Passover, also known as the Jewish Feast of Freedom, is a tradition that has survived an astounding 3000 years. Like all resilient traditions which withstand the tests of time and tyrants, Passover is rooted in drama and deep spiritual attachment. A dull story is not worth telling again and again, yet a dramatic and supernatural one will be heralded for generations. Speculations that Passover was adapted from an older tradition are likely but shrouded in prehistoric mystery, strict ceremonious tradition, and protected rituals.
The older tradition must not have possessed the dramatic and engaging flare that is found in the story of Exodus. Thus, Passover has rightfully earned this privileged immortality.
If unfamiliar with the story of Exodus in your youth, you have probably since been educated by your own children by now. The Walt Disney hit, Prince of Egypt, retold the story in an unprecedented and dynamic medium that won the acclaims of diverse audiences. Though the children’s movie wandered from the known truths here and there, it was a fair overall education on the conditions and events of the Exodus. For the sake of the youngsters they targeted, we should be glad slave life was not more accurately portrayed.
If you are still unfamiliar with the Exodus of the Hebrew people, then let me summarize: Pharaoh wanted his temples built and the Hebrews were elected (enslaved) to accomplish the job. He treated the people like cattle and drove them harder and harder with each rebellion or sign of weakness. Moses stepped up to stop this after hearing a call from God in the form of a burning bush. The Pharaoh promised to free the Hebrews nine times.
With the breaking of each promise, a great plague was unleashed onto the Egyptians, ending with the death of every firstborn son, including the prince. When finally the people were released, they took nothing with them but the clothes on their backs, some bread dough they had not yet leavened, and their animals. They moved quickly, fearing Pharaoh would once again change his mind. A strange cloud appeared, leading them down a particular root toward the Reed Sea (sometimes translated as the Red Sea).
As they feared, Pharaoh’s grief turned to fury and he sent his armies after the escaping Hebrew tribes. When they reached the sea, the Hebrews started to turn on Moses saying, “What have you done? We are trapped!” But then Moses, with a staff anointed by God, separated the waters of the sea and the tribes crossed the dry sea bottom to freedom. The waters held until Pharaoh’s armies tried to cross, they were crushed by the waves and drown. The Hebrews wandered freely into the desert and survived on the hard, flat, unleaved bread similar to a tough cracker.
God faithfully led Moses to free his people from the treachery of enslavement. That great day was so important, not only for the people who were freed but for the education and inspiration of generations to come. Slaves throughout history have sung of the Hebrew flight from Egypt, receiving comfort in knowing God will one day free them as he did the Hebrews.
Modern celebrations for the Jewish people have changed in moderation over the years, but remain basically the same. They eat matzot for 8 days, standing for the “bread of affliction” the slaves were forces to eat in Egypt as well as the unleavened bread consumed after they were freed. There is singing, prayers, and recitations from the Haggadah, a book that retells the fantastic story of Exodus.
The latter is the most important and is called the Seder ceremony. The family takes turns reading from the Haggadah and the youngest asks four ceremonial questions. The answers should give the meaning of the feast of Passover.
Many Christian motifs can be spotted at the Passover feast and the source of their modern Easter themes is obvious. The Seder plate will symbolically hold the foods of the ancient Hebrews, including lamb, an egg, and wine. There is a point during the feast when a door is opened to allow Elijah to enter and herald forth the Messiah. The fact that Christ’s Last Supper was in fact the Passover feast is stimulating. The Christian celebration of Easter is simply a redefined Passover, one which accepts that the Messiah has already been ushered into our world.
The spiritual meaning of both the Christian and Hebrew observance is where unity is possible, for all are seeking a way to give special praise and thanks to our creator who has faithfully sustained us even through the worst of times in history. Christians have adopted many themes from the Passover tradition and have incorporated them into their own belief system, but we all start in the same place and end up in the same place. His words say it all, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” What comes in between is but semantics and dogma.