread. The other is the flat bread of matzah -- illustrating the character of God, humility, meekness, self-control, temperance, holiness, purity, self-abnegation, sincerity and truth.
Writes Irving Greenberg, "Chametz is the Hebrew technical term for any one of five basic types of food grain (wheat, rye, spelt, barley and oats) that is mixed with water and allowed to ferment. Fermentation generally takes eighteen minutes, assuming that the mixture is not worked or kneaded during this time." He goes on:
"In preparation for Passover, traditional Jews totally eliminate chametz -- not just bread
but any and all forms of leaven -- from the house and the diet. This is a symbolic state-
ment of cutting off from the old slave existence and entering the new condition of living
as a free person. The decisive break with previous diet is the outward expression of the
internal break with slavery and dependence. For the modern celebrant, it is a critical
step in the process of liberation that finally leads to freedom" (op cit., p.41).
Chametz signifies staleness, and deadening routine, a symbol of what is allowed to stand around. It symbolizes the fermentation that occurs when dough is exposed to the elements over time. It is, during the Passover celebration, a type of "corruption" and negative values.
Writes Lesli Koppelman Ross in Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holidays Handbook:
"When we rout out khametz, we are really trying to rout out the negative, stale,
deadening, enslaving elements, the egotism and subconscious habits that interfere
with fully realizing our potential. Searching every corner of our homes is a physical
reflection of a deep soul search, changing our diet an external expression of an
internal transformation. Like the Israelites who made a break from accepting slavery
and idolatry in Egypt, we can sweep away whatever it is that binds us to meaningless
efforts -- whether it is outside influences or the internal compulsions that subjugate
us to wasteful or harmful actions.
"There is only a thin line between virtue and vice, as between polar opposites (love
and hate, brilliance and imbecility, pain and pleasure) or between the pride that
gives us the impetus to accomplish good things in the world and the pride that makes
us so arrogant that, like Pharaoh, we think we are God.
"The same is true of the difference between khametz, which we must completely
eliminate during Passover, and matzah, which we must eat. The extension of a line
of a letter (the h of hxm, matzah, into the j of zmj, khametz [z is the form of tzaddi,
the letter in the middle of matzah, when it becomes the last letter of a word]), and the
lapse of a second (flour of one of the five grains mixed with water and baked in 18:01
minutes instead of 17:59 minutes), is not matzah but khametz. If we stand back and
let things develop unchecked, we have the prohibited khametz. If we step in to insure
that protective boundaries are not violated, we have the permitted matzah. One small
stroke, one brief moment, can make all the difference in what we create around us"
In other words, as the apostle Paul also wrote, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump" (I Cor.5:6). A little mold, allowed to grow, contaminates the whole product. So a little sin, allowed to remain, soon spoils the whole man!
Passover, then, is the annual holiday of breaking away from corruption and tyranny, such as that caused by sin and oppression, and breaking free to a newfound freedom and energy. Says Irving Greenberg,
"On this, the breakthrough holiday, the Torah wishes to draw a line in the sand. Choose
the God of freedom or choose the Baal of oppression. If you choose the freedom of God,
then not a trace of the past servitude is allowed in your life" (p.42).
Greenberg goes on:
"If all this sounds like overkill, understand that it was the outgrowth of a fierce
desire to really begin a new life.
"This whole process of chametz can be likened to preparation for an orbital mission.
The goal is a successful lift-off into freedom. The final countdown begins on the day
"Twenty-four hours to Passover!
"On the evening of 14 Nisan, after dark, preferably immediately after the stars come
out, the house is given a final check. This is known as Bedikas Chametz, the chametz
hunt. . . Every room in the house is searched thoroughly for chametz" (p.43).
The bread of leaven and all leavened products must be removed from the home and property before Passover can begin. There is very important significance to this. Leaven, as a type of sin, is incompatible with the righteousness of Passover. God's people must purify themselves, before God will intervene to save them. In other words, they must put away all "sin" that they are aware of in their lives. They must, in a word, "repent." Only then will the Passover sacrifice have any meaning and reality for them!
