the importance of


Prof. Jae Jerkins

Passover in Story

What is Passover?

• Passover (Pesach) celebrates the Biblical Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt

• Jews are instructed to tell the story of Passover to our children (Exo. 13:8)

• Passover is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals of Ancient Israel

     • Pesach: Exodus from Egypt (Covenant with God)

     • Shavuot: Revelation of the Torah (Word of God)

     • Sukkot: the time in the desert wilderness (Dependence on God)

Leaving Egypt

• While in Egyptian captivity, the People of Israel are instructed to cover their doorposts with lamb's blood so the Angel of Death will "pass over" their door and only kill Egyptians — after Pharoah doesn't heed the first 9 Plagues

• In this way, the Exodus & Passover show

     • God's mastery over nature (cf. the 10 Plagues)

     • God's sovereignty over the world (incl. Egypt and their god-king)

     • God's everlasting covenant with Israel

• The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim (cf. Arabic Mitzr)

     • This is a Hebrew cognate of metzarimnarrowness

     • For Jews, Egypt is both a place and a state of mind we must escape

Exodus from Narrowness

• Passover compels us to question the duality of oppressor/oppressed

     • How are we like the downtrodden Israelites? How like Pharoah?

• To what are we enslaved that keeps us from righteousness?

• Are we taking care of the poor, the widow, and the orphan in our midst?

• The path (halakha) back to God is found in the Face of the Other

Passover in Memory

From Generation to Generation

• Exodus 12:14 - from generation to generation, we are to celebrate Passover

• Jews are instructed to contemplate Passover as if we personally are fleeing

• It's a season to remember our humble beginnings, the violence in our past, the bounty we celebrate today, and the humble Other we are answerable to now

Give my regards to Hitler

• Why do I celebrate Passover? Because 'Am Israel Chai. Israel Lives.

• It is a reminder of our triumphs, our challenges, and our very survival

• Every Passover, I am reminded that Hitler (and so many others) envisioned an end to the Seder table. An end to Halakha. But it's the 21st century, and we're still eating matzah. We're still drinking wine. We are a free people. ❤️ 🇮🇱

Next Year in Jerusalem!

• Passover is a season of hope

• Zionism and the hope of our return to the Land of Israel is commemorated

• At the end of every Seder, for thousands of years, we have cheered with raised wine glasses, "next year in Jerusalem!"

• If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand whither.

Passover in Practice

Home, Soul, & Nation

• Home: In the days leading up to the Seder, Jews clean their homes and remove all chametz from their dwelling (the five grains). It is also a time to invite guests to your home and celebrate God's bounty in our lives

• Soul: the Passover is an invitation to deep contemplation

• Nation: Passover is the beginning of the formation of the Jewish nation

The Hagaddah ("Telling")

• Children ask questions about our Jewish traditions and values

• Stories & songs (eg. "Dayenu") are shared to dramatize & remember our past

• Foods are eaten in solidatrity and commemoration of our People

The Seder ("Order")

• A roasted shankbone of a lamb: the Pesach sacrifice in the days of the Temple

• A boiled egg: the destruction of the Temple by the Romans

• Bitter herbs: the bitter experience and presence of slavery and poverty

• Haroset: the mortar used by slaves to build houses for the rich

• Karpas (parsley): Spring, the green of new life

• Matzah: but please don't call it Jewish bread

• Four cups of wine: well, it's a long dinner... and we're free now! L'chaim!

Symbol & Representation

• Matzah: the bread of suffering

     • the bread of slavery is baked for less than 18 minutes (cf. life)

     • there is no time for the bread to rise

     • likewise, we should rush to fulfill God's instruction

     • When the Other calls, like Moses we should drop what we're doing and           say, Hineini — "Here I am!"

• A place setting is made for the prophet Elijah and the door is open for him

     • We do this to welcome the Messianic Age, as Elijah heralds this

• We spill 10 drops of wine for each of the 10 plagues brought onto our enemies

     • Because even those who want to destroy Jewish lives are God's children

• An Orange on the Seder plate? It's about time...