Feast of Freedom
Passover פסח -5777
Chief Rabbi Capers Shmuel Funnye
We are nearly at that time of year again for our Feast of Freedom: Passover פסח. Passover is one of the three festivals that Israelites are compelled to observe each year; the other two holy days being Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur. I have been asked a question by a member to explain what is it that we are doing the night of the Seder? Are we keeping the Passover? Or are we maintaining a memorial of the Passover? At first glance, it might seem that they are one in the same question. However, I want to exam the Torah and Rabbinic text regarding this sacred season for Israelites throughout the world. And I believe that at the conclusion of this paper we’ll understand that what we do is a memorial service of the Passover, and not recreating Passover as it was practiced in ancient times in Egypt or at Jerusalem when we had the Holy Temple.
The order and instructions for the original Passover can be found in the book of Exodus 12:1-20. Hashem gives to Moses very specific instructions to pass on to the Children of Israel, notably that: this month shall be the beginning of months for you, it shall be the first month of the year for you. The instructions continue by instructing Moses to tell the Israelites that on the tenth day of the month they are to pick out a lamb and set it aside from the 10th day until the 14th day at eve, then the animal is to be slaughtered. The Israelites were to take of the blood of the animal and strike the lintels of the doorpost of their houses. Israel was instructed to eat the whole animal and if any part remained they were to burn the remaining part with fire. The animal had to be roasted whole and they were to eat it with their loins girded, your saddles on their feet and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s Passover. As we all know the next morning Israel was set free; so begins the story of the Exodus.
The next time that the Passover was kept by the Israelites was the second year after the Exodus from Egypt. Numbers 9:1-5; “And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of Egypt, saying, Let the children of Israel keep the Passover at his appointed season. In the fourteenth day of this month, at even, ye shall keep it in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall ye keep it. And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, that they should keep the Passover: And they kept the Passover on the fourteenth of the first month at even in the wilderness of Sinai: according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel.” In the second year of the exodus the children of Israel did not live in houses, so there were no door posts to apply the blood. This leads me to believe that Moses gave the Israelites another set of instructions for observing the second Passover because the situation of the Israelites was different from the first Passover in Egypt. Coincidently, this is the last time that the Passover was kept until the Israelites keep the Passover after Joshua had circumcised them by the Jordan River in a place called Gilgal.
Passover During Temple Times
On the 20th Adar 5777, we read a special portion for Shabbat Parah (שבת פרה). The portion read was Numbers 19: 1-22; this chapter gives instructions for the process of Israelites purifying themselves, and it is read so that Israelites will go through this procedure before going to Jerusalem to keep the Passover feast. In effect, the Israelites who observed Passover at Jerusalem were in many respects likened to the Kohanim, and they had to be purified before keeping this feast. After the destruction of the Knesset Ha-Gadol, the laws of purification as related to Numbers chapter 19 fell into disuse. Today the only means given to Israel for purification is to be immersed in a Mikvah.
Passover in our Generation
Today we observe a memorial of the Passover feast, which has its instructions in the Passover Hagaddah. In the Israelite community today, we use three articles of faith: Lamb, bitter herbs, and matzo. In most Europeans communities, they eat chicken instead of lamb. This is in observance of a rabbinic ruling against eating lamb. In their opinion, doing so might constitute making a sacrifice–which can only be performed by priests. This practice ended with the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. As Israelites, our custom is to eat lamb in remembrance of the traditions of our ancestors until the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem. We are maintaining a Memorial Service of the Passover, to pass on to our children that which Hashem did for our ancestors and for us in our generation.
I draw this conclusion based on Deuteronomy 16: 1-6; “Observe the month of Aviv, and keep the Passover unto the Lord thy G-D; for in the month of Aviv the Lord thy G-D brought thee forth out of Egypt by night. And thou shalt sacrifice the Passover-offering unto the Lord thy G-D, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the Lord shall choose to cause His name to dwell there. Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for in haste didst thou come forth out of the land of Egypt; that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land Egypt all the days of thy life. And there shall be no leaven seen with thee in all thy borders seven days; neither shall any of the flesh, which thou sacrificest the first day at even, remain all night until the morning. Thou mayest not sacrifice the Passover-offering within any of thy gates, which the Lord thy G-D giveth thee; but at the place which the Lord thy G-D shall choose to cause His name to dwell in, there thou shalt sacrifice the Passover-offering at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt.”
In Deuteronomy 16:1; the first word in English is “Observe”, however the word in Hebrew is (שמור), which also has the meaning of “Guard”, we are commanded to guard the words regarding how the Passover was to be observed in the place that the Lord our G-D shall choose. Therefore I submit for your consideration that we are guarding against breaking this commandment of Torah to faithfully “Guard” ourselves from trying to make a sacrifice anywhere other than the Holy Land, in the Holy City, Jerusalem.