3/25/13

Pesach . . .

When the sun sets this evening (around 7:44 PM CT, for those playing along at home) it will officially be Pesach (pey-SAHKH) or "Passover." Perhaps more commonly known as The Exodus (all caps to show respect), it is a week long acknowledgement of the Jews leaving Egypt after generations of slavery.

You know what that means? Yep. It is time, once again, for me to drop some seriously freshman level of trivia-type knowledge on a Jewish holiday/tradition.

Here are the 10 things I find most interesting about Passover:


  1. Moses. Despite not appearing in the traditional Haggadah by name (he is not the hero of the story, technically) there is much focus on his life and actions during the holiday.
  2. The Midwives. Perhaps the FIRST heroes of The Exodus were the midwives. The Egyptians, because of the part of Egypt where the Jewish slaves were held (in the north east, where an invading enemy would likely enter the country - perhaps allowing them to add the Jewish slaves to their forces and take Egypt) and the growing Jewish population ordered the midwives to kill any male, Jewish newborn. They refused. The first act of defiance. And an important one.
  3. The Plagues. For the first few thousand years of captivity there was no real mention (at least that I've been told of) of the Jews considering getting out of servitude. Many believe the plagues were not just threats against Egypt to allow the emancipation but were also signs to the Jews themselves that their G-d was powerful enough to do great things for them, if they would only follow and join him. 
  4. The Plagues (Part II). Were, in order, i) The Nile running with blood ii) raining frogs iii) lice/gnats everywhere iv) flies and wild animals everywhere v) pestilence (rampant spread of disease), vi) boils (you guessed it, everywhere) vii) hail (so heavy it hurt the head) viii) locusts ix) darkness and x) death of the firstborn.
  5. Lamb's Blood. A decree was passed that all Jewish men would put lamb's blood over the doors of their homes to prevent the death of their first born and to protect the home from the Jewish G-d's wrath. There is a scholarly dispute over whether the first born children in all Egyptian homes were actually killed or if G-d just hovered over those homes and made them realize his power. Either way - that was the last plague needed. Shortly after, the Jews heading back to Israel. 
  6. Freedom. There is little attention paid (by outsiders) to the liberation aspect of Passover. One place where the parallel is not lost? The White House. The Obama family reads the Emancipation Proclamation as part of their Seder Haggadah. 
  7. Matzah. The Jews left Egypt in such a hurry, according to legend, they did not have time for their bread dough to rise. That is why we go without leavened bread (and many other grains and legumes depending on your own customs) for the duration of Passover.
  8. Long Walk. Depending on which account you read, the Jews spent between 35 and 45 years (conventional wisdom seems to be 38 - 40 years) walking through the desert. The desert. Hot, sandy, arid desert. Children. Young. Old. Men. Women. For DECADES. Imagine that for a minute. People didn't live then as long as they live now. People spent their entire life span walking. Day after day. For their freedom and the freedom of their children and their children. Still feel bad that Jews give up leavened bread for a week? 
  9. Red Sea. This was THE SHOW OF SHOWS, no doubt. Moses slams his staff against the beach and a sea parts? And the Jews go through and the Egyptian persuers are drowned? Sure. A big stretch for skeptics and cynics but they had to cross somehow and the hunt ended on that beach. I'd be that jerk walking through a split sea poking the walls of water and complaining about how being around water always makes me have to pee. 
  10. Seder. A traditional meal that has been re-imagined and re-constituted a million ways where Jews gather around a table and retell the story of Pesach and eat six symbolic foods (among others) and honor those that came before them and what they did that we may have our freedom. 

Tomorrow's post? More on number ten, above, The Seder. In the meantime, Chag Sameach (KHAGH say-MEH-ahk) or "Joyous Festival," yuns.