What is Passover? Its History and Traditions
Passover is one of the oldest festivals in the world. This festival falls in spring, in the first month of the Hebrew year, called Nisan (March-April), and lasts for eight days, from the fifteenth to the twenty-third. It commemorates the release of the Israelites from Egypt and the fact that God "passed over" their houses when he sought the first-born in that land.
According to the Bible, the story of Passover runs as follows. A group of Hebrews known as the sons of Jacob came down from Canaan towards Egypt. They settled under a benevolent regime, where they were made slaves and set to work, building the cities of Pithum and Raamses. The pharaoh ordered all the Hebrew sons to be killed at birth. A Hebrew mother placed her infant child into a box and placed him in the Nile River, to escape the pharaoh's decree. The Pharaoh's daughter found this Hebrew baby, called him Moses, took him home and raised him.
One day, he saw a brutal attack upon a Hebrew by an Egyptian overseer; enraged by the attack Moses killed the Egyptian. Fearing to be killed for killing an Egyptian, he fled to Midian, where he married the daughter of a local priest. On one occasion while attending the sheep of his father-in-law on Mount Horeb, Moses witnessed a spectacle of a burning bush. This bush seemed some how not to consume. Wondering what was happening, he came closer to the bush and the local god Yahweh (Jehovah) told him that the Israelites were suffering, and that he had been chosen to release them from Egypt and lead them to the paradisal land, what is known now as Palestine and Syria. Moses had to introduce Jehovah to the Israelites, and after they had adopted him, he had to go to the Pharaoh and request the release of the people.
To show that it was indeed Jehovah, who had spoken to Moses, Moses was furnished with three magical credentials. First, his staff was turned into a serpent and then reverted to its normal shape. Second, when he placed his hand under his sleeve, it became leprous and then it recovered when he removed it. Third, he was told that if the people persisted in questioning his mission, he was to give them visible proof by turning water from the Nile into blood before their eyes.
As commissioned, Moses repaired with his brother Aaron, to the court of Pharaoh, where another magical demonstration took place. Moses threw down his staff and it immediately turned into a serpent. The Egyptian magicians did the same thing, but Moses serpent ate the other serpents. Nevertheless, pharaoh did not accede to Moses' message of God "Let my people go".
The land of Egypt was visited by a succession of nine plagues. First, the rivers turned to blood. Then came the plagues of frogs, lice, murrain, flies, boils, locusts, and darkness. Still the pharaoh would refuse to let the Israelites go, until at last, Jehovah brought one more plague on the pharaoh and on Egypt. This is where the holiday's name- Pesach- meaning "passing over" or protection in Hebrew is derived. From the instructions given to Moses by Jehovah, in order to encourage the pharaoh to free the Israelites, Jehovah Himself came and slew the first-born in Egypt, passing over the homes of the Israelites, who were told to mark their dwellings with lamb's blood so that Jehovah could identify and "pass over" their homes. The pharaoh finally agreed to free the Israelites. They left their homes so quickly that there wasn't even time to bake their breads. Therefore, they packed the raw dough to take with them on their journey. As they fled through the desert, they would quickly bake the dough in the hot sun into hard crackers called matzohs.
The Jews were not free. The pharaoh's army chased them with a force of six hundred men towards the Red Sea. When the Jews reached the sea, they were trapped, since the sea blocked their escape. Then a miracle occurred, an angel of Jehovah interposed a pillar of cloud...
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Cardozo, Arlene Rossen Jewish Family Celebrations. St. Martin 's Press, New York . 1982
Fredman, Ruth Gruber The Passover Seder. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. 1981
Goodman, Philip The Passover Anthology. The Jewish Publication Society of America. Philadelphia. 1971
Sohn, Seock-tae The Divine Election of Israel. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1991
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