On the night of the beginning of Nisan 14, the evening before the Passover seder, or dinner, it is custom for each family to give their home a final "inspection," searching the nooks and crannies for any "leaven" that may not have been removed. This is by custom done by the light of a candle, with the children also involved. Each room where leaven might have been brought during the previous year should be searched. Before the search is begun, a blessing is said, praising God, "Who has commanded us concerning the removal of chametz."
After the search is finished, any chametz is wrapped up, and burned the following morning. At this time, the head of the family prays to God, asking Him that "any chametz which still might be in the house, undiscovered, is considered nullified, like the dust of the earth."
Matzah -- the "Bread of Freedom"
Irving Greenberg tells us, "Just as shunning chametz is the symbolic statement of leaving slavery behind, so is eating matzah the classic expression of entering freedom." Matzah is "the bread of freedom." It is called lechem oni, "the bread of poverty" (Deuteronomy 16:3). It was the hard "bread of affliction" same verse) made only with flour and water. It was also the meager food given to the Israelites by their Egyptian exploitative task-masters.
How can bread of affliction or poverty also be a metaphor for freedom? What a paradox! Does this make any sense?
Finkel gives the answer from the Maharal in Gevurot Hashem:
"Incongruous as it may sound, the fact is that poverty is the underlying idea
of freedom. Redemption means gaining independence. Unlike a slave who is
bound to a master, a free and independent man has no ties to anyone or anything.
A rich man is wealthy by dint of his possessions. Because his wealth is an inherent
part of his existence and he is inseparably bound to it, he is not really free. Only
a poor man who owns nothing at all can be considered absolutely free. Matzah,
made of flour and water, without any enriching ingredients such as yeast and
shortening, is the bread of poverty and therefore the perfect symbol of freedom
"This explains also why the redemption took place specifically in the first
month. Freedom means being completely detached from any outside force
or influence. The first month, being first in time, has no linkage to any
moment that preceded it. The second month is not really independent; it
is second because it follows the first month. Thus, the first month is the
ideal month for the deliverance. To sum it up, liberation means divesting
oneself from all outside factors and influences" (Gevurot Hashem, ch.51).
Irving Greenberg adds to this explanation, illustrating the paradox of how the bread of affliction can become the bread of freedom -- the exact opposite. He relates:
"Matzah is, therefore, both the bread of freedom and the erstwhile bread of slavery.
It is not unusual for ex-slaves to invert the very symbols of slavery to express their
rejection of the masters' values. But there is a deeper meaning in the double-edged
symbolism of matzah. It would have been easy to set up a stark dichotomy: Matzah
is the bread of the Exodus way, the bread of freedom; chametz is the bread eaten
in the house of bondage, in Egypt. Or vice versa: Matzah is the hard ration, slave
food; chametz is the rich, soft food to which free people treat themselves. That
either/or would be too simplistic. Freedom is in the psyche, not in the bread.
"The halacha underscores the identity of chametz and matzah with the legal require-
ment that matzah can be made only out of grains that can become chametz -- that is,
those grains that ferment if mixed with water and allowed to stand. How the human
prepares the dough is what decides whether it becomes chametz or matzah. How
you view the matzah is what decides whether it is the bread of liberty or of servitude.
"The point is subtle but essential. To be fully realized, an Exodus must include an
inner voyage, not just a march on the road out of Egypt. The difference between
slavery and freedom is not that slaves endure hard conditions, while free people enjoy
ease. The bread remained equally hard in both states, but the psychology of the
Israelites shifted totally. When the hard crust was given to them by tyrannical masters,
the matzah they ate in passivity was the bread of slavery. But when the Jews [and all
the Israelites] willingly went from green fertile deltas into the desert because they were
determined to be free, when they refused to delay freedom and opted to eat unleavened
bread rather than wait for the bread to rise, the hard crust became the bread of freedom"
(The Jewish Way, p.47).
We read in The Secret of the Hagaddah about the matzah as follows:
"Matzah has a dual nature. It symbolizes lowliness, being bread that did not rise.
And yet, it also represents the sublime, the lofty. . . . Even on a literal level . . .
Matzah is meager . . . the 'bread of poverty' . . .
"And yet meagerness and poverty were also Israel's strength, for these factors
influence character development in a positive manner. A person who has suffered,
readily identifies with the needs of others. One who has known affliction, truly
appreciates the value of deeds of benevolence" (p.48).
