Monthly Archives: March 2012

The “Egyptian Passover”

‘The blood shall be a sign for you……And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you” (Exodus 12:13 ESV)

Passover is less than two weeks away. This year Passover begins on the evening of Friday, April 6th, which is also the day that Christians through-out the world will be observing Good Friday (the traditional day of the week that Yeshua was crucified). On Passover Eve, Jewish families gather to have a festive meal called a “seder” in which there are special readings that tell about the Exodus from Egypt. Through a book called a “haggadah”, Jews remember the plight of their ancestors and how God through Moses miraculously saved and redeemed them from their oppressive state in Egypt. This celebration of Passover, which has been  an institution of the Jewish people for thousands of years also has special significance for the Messianic community today that is made up of Gentile Christians as well as Jewish believers of Messiah Yeshua(Jesus).

My home congregation Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue (BHS) is not having a corporate Seder this year. This is the first time that I know of that they are not hosting a congregational Seder. The reasoning is that they wanted to go smaller this year and encourage greater fellowship amongst the BHS family by having members host a home seder (which is how the first Passover recorded in Scripture is celebrated as well as all subsequent Passover’s since the destruction of the 2nd Temple) and invite other BHS attendees and guests. In preparation for this Rabbi Marty Waldman taught a very demonstrative and interactive Passover Seder training course in which he walked through the entire Haggadah. In addition to this, I have also been studying The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah by Joseph Tabory in preparation for the home seder I will be leading this year. In the Foreward to The JPS Commentary, Professor David Stern says that Tabory is “one of the world’s leading authorities on the Haggadah”. Needless to say I came across plenty of insight and I got the idea to chronicle a short summary of that First Passover up to the time of Rabbi Hillel, Rabbi Shammai and the Rabbi Yeshua from Natzeret, who they call Mashiach.

A Quick History Lesson (Exodus 1-13)

Under the Pharoah of that time, the Israelites had become enemies of the state and the Egyptians  feared them causing a revolution. Due to this, the Israelites endured many hardships including  infanticide and harsh slavery.  Through Moses and his brother Aaron, God made Himself known to His people Israel, as well as the Egyptians by His judgment upon the so-called gods of Egypt. God’s power and sovereignty was made known through the 10 plagues, which culminated in the death of the firstborn. The Israelites were told to apply the blood of a lamb to their door posts so that the Angel of Death would “passover” their homes. Due to the Israelites trust in this provision of God, they were saved from death and given the opportunity to have a new life no longer bound by the shackles of their previous existence but freedom to serve the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The “Egyptian Passover”

Some scholars refer to the Passover spoken of in Exodus 12 as the “Egyptian Passover”. The Rabbincal Sages considered the instructions from Exodus 12:11 to be a onetime occurence and a permanent distinction of that first Passover and every other that would come after it.  “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.”  Modern Samaritans on the other hand still consider this instruction to be applicable today.

The Torah itself doesn’t make any other distinction in regard to the timeliness of the meal, but it is assumed that Passover in post-Exodic times were festive and leisurely. The Torah does suggest a change in setting, from home based to Temple based in Deuteronomy 16:2  “And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the LORD your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that the LORD will choose, to make his name dwell there.” This change in setting would happen once the Israelites had settled in the Promised Land and God had chosen a place for His dwelling (The Temple).

The only items mentioned in Scripture that were on the table that first Passover were: 1. Lamb (The actual Passover sacrifice) 2. Unleavened Bread 3. Bitter Herbs as it says in Exodus 12:8  “They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.” The cups of wine, haroset (apple and nut mixture), debates about lettuce or horseradish, etc etc. were much later additions.

The Torah also omits any instructions for any specific ceremony connected with the meal though the Torah does suggests that some type of narrative or commentary would accompany the meal for later generations in Exodus 12:26-27  “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” Also in Exodus 13:8 “You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ I agree with Tabory when he states that it would be “hard to imagine that a meal in the memory of the Exodus would not be used by parents to transmit the story of the Exodus to the younger generation – even if there were no specific Torah mandate.”

It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.
(Exodus 12:42 ESV)

For additional insight into the “Egyptian Passover” check out Rabbi Derek Leman’s recent post on the matter The First Passover.

