Monday, April 18, 2011

Meaning Behind Pesach (Passover)

Throughout Tanach (all the books of the Bible) we see that when the Jews have some type of cleansing processes, the first thing they do is bring the Korban Pesach (the passover offering). Not just that, but they celebrate the holiday of Passover. What is it about Passover that it is the first thing to be done when the nation, as a whole is cleansed?

I think the most appropriate way to begin this discussion is to start off by discussing the genesis of this holiday. In Shemos (12:12-13):
יב  וְעָבַרְתִּי בְאֶרֶץ-מִצְרַיִם, בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, וְהִכֵּיתִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מֵאָדָם וְעַד-בְּהֵמָה; וּבְכָל-אֱלֹהֵי מִצְרַיִם אֶעֱשֶׂה שְׁפָטִים, אֲנִי יְהוָה.12 For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.
יג  וְהָיָה הַדָּם לָכֶם לְאֹת, עַל הַבָּתִּים אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם שָׁם, וְרָאִיתִי אֶת-הַדָּם, וּפָסַחְתִּי עֲלֵכֶם; וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה בָכֶם נֶגֶף לְמַשְׁחִית, בְּהַכֹּתִי בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
G-D is telling us that it is only because we sacrificed the Passover offering that He is "passing over" our houses. This seems very strange, why should this passover offering grant such great protection and, essentially, be the deciding factor of who is a Jew and who is an Egyptian? Apparently, if a Jew refused to sacrifice the passover offering and smear it's blood on his or her door post they would be considered just like Egyptians and the "plague" would enter their house indiscriminately.

There are many other places in the Torah where the Jews seem to have a mass repentance and then, only once they return to religious observance, do they celebrate the holiday of Passover. The first occurrence of the Jewish people keeping Passover outside of the first five books is found in Joshua (5:2,6-8,10):
ב  בָּעֵת הַהִיא, אָמַר יְהוָה אֶל-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ, חַרְבוֹת צֻרִים; וְשׁוּב מֹל אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, שֵׁנִית.2 At that time the LORD said unto Joshua: 'Make thee knives of flint, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.'
ו  כִּי אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, הָלְכוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּמִּדְבָּר, עַד-תֹּם כָּל-הַגּוֹי אַנְשֵׁי הַמִּלְחָמָה הַיֹּצְאִים מִמִּצְרַיִם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-שָׁמְעוּ בְּקוֹל יְהוָה:  אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה, לָהֶם, לְבִלְתִּי הַרְאוֹתָם אֶת-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה לַאֲבוֹתָם לָתֶת לָנוּ, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ.6 For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the nation, even the men of war that came forth out of Egypt, were consumed, because they hearkened not unto the voice of the LORD; unto whom the LORD swore that He would not let them see the land which the LORD swore unto their fathers that He would give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.
ז  וְאֶת-בְּנֵיהֶם הֵקִים תַּחְתָּם, אֹתָם מָל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ:  כִּי-עֲרֵלִים הָיוּ, כִּי לֹא-מָלוּ אוֹתָם בַּדָּרֶךְ.7 And He raised up their children in their stead; them did Joshua circumcise; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised by the way.
ח  וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר-תַּמּוּ כָל-הַגּוֹי, לְהִמּוֹל; וַיֵּשְׁבוּ תַחְתָּם בַּמַּחֲנֶה, עַד חֲיוֹתָם.  {פ}8 And it came to pass, when all the nation were circumcised, every one of them, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole. {P}

י  וַיַּחֲנוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בַּגִּלְגָּל; וַיַּעֲשׂוּ אֶת-הַפֶּסַח בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ, בָּעֶרֶב--בְּעַרְבוֹת יְרִיחוֹ.10 And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal; and they kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at evening in the plains of Jericho.

It was only once the Jewish people had a mass circumcision and the generation that had the Sin of the Golden Calf and the Sin of the Spies, that caused the Jews to wander in the desert for 40 years, passed away did the Jewish people once again keep the Passover.