Thus the bread of matzah connotes humility and lowliness of spirit. However, strange as it may seem, matzah also represents the bread of warriors. When soldiers go into battle, they often are given hardtack, or unleavened bread, as part of their rations. Soft, fluffy bread would not last and would be ridiculous for the battle field. But matzah, or unleavened hard bread, is perfect for the warrior.
The very word matzah itself, in Hebrew, alludes to the "warring nature of unleavened bread." The Hebrew word for matzah is hxm, and this word also connotes "battle," and "to attack," as well as "to extract." (Extraction, too, is an act that involves the use of force.)
Matzah, then, is what we could call "fighting bread." It is not the soft bread of idleness and ease, and affluence, but the hard bread of those waging war, and suffering hardship.
The eating of the matzah begins the first of the major segments of the Passover seder. It represents the beginning steps of our freedom from bondage and slavery.
"As we begin the seder with a broken, incomplete piece of matzah, we are encouraged
to take the first steps toward change even if all the pieces are not in place. We cannot
wait until the time is perfect . . ." (Celebrate!, Ross, p.14).
An illustration of this "first step of faith" is given in a story that has come down to us about the crossing of the Red Sea. Says Lesli Koppelman Ross:
"A midrash tells that when the Israelites were at the Red Sea, the Egyptians at their
backs, they wailed and moaned and longed for the taskmaster's whip rather than the
lash of the sea's raging waves. They hesitated. Moses prayed. And one man, Nakhshon
ben Amminadab, recognizing the opportunity before them, plunged into the waters. Only
then did the sea subside, allowing the Israelites to continue. Like Nakhshon ben Ammin-
adab, we have to forge ahead with faith that we will reach the goal and the belief that the
attempt to gain freedom is still better than stagnating in slavery" (ibid.).
The Meaning of "Passover"
The word "Passover" itself in Hebrew is Pesach, and comes from a verb meaning "to pass over," in the sense of "to spare" (Exodus 12:13, 27). The term is used both for the lamb itself that is sacrificed, as well as for the entire seven-day holiday period (Ezek.45:21).
The word "Passover" in Hebrew is a composite of the words peh, "mouth," and sach, meaning "speaking." It is the holy day that we are to celebrate by using our mouth and speaking about the glorious deliverance God has given us through His Passover intervention on our behalf, personally, as well as for our ancestors.
In Egypt, our ancestors had no "freedom of speech." They could not complain about their condition of servitude, without being whipped and disciplined by their task-masters even more. They had to "groan and bear it." But Passover eliminated this condition, and allowed them to open their mouths freely once again. It enabled them to speak forth boldly and truthfully, as free men. And they were to use their organ of speech, the mouth and lips, to speak forth the story of their Passover deliverance by God though His miraculous wonders.
One of the greatest freedoms of a truly free people, is the precious right to "freedom of speech." When the Israelites were liberated from Egypt, they regained this precious right, their freedom of speech, and could sing out their praises of God. Therefore, on Passover night, at the seder, it is a mitzvah to speak out freely and praise God, telling the story of the Exodus as the time-cherished, honored saga that it is, reminding us of our own freedom from the clutches of this world's Satanic bondage, given to us through the ransom and redemption of Jesus Christ, Yeshua, our Saviour, by His shed blood in payment for our sins.
The Number "4"
During the Passover evening, the number "4" comes up repeatedly. In the telling of the Passover story, and during the course of the evening, we are presented with the Four Cups of wine, there are the Four expressions of Redemption, the Four Questions, the story of the Four sons. Why the number "4"?
In Hebrew, the number "4" is represented by the fourth letter of the alphabet, the dalet, which is shaped like a man bent over in total submission. Says Finkel, "It symbolizes the quality of self-effacing humility. It was such complete self-nullification that the people of Israel exhibited at the time of the Exodus, when, with unquestioning faith in God, they left their homes to follow God 'into the uncharted wilderness' (Jeremiah 2:2), without preparing any provisions for the long journey (Exo.12:39)" (page 157).
