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Passover

By John J Parsons


The Festival of Deliverance

 

Introduction to Pesach

Passover, or Pesach, begins during the full moon in the first month of the year, namely on the 14th day of Nisan. Passover is called the "feast of freedom" since it celebrates the Exodus of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and memorializes the night when the faithful were protected by the blood of the lamb - a clear picture of the sacrifice of Yeshua the Mashiach as Seh HaElohim - the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Overview of Passover -The Blood of the Lamb Delivers from Death

The book of Exodus tells us how Moses was sent by God to Pharaoh to be a deliverer of Israel. The Pharaoh, of course, did not heed Moses' appeal to set the people of Israel free from their slavery, and the stage was then set for the showdown between the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt.

The final terrible plague that would descend upon the people of Egypt would be the death of the firstborn sons in the land. Only those families that sacrificed an unblemished lamb (pesach) and smeared its blood upon the doorposts of the house would be "passed over" (pasach) from the impending wrath from heaven.

God commanded that on Nisan 10 (Shabbat HaGadol) each head of the household should set aside a young male lamb which should be examined for blemishes which might disqualify it as an offering. Interestingly, this period of time allowed time for each family to become personally attached to their lamb, so that it would no longer simply be "a lamb" (Ex. 12:3) but rather their lamb" (Ex. 12:5). On the afternoon of the Nisan 14 the lambs were to be publicly sacrificed by the "whole assembly" (Ex. 12:6). And even though the entire nation was responsible for the death of the lambs, each family was to apply the blood of their personal lamb upon the doorpost as a sign of their faith in the Lord's deliverance (Ex. 12:7).

The name Pesach (translated Passover) derives from the Hebrew word pasach (passed over) and refers to the sparing of the households of the faithful on account of the sacrificial blood of the lamb:



It is the sacrifice of the LORD's Passover (pesach), for he passed over (pasach) the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt (Exodus 12:27)

That night the meat of the sacrifice was to be roasted with unleavened bread and bitter herbs and eaten in haste, since the Jews were to be ready to begin their journey immediately after God smote the Egyptian firstborn sons. God "passed over" those homes whose doorposts were sprinkled with the blood of the passover lamb. God further commanded that Passover be observed annually as a permanent reminder of the deliverance from Egypt. Only unleavened bread is to be eaten for seven days, and the first and seventh days of Pesach are to be days of holy assembly on which all work is forbidden.


The Observance Of Passover

After the Mashiach Yeshua came, the Temple was destroyed (AD 70) and Rabbinical Judaism eventually assumed leadership of the Jewish people. According to the rabbis, the idea of blood sacrifice was changed to mean "prayer and the performance of mitzvot." The rabbis then decreed that Passover should be commemorated by means of the Passover Seder, held on Nisan 15.

Technically speaking, Passover is a one day holiday that recalls the deliverance of the LORD by means of the blood of the lambs, immediately followed by the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot). Modern Judaism, however, considers Passover to be an eight day holiday that remembers the birth of the Jewish people as a nation (and thus conflates Passover proper with Chag HaMatzot). Today Jews celebrate Passover to commemorate the liberation of the descendants of Abraham from their prophesied slavery in Egypt (Gen. 15:13) under the leadership of Moses, but Christians and Messianic Jews also remember the sacrifice of Yeshua the Mashiach as the Lamb of God (seh Elohim) who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29, 36). This is the real meaning of Passover.

Passover is to be celebrated at the full moon in the first month of the year, namely on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (in Spring). The English date varies from year to year, sometimes in March/April, based on the Jewish lunar calendar. Note that, like all other holidays, the day begins at sundown, so at twilight on Nisