Passover is central to Jewish tradition. Based on the story of the Israelites' liberation from Egyptian slavery, Jews celebrate Passover to commemorate freedom, spiritual redemption, God's power and community.
The Biblical Story
The Passover story comes from the first 15 chapters of the Bible's book of Exodus. God elects Moses to lead the Israelite slaves out of Egypt and sends 10 plagues on Egypt to show his might. As the Israelites flee the Egyptian pursuers, God miraculously splits the sea through which the Israelites flee.
Matzo, or unleavened bread, replaces bread on Passover. Before the escape, God orders the Israelites to observe the Passover holiday with unleavened bread for all time (Exodus 12:15). The reason is linked to the hasty departure from Egypt, when the Israelites did not have time for their bread to rise (Exodus 12:34).
The Passing Over
The name "Passover" (Hebrew: "Pesach") comes from God's final plague on Egypt: the slaying of the firstborn son. In Exodus 12:13, God commands the Israelites to smear blood on their door posts, for "when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt."
Liberation from Egyptian enslavement is a central theme for Passover and for Jewish life. Freedom from oppression, whether for Jews or for others, makes Passover representative of the social justice values in Jewish tradition.
God's power to defeat the enemy, liberate a people and form a community are central to the Passover story. Passover is a time to remember God's actions in the world, and it commemorates God's power in creating a spiritual nation.
The Israelites experienced physical liberation as well as spiritual redemption. Once out of slavery, they were free to worship God and receive the law. Personally experiencing physical and spiritual redemption is central to Passover nowadays. According to "My Jewish Learning," "in every generation every individual is obliged to view him or herself as though he or she had actually gone forth from Egypt."
- "The New Revised Standard Bible"; 1989
- "My Jewish Learning"; Overview: Passover Themes and Theology
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