The Four Cups of wine correspond to the four stages of redemption. The first cup is called the Cup of Blessing, the second is called the Cup of Plagues (representing Judgment), the third is the Cup of Redemption, and the Fourth is the Cup of Praise. God promised the children of Israel, in Exodus 6:6-7, four things. He declared:
1. "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians"
2. "I will rid you (deliver you) out of their bondage"
3. "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm"
4. "I will take you to me for a people, and I will be your God"
Says Lesli Koppelman Ross in Celebrate! --
"The four cups are said to represent the four times Pharaoh's cup is mentioned in
the story of Joseph's success at dream interpretation (Genesis 40:11-14) and the four
kingdoms that subjugated Israel after the Exodus (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and
Rome). They also reflect the four expressions God used when he promised to bring
us out of Egypt: 'bring you out' (v'ho'tziti), 'deliver you' (v'hi tzalti), 'redeem you'
(v'ga'alti), and 'take you unto Me' (v'lakakhti) (Exodus 6:6-7)" (p.24).
There are three basic symbols of the Passover -- the pesach or Paschal lamb, the matzah or unleavened bread, and the maror or bitter herbs. According to the sages of Israel, these correspond to the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In this light, the Four Cups of wine may be said to correspond to the four matriarchs -- Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. This typology is fitting, because God tells us in His Word that "Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine" (Psalm 128:3).
Four times in the Torah we are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus to our sons (Exodus 12:26, 13:8, 13:14, and Deut.6:20). The Scriptures suggest different levels of comprehension on the part of the children, and so part of the Passover haggadah is the story of the "Four Sons," representing the four types of children.
The first son is the wise son, whose question indicates his depth of understanding and his love of Torah (God's truth). The second son is the wicked, mischievous son, who scorns the truth, and makes his question a mocking one. The third son is simple, needing to be taught in simple terms. The fourth son is the ignorant, naive son, who needs to be taught the very basics and rudiments.
Observes Lesli Koppelman Ross:
"The act of questioning reflects freedom, evidence that we are not restrained in
seeking to satisfy our intellectual curiosity through probing and analysis. Questions,
not answers, allow us to progress in our learning, to acquire knowledge that lifts us
out of ignorance, which can be as brutal an oppressor as a tyrannical taskmaster.
"The four questions are not directly answered in the seder, a suggestion that formu-
lating the right questions, and searching for the truth in response, is an ongoing
process" (Celebrate!, p.26).
Noting the reoccurence of the number "4" in the Passover seder, Lesli Koppelman Ross in Celebrate! observes:
"By now you've probably noticed that there are quite a few 'fours' in this ceremony
(glasses of wine, questions, ritual foods, sons). The number is used to describe a
long list of things with Jewish significance (matriarchs, epochs of the universe,
groupings of the tribes in the wilderness, fringes [tzitzit] on the corners of ritual
garments, species [of vegetation] used on the holiday of Sukkot [Tabernacles], and
on and on). A mystical number in several religions, in Judaism the number four
suggests stability and wholeness, as in defining a square that is the base of a house,
or the 'four corners of the earth' from which the Jews [and all Israelites] will be
collected together at the time of redemption" (p.27).
The Matzah and Afikomen
Two of the greatest mysteries of the Passover are the matzah and the afikomen. What are they, and why are they so mysterious? The unleavened bread of matzah, commanded to be eaten during the seven days of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when all leavening is commanded to be destroyed and put out from one's premises, is a unique bread. It is not only unleavened, but during the preparation process, perforations are made in the dough with a sharp-toothed wheel or instrument to keep the dough from rising during baking.
God commanded His people, during the week of Passover and unleavened bread, "You shall not eat anything leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread." The children of Israel were told to leave Egypt in haste -- with urgency. There would be no time to allow their bread to rise. It only takes bread dough about 18 minutes to begin rising. Therefore, these instructions from God meant that the children of Israel had to begin their departure from Egypt almost immediately, upon getting the word from Moses. This is why, during the original Passover, the Israelites were told to eat it fully dressed and clothed, with staff in hand, ready to flee Egypt.