Next Time (Hopefully by next weekend:-): Post-Exodic Passover to the Men of the Great Assembly

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!

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Esther: A Diaspora Story of Israel

“Who knows whether you have come to the Kingdom for such a time as this” Esther 4:14

The Jewish festival of Purim is coming upon us rather quickly. In fact, it begins this evening and might just last until Friday evening (depends on how long you would like to extend the party:-). Purim is traditionally celebrated on the 14th of Adar according to the Hebrew calendar and Shushan Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar. What’s the difference in dates? According to the Book of Esther, those who lived in unwalled villages at the time defeated their enemies on the 14th of Adar and those in walled villages (Shushan) by the 15th of Adar. Purim is celebrated as a very joyful festival with a carnival like atmosphere that includes a lively and participatory reading of the Book of Esther, plays, masquerading, customary food and plenty of drink. It is also interesting to note, that Esther is the only book of Scripture, outside of the Torah that addresses the origin of a new festival. In true diaspora style, you could easily celebrate this holiday for 2 days; after all it is a diaspora story!

Last year I picked up the JPS Bible Commentary for Esther by Adele Berlin and decided to put it on the shelf until the time was right in the year to break out the “scroll”. Just the introduction to the commentary is formidable in its own right and is probably 2-3 times longer than the actual Biblical book.

Berlin begins her commentary by alluding to the question of which came first; Esther or Purim? That is, did the book precede the festival or did the festival precede the book?

Berlin says that the book’s fame is largely based on its association with Purim. And without the celebration of Purim with its annual reading of Megillat Esther (Scroll/Book of Esther) as its core tradition, “Esther would languish in obscurity”. But on the other hand, without the Book of Esther, “there would be little reason to perpetuate the observance of Purim.” So, however it happened and whatever the order (Berlin gives her educated opinions – she believes Purim existed in some form or fashion as a festival before the events recorded in Esther actually happened), Esther and Purim are forever attached and bundled up together for the benefit of all who might enter into this Biblical story of comedy and drama that is mixed with a heavy dose of courage and carousing.

What do I mean by “A Diaspora Story on the Continuation of Israel”?

The term “diaspora” is an ancient Greek term which literally means “scattered” or “dispersed”. As in a people or ethnic group living outside of their ancestral homeland. This is the setting and condition of the Jewish people in the book of Esther. The majority of modern scholarship dates the writing of Esther to the late Persian period or early Greek period, somewhere between 400-200 B.C. Berlin personally thinks the book was written between 400-300 B.C., after the reign of Xerxes (486-465 B.C.), but before the Hellenization of the East that was spurred on by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.).

Outside of establishing an “official” reason for the observance of Purim, Berlin states that a main purpose of the book was to “promote pride in Jewish identity and solidarity with the Jewish community and with Jewish tradition”. Esther reflects the all too common circumstance of the history of the Jewish people where they are a “minority in a larger society and where it fell to the individual Jew, not the state, to ensure Jewish continuity”. The Book of Esther is not alone in this mode of “diaspora stories” for the time period. The Biblical Book of Daniel (especially chapters 1-6), as well as the Apocrypha Book’s of Judith and Tobit, also have similar settings and features of “pious Jews overcoming all odds to defeat the oppressive enemy”.

Berlin also stresses an important dimension of Jewish Diaspora stories that she says are rarely adequately noted. That is, “these stories not only provide models for Jewish success and Jewish pride in foreign lands; they also provide answers to the critical question of how a Jewish community in exile can see itself vis-a-vis the Israel of the Bible”. It is clear that Esther has accomplished its two primary goals;

  1. To establish the festival of Purim in perpetuity for Jews of all generations
  2. To tie the fate of the Jewish Diaspora community to the story of Biblical Israel

I encourage you to pick up your Bible and read Esther in lively fashion to your family this year, you could even have everyone dress up and have a part. Go to your congregation or synagogue for a play or Purim party and participate in the “boos” and “cheers”. Eat some Hamantaschen or chocolate, have a few strong drinks (not for the kids) and watch One Night With The King (one of my wife’s top 3 favorite movies). Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord and have fun, a lot of it – now’s the time!

May you be filled with the joy and strength of the Spirit which comes from HaShem in Messiah Yeshua this season and always!

Happy Purim 2012!!!

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