The Jewish Feasts: Part 5, Passover

Leviticus 23:5 
Passover (Pesach) 
[5] '"In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the 
month, between sundown and complete darkness, 
comes Pesach* for ADONAI*.

Passover—as commanded in Lev 23—is the only major Jewish feast that lasts less than a day. It spans, in fact, only the relatively short amount of time “between sundown and complete darkness“. Ring a bell? This is the period between Jewish days, as explained in Part 2 of this series. The annual Passover dinner, the Seder, begins during this time span, but ends around midnight. The passage below, from Exodus, describes the original Passover, in Egypt, and the preparation days in advance of it.

Exodus 12:1 (CJB)
Chapter 12
[12:1] ADONAI* spoke to Moshe* and Aharon* in the land of Egypt; he said, [2] “You are to begin your calendar with this month; it will be the first month of the year for you. [3] Speak to all the assembly of Isra’el* and say, ‘On the tenth day of this month, each man is to take a lamb or kid for his family, one per household—[4] except that if the household is too small for a whole lamb or kid, then he and his next-door neighbor should share one, dividing it in proportion to the number of people eating it. [5] Your animal must be without defect, a male in its first year, and you may choose it from either the sheep or the goats.
[6] “‘You are to keep it until the fourteenth day of the month, and then the entire assembly of the community of Isra’el* will slaughter it at dusk. [7] They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the two sides and top of the door-frame at the entrance of the house in which they eat it. [8] That night, they are to eat the meat, roasted in the fire; they are to eat it with matzah* and maror*. [9] Don’t eat it raw or boiled, but roasted in the fire, with its head, the lower parts of its legs and its inner organs. [10] Let nothing of it remain till morning; if any of it does remain, burn it up completely.
[11] “‘Here is how you are to eat it: with your belt fastened, your shoes on your feet and your staff in your hand; and you are to eat it hurriedly. It is ADONAI‘s* Pesach* [Passover]. [12] For that night, I will pass through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both men and animals; and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt; I am ADONAI*. [13] The blood will serve you as a sign marking the houses where you are; when I see the blood, I will pass over [Hebrew: pasach*] you—when I strike the land of Egypt, the death blow will not strike you.
[14] “‘This will be a day for you to remember and celebrate as a festival to ADONAI*; from generation to generation you are to celebrate it by a perpetual regulation.

The passage above was the command given by God to the Israelite slaves after Pharaoh refused to let them leave following the ninth plague on Egypt. The Israelites obeyed, the Egyptians scoffed, and that night (Nisan 15) at midnight, God killed the firstborn children and livestock of any family in the land that did not have the blood smeared on their doorposts. The next morning, Pharaoh let the Israelites leave, they crossed the Red Sea, and began their trek to the Promised Land.

Some 50 days after the exodus from Egypt, Moses halted the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, where God delivered the Torah (the “teachings”, commonly called “the Law”) to them. Leviticus 23 is part of that Torah, and the Spring Feasts are annual commemorations of the Exodus.

The celebrations in following years and centuries are somewhat of a reenactment. They have always differed from the original events, and in years with no Tabernacle or Temple, they are in some ways quite different—but there are noted similarities.

Verse 2 defines Nisan as the starting month for the religious, or ecclesiastical, not the civil, calendar. Nisan is a borrowed Akkadian name; in Moses’ day it was called Aviv.

Verses 3 through 5 were followed as long as there was a Temple. The purpose of the time span between selection and sacrifice was twofold. First, to allow time for inspection and observation of the animal, to ensure that it met the standards of verse 5. Second, in so doing it would allow the owners to become emotionally invested in the animal; it isn’t an offering, it’s a sacrifice—with a cost. Unlike other sacrifices where a pigeon or grain product could be substituted by a poor family, in this case it had to be a lamb or kid, but the expense could be divided between families.

In Egypt, animals were sacrificed at individual homes, without priestly supervision, during the dusk period. In Temple times, all sacrifices had to be done in the Temple, and because there were so many they were done before dusk and the actual Feast days. In Egypt, the blood was smeared around the doors, but in Tabernacle and Temple, it was splashed on the altar base. In Egypt and later years, the animal was roasted (no other method of cooking was permitted), then eaten that night, with unleavened bread (Heb. matzah, symbolizing sinlessness) and bitter herbs (Heb. maror, symbolizing the bitterness of slavery).

In the absence of a Temple, there are of course no sacrifices. Different Jewish sects modify the traditions in ways they judge are appropriate. The Seder generally includes some sort of roast meat, and there are generally shank bones from a lamb on each plate.

The table ritual of verse 11 was specified in Egypt, but not thereafter. Traditionally the Passover meal, or Seder, begins at sundown and the ritual portions are finished by complete darkness; then the remainder of the time until midnight is spent in table fellowship. In Egypt, the entire animal was spitted and roasted; in later ritual, the animal was butchered in advance, and only edible meats were roasted. In both Egypt and later tradition, none of the meat could be left for morning; if it was, it had to be burned.

Verses 11 – 13 only applied in Egypt, of course. At midnight, in tradition, guests break from the table and stream out to the streets and rooftops to sing the hallel (“praise” songs, Psalm 113 – 118) together—an entire city in choir!

More on this next time, but the Passover was not a sin offering, and you had to already be ritually sinless to partake in it. The theme of the Feast is Redemption from slavery, not salvation or regeneration. Though there were rigid requirements for the animal being sacrificed, it was the meat that was ultimately important, not the actual act of sacrifice. To clarify this important point, I plan to dedicate the entire next article to the actual meaning we should attach to Passover, in terms of Christian soteriology, or salvation theology.

©Ron Thompson 2020: Passover Plate and Coasters

Table of Contents: The Jewish Feasts
Start of Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 1, Chapter Introduction
Previous in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 4, Spring Feasts
Next in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 6, Lamb of God

Author: Ron Thompson

Retired President of R. L Thompson Engineering, Inc.

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