The elements of the Passover service, called the seder, have gradually evolved over time. Most of the changes in the past 1,800 years have been in the form of additional comments on the basic elements. Some of the portions of the Passover seder, as it is done today by the Jewish people, we know antedate the Maccabean period, which was about 165 years before Christ. Many of the basic elements and Passover rituals were already in practice during the time of the late Second Temple, that is, the time of Christ. Says Galen Peterson, in The Everlasting Tradition, "In other words, the manner in which Passover is kept today is very much like the way it was kept in the days of Yeshua." The author goes on:
"When Yeshua and his disciples gathered for their last Passover together, they would
have recited the phrase, 'Every person in every generation must regard himself
as having been personally freed from Egypt.' They would have chanted the Hallel
(Psalms 113-118) and said the blessings over four cups of wine. They would have
eaten the lamb, the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs. And they would have
asked three of the four questions customarily recited today by a young boy about
what makes Passover unique.
"Another custom, the section concerning the 'Four Sons,' was practiced in Yeshua's
day. Traditionally, this portion is used to illustrate the reason for celebrating Passover.
Each son represents a different type of person. One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple,
and one is naive and unable to ask a question. When their questions are asked, the
leader of the ceremony is presented with an opportunity to discuss the redemptive
message of Passover" (The Everlasting Tradition, Galen Peterson, p.106).
About the Passover seder itself, Galen Peterson observes:
"Originally, the questions of the Four Sons were asked after a meal which incorporated
several ceremonial rites. One rite involved the dipping of bitter herbs in salt water,
symbolizing the tears shed in the bitter experience of slavery in Egypt. Another was
a mysterious custom involving unleavened bread.
"During the seder, three pieces of matzah are used, said to represent unity. It is common-
ly thought that it is a unity of the priests, Levites, and Israelites. Many people use a
special cloth cover with three compartments to hold the matzah. The middle wafer is
taken out of the pocket and is broken in two. The smaller piece is returned to the pocket,
and the larger piece is wrapped in a napkin and then hidden by the leader" (p.107).
The three pieces of matzah are said to represent the Priesthood, the Levites, and Israel. They are also said to represent Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But in a real sense, they represent God the Father, the Messiah, and the true "Israel of God" (Gal.6:16).
A Puzzling Alteration in the Sequence
History shows that the questions of the Four Sons, asked Passover night, were originally asked after the Passover seder ceremonial rites were done. Today, the common Jewish custom is for the Four Questions to be asked at the beginning of the seder. Why was this change made? Says Galen Peterson:
"In Yeshua's day, the meal with its mysterious rites came first, followed by the questions
and the explanation of all these things. The explanation would involve retelling God's
deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt. When the Mishnah (the codification of the
Oral Law which comprises the first part of the Talmud) was completed around 200 C.E.,
this order was still in effect" (ibid.).
But by the time of the Gemara (the two centuries of commentary on the Mishnah, written after the codification of the Mishnah, which completes the rest of the Talmud), the order was reversed, with the Four Questions coming at the beginning of the seder service! This form makes little sense since the questions are asked before the symbols of the Passover are eaten, such as the bitter herbs, and matzah, which would normally provoke the questions.
David Daube, a Jewish Oxford scholar, in his noteworthy book The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, comments on this matter. He writes:
"In point of fact, the change found makes nonsense of the questions and indeed of
the whole structure of the service. It seems to have taken place about the end of the
second or the beginning of the third century.
"It is one of the most tantalizing riddles in the history of Jewish liturgy. A widely
accepted solution is that an orderly putting of the questions and an orderly giving
of the reply may have proved difficult after a meal which included wine; hence the
meal with its ceremonies was placed at the end.
"But this is quite unconvincing. For one thing, had drunkenness constituted a problem,
the simplest way to deal with it would have been to decree that no wine might be taken
but what was required by the ritual itself. . . . For another thing, on the basis of the
solution under notice it becomes inexplicable why the second part of the Hallel . . .
was not also placed before the meal. But it was not; it is still sung afterwards, as it was
in the period of the New Testament and in that of the Mishnah" (p.194-195).