The Kind Hezekiah is found to be a completely righteous king, but he followed a completely wicked king. Therefore, when Hezekiah inherited the kingdom, his subjects were idol worshipers. This can be seen in Chronicles 2 (29:6,7):

ו  כִּי-מָעֲלוּ אֲבֹתֵינוּ, וְעָשׂוּ הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה-אֱלֹהֵינוּ--וַיַּעַזְבֻהוּ; וַיַּסֵּבּוּ פְנֵיהֶם מִמִּשְׁכַּן יְהוָה, וַיִּתְּנוּ-עֹרֶף.6 For our fathers have acted treacherously, and done that which was evil in the sight of the LORD our God, and have forsaken Him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the LORD, and turned their backs.
ז  גַּם סָגְרוּ דַּלְתוֹת הָאוּלָם, וַיְכַבּוּ אֶת-הַנֵּרוֹת, וּקְטֹרֶת, לֹא הִקְטִירוּ; וְעֹלָה לֹא-הֶעֱלוּ בַקֹּדֶשׁ, לֵאלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.7 Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt-offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel.

After King Hezekiah had the Levites cleanse the temple and he destroyed all of the idol worship, he moved on to congregated everyone in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover holiday (Chronicles 2 30:1):

א  וַיִּשְׁלַח יְחִזְקִיָּהוּ עַל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל וִיהוּדָה, וְגַם-אִגְּרוֹת כָּתַב עַל-אֶפְרַיִם וּמְנַשֶּׁה, לָבוֹא לְבֵית-יְהוָה, בִּירוּשָׁלִָם--לַעֲשׂוֹת פֶּסַח, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.1 And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the LORD, the God of Israel.

Also, later in Chronicles 2 we see that King Josiah (Yoshiayahu) inherited the kingdom from the wicked king Menashe. Menashe had completely devastated the religious practices of the Jewish country, but when Josiah came to power he went on a rampage destroying all the idols that his father had erected or allowed to be erected. Once he was finished cleansing the land we are told that he then (Chronicles 2 35:1):
א  וַיַּעַשׂ יֹאשִׁיָּהוּ בִירוּשָׁלִַם פֶּסַח, לַיהוָה; וַיִּשְׁחֲטוּ הַפֶּסַח, בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לַחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן.1 And Josiah kept a passover unto the LORD in Jerusalem; and they killed the passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the first month.
 There are more instances, but I think these cases are sufficient to point out that there is something about Passover that connects to the Jewish people only when they are following the Torah. Not only following the Torah, but there is a special emphasis that once the Jewish people are cleansed of some imperfection THEN they celebrate the holiday of Passover. Hezekiah celebrated the Passover only once he had destroyed all of the idols his father, Ahaz (Achaz), and had built and cleansed the Temple. Also, we are only told that Josiah (Yoshiyahu) kept the Passover once he abolished all of the idols in the land and had cleansed the Temple. Joshua and the Jewish people of his time only kept the Passover once they were cleansed from the previous generation that had sinned by the golden calf and the spies and only once everyone was circumcised, another form of cleansing the Jewish people, did they celebrate the Passover. Therefore, we must consider why the Passover offering is so connected to the Jewish people cleansing themselves of sin and returning to the proper service of G-D.

 I think the answer can be found in the establishment of the holiday. Passover is all about us becoming the Jewish people solely because we follow G-D's commandments. This is seen by the original Korban Pesach. The Jews were differentiated from their Egyptian neighbors solely because they showed the sign, blood on the door post, that meant they followed G-D's command. There were no other significant factors that separated the Jewish household from the Egyptians household. Even if you were a Jew, if you did not have the sign on the door post, you were treated as a regular Egyptian.

This is why by Joshua, Hezekiah, and Josiah the Jewish people decided to celebrate Passover once they had returned to the service of G-D, because they understood the meaning of Passover.What is the point of the Tanach telling us that, specifically, at these times did the Jewish people keep Passover? There must have been many Passovers that the Jewish people kept that the Tanach does not mention. The point of the Tanach telling us that at this specific time, once the Jews had returned to the service of G-D, the Jews kept Passover  is because of what Passover signifies. It is only when we are acting as the people of G-D that we are truly able to understand the meaning of Passover. Passover is all about realizing that you follow G-D because He is G-D. Did the idea that the blood on the door post would separate a Jew from an Egyptian make any reasonable sense? No, it was simply used as a divider of those who listen to G-D versus those who do not.

There might very well be reasons for the Mitzvos, they might all be logically explainable. This idea is a debate among many. (Rambam, Ramban and Maharal being a few) However, the most compelling reason to keep the Mitzvos is because G-D told us to.

This is the essence of Pesach. Pesach is a recognition that G-D is the one who freed us from Egypt. We celebrate the holiday because we recognize that G-D is our leader. Therefore, the Tanach emphasizes the celebration of Pesach only when the Jewish people recognize the reason and significance of this holiday. The Tanach is, in essence, telling us that this is how one should celebrate the holiday, because the commitment and zeal that these people are showing is the essence of the holiday.

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