So then, why were the Four Questions moved to the beginning of the Passover service? Daube gives us the most fascinating answer. He concludes:
"It is much more likely that the transposition was undertaken in defence against
Jewish Christian abuses. In the original arrangement -- (1) ceremonial meal,
(2) questions, (3) interpretation of the ceremonies -- the nature of (2) and (3),
the questions and the interpretation, must be largely determined by that of (1),
the ceremonial meal. It is part (1), the performance of the usual gestures, that
sets in motion and decides the direction of all that follows. . . . In Jewish
Christian circles part (1), the meal, was certainly transformed in such a manner
that the emphasis from the outset lay on the new deliverance; and parts (2)
and (3), the questions and recital, would proceed along the lines thus laid
"By relegating part (1), the meal, to the end, the Rabbis took the life, or at least
any undue vitality, out of it. The service now opened with some formal, orthodox
questions; so formal that they referred to rites which had not yet even taken
place. To these questions, an orthodox narrative would be given as reply. . . .
The sequence mystifying gestures -- questions -- interpretation was replaced by
the sequence formal questions -- reply -- fulfilment of prescribed ceremonies. The
danger of the service being set on a wrong course was eliminated.
"None of the objections we raised against the prevalent explanation applies to that
just advanced. The change round was a very clever means of preventing any
fundamentally new significance being attached to the meal . . ." (David Daube,
The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, p.193-195).
Notice carefully! This commentary by a modern scholar shows plainly that during the early Church times Jewish Christians were observing the Jewish PASSOVER just as their Jewish counterparts were doing -- with the same liturgy, rituals, and general Passover format. They were observing it at the same time and in the same manner as their Jewish brethren.
The Mystery of the Afikomen
One of the customs of the Passover at that time was the usage of three matzos placed on the Passover table -- called the "Afikomen."
What does this strange-sounding custom involving the three pieces of matzah, and especially the middle portion, represent? It has been a part of the Passover ceremony since Second Temple times -- that is, during and after the Second Temple which was built in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Exactly when it began, we do not know. But it was part of the Jewish Passover service during the time of Messiah, Yeshua. Its origin is shrouded in mystery -- and its meaning as well is unknown to the Jewish people and Rabbis who have observed it every year for well over 2,500 years, at least since the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
This middle wafer of unleavened bread is unique. We read in The Secret of the Haggadah:
"During the early part of the Seder, we break the middle Matzah into two pieces.
One piece is called xjy (yachatz), the other nmwqypa [afikomen]. Chazal teach that
just as one must not eat dessert after having completed the Pesach sacrifice, so must
one not conclude the Seder with dessert. nmwqypa is actually a Greek word which means
dessert. However, after the destruction of the Temple, the nmwqypa became symbolic
of the Pesach sacrifice. Since then the eating of the nmwqypa has ended the Seder.
But since the nmwqypa represents the sacrifice, the rule that one may not eat after the
sacrifice equally applies to the nmwqypa. . ." (page 70).
The first part of the middle matzah is eaten toward the beginning of the Passover seder. The second part, called the Afikomen, is hidden away and brought back at the end of the evening festivities.
Says Lesli Koppelman Ross in Celebrate!,
"It used to be customary that when the middle matzah was broken during the service,
a member of each household would be sent to neighbors to predict the messiah's arrival"
Clearly, the middle matzah was tied in with the appearance of the long-awaited Messiah. It represented the expected arrival of the Messiah. But why was it broken in two? Why was part of it hidden away, till the end of the evening, and found and eaten at the completion of the Passover seder?
The word Afikomen is a Greek word! How did a Greek word enter into the sanctity of the ancient Hebrew Passover celebration of the redemption of the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt, and the miraculous deliverance of the children of Israel by the outstretched powerful hand of Almighty God?
Says Galen Peterson, in The Everlasting Tradition:
"The hidden piece of unleavened bread is called the afikomen. Toward the end of
the seder, the children search for the afikomen, and when it is discovered, they hold
it for ransom. The leader then redeems it by paying an agreed-upon price to the
children. A piece is distributed to all participants who then eat their portion. It is a
ceremony not well-understood today and has lost its original meaning. . . .
"The difficulty comes in the translation of the word. Peculiarly, it is a Greek word
buried in the midst of Hebrew liturgy. Some linguists believe that it is derived from
epikomoi, meaning 'dessert.' Others contend that it comes from epi komon, which
means 'revelry' or 'entertainment.' These interpretations, widely accepted in contemp-
orary Jewish observance, imply that there should not be anything eaten nor any party
atmosphere after the meal.
"Unfortunately, both of these derivations convey a shallow meaning in a celebration
replete in deep symbolism. A better choice is aphikomenos, a verb meaning 'he is
coming.' This derivation is more closely transliterated from the Greek language. It
also has direct messianic implications. Is there any further evidence to support this
derivation over the others?
"Since the destruction of the Temple, many Rabbis have said that the afikomen is
symbolic of the Passover lamb. Others say that the hiding ritual refers to the Messiah,
the Hidden One. They reason that just as the afikomen is hidden away until the people
are ready to eat it, Messiah is hidden until the people are ready to meet Him. Daube
contends that during the Second Temple period the afikomen was a symbol
of the expected Messiah" (The Everlasting Tradition, p.108-109).
The word aphikomen is derived from the Greek word aphikneomai, the root form of the word. It becomes aphiknomenos, "THE COMING ONE," as a perfect passive participle, and it becomes APHIKOMEN, that is, "I CAME," in the aorist (PAST) tense. Thus literally and technically, the "afikomen" matzah pictures Christ, the Messiah, who had THEN COME (aorist -- past tense) -- He had already come, and was in their midst, during His very life on earth! AND, this word also pictures Him as "the coming One," or "He who comes," now, a second time, to finish the process of human redemption and salvation!!!
What an astounding witness the Jewish people attest to every time they partake of the Passover rituals, and especially the partaking of the "Messianic afikomen"!
Passover, of course, is a celebration of redemption. The central focus of the Passover was the Passover lamb, which every family took to the Temple, killed according to the commandment, took home, roasted with fire, and then ate that night. In ancient Egypt, the blood of the original Passover lambs was placed upon the door posts and lintels of each family's door, for protection from the plague which was to pass through the land that night. Only those families which had the blood of the lamb on their door-posts were spared the death of all the firstborn in their families. All the firstborn of the Egyptians, who did not observe the Passover, and place the blood of the lamb on their door-posts, were killed that very night (Exodus 12:21-29). In like manner, all who do not partake of the true Passover Lamb of God, Yeshua the Salvation of God, will also be condemned, for there is no salvation through any other (Acts 4:12).
The Afikomen = "He That Comes"
On the day Jesus Christ, Yeshua, was baptized by John the Baptist, John saw Him coming toward him, and declared, "Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water."
John went on to bare record, that as he baptized Yeshua, a marvelous thing happened. He said, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Spirit. And I saw, and bare record, that this is the Son of God" (John 1:29-34). John saw Yeshua again, the next day, as He was walking, and exclaimed to his disciples, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" (John 1:36).
The Passover lambs which were sacrificed in Egypt, and all the Passover lambs which were sacrificed from the time of Moses until the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., were a Scriptural Type and Forerunner of the TRUE PASSOVER LAMB OF GOD -- YESHUA, the Anointed One of God!
The apostle Paul reinforces this truth. He wrote, in plain language, "Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump [unleavened spiritually], as ye are unleavened [they were at that precise time celebrating the Days of Unleavened Bread, and had put out all the leaven from their homes]. For even Christ OUR PASSOVER is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the FEAST [of the PASSOVER!], not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (I Corinthians 5:7-8).
For centuries the Jewish people have celebrated the Passover, and performed the ritual of the hiding of the afikomen, then having a child find it, and then ransoming it back, and then distributing it to all the celebrants to eat of it. In performing this part of the Passover, they have been unknowingly bearing witness to Christ the Messiah, who is the afikomen. He is the One who was represented by the expression, "he who comes." He was coming then, to be the Messiah, and to die for the sins of mankind, as Isaiah the prophet wrote so plainly in the 53rd chapter of his prophecy. And, as we celebrate the Passover today, we look forward to His second coming, when He will fulfill the rest of the prophecies of the Scriptures pertaining to the Messiah and His works, and when He will destroy the wicked, and usher in the Kingdom of God upon this earth.
Writes Galen Peterson in The Everlasting Tradition:
"Passover is a celebration of redemption. It recalls the redemption from bondage
in Egypt some 3,500 years ago and looks forward to a final redemption. The coming
Messiah, represented by the afikomen, gave the people of ancient Israel a source of
great hope. Yeshua took a tradition that was already in use and revealed its fulfillment.
This occurrence is supported by the context of the original Passover order of service.
"There is no question that the early Jewish believers in Yeshua included the afikomen
in their seders. Some scholars say that they were the ones to originate the practice.
Whether it preceded them, or they began it, this is a custom intimately linked to Yeshua.
Incredibly, this messianic custom has become part of the modern observance of Passover
throughout Judaism. Each year, this emblem of messianic testimony is handled and
eaten, but greatly misunderstood.
"The messianic symbolism of the afikomen matzah is plentiful. It is the second of
three pieces. It is baked without leavening. It has piercings. It has stripes from
baking. It is broken. A price is paid to bring it back. It is hidden from the
people and later revealed once again.
"Messiah, the Son of God, is the second person of God's tri-unity. He was without sin.
He was pierced for our transgressions. By his stripes we are healed. He was broken
on our behalf. He paid the price for our salvation. And though hidden from Israel for
a time, He is being received by more Jewish people today than in any time in recent
history. Truly this symbol is much more than dessert.
"The mystery of the afikomen becomes an enlightening revelation when the Passover is
considered in its original format. As we have seen, the meal was eaten accompanied by
several symbolic rites. The curiosity arising from these acts prompted a series of ques-
tions. The response to the question of the Wise Son -- 'What is the meaning of Passover?'
-- was the afikomen, the coming Messiah and now the One Who Came" (ibid., p.109-110,
The deep, hidden meaning of Passover, is revealed in the true understanding of the mysterious ritual of the Afikomen. During the Passover seder, after the missing afikomen is found, it is taken by the leader, ransomed back, a blessing is said, and then it is eaten, portraying the broken, bruised, and scourged body of the Messiah, and His sufferings on our behalf. The imagery and visualization is a powerful witness and testimony of the true Messiah, and the sufferings He was to go through for us. As Jesus, Yeshua said, "Take, eat, this is my body." It represents Him and His suffering, His life, given for us on the tree.
Then, during the Passover seder, right after the eating of the afikomen, comes the Third Cup of wine -- called appropriately the Cup of Redemption. Says Galen Peterson:
"During the seder, the eating of the afikomen is followed by the drinking of the third
cup of wine. It is traditionally called the Cup of Redemption or the Cup of Blessing.
Redemption refers to God's actions on behalf of Israel both physically and spiritually.
The additional title of Blessing refers to the blessing of being redeemed.
"This was the cup which Yeshua took and declared to represent the blood which he
was about to shed, a sacrificial act that would allow our sins to be 'passed over'
in the Day of Judgment. As one who lived a sinless life, he was the ultimate
'lamb without spot or blemish.' His death, in perfect divine timing, occurred at
the very moment when the paschal lambs were being slaughtered in Jerusalem.
Yeshua completed the work of redemption. And He is returning one day to reclaim
His followers. Meanwhile, the Passover continues to testify that He is the One who
came and will come again" (The Everlasting Tradition, p.110-111).
When we partake of this Passover symbolism, when we partake of the afikomen and drink the wine of the Cup of Redemption, in a very profound way we picture in bold relief the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Passover lamb, for our sins, and our being "passed over" in judgment!
The Profound Meaning of Passover
When we stop, pause, and consider the full meaning of the Passover, we see that it is replete with important spiritual symbolism. It is a very meaningful observance for Jews and Christians alike. But how many Christians, today, really understand the awesome mysteries of the Passover? How many, today, observe the true Passover?
Many have been deceived into observing a false, fraudulent, so-called "Passover," instead of the real thing. Some observe the pagan "Easter" in its place. Others observe a thinly veiled "wine and wafer" ceremony a night before the true Passover -- and are mired in deep ignorance and spiritual sin, as a result. They are not following the example of Jesus Christ and His disciples, who observed the traditional, Jewish Passover "after the custom of the feast" (Luke 2:42). They do not eat the bitter herbs, they do not recount the story of the Exodus, or partake of the afikomen,on Passover night.
Many have never observed the TRUE Passover of God during their entire lives! They may have thought what they did was "the Passover," but it was nothing like a true Passover at all! Isn't it time we worship God "in spirit and in TRUTH" (John 4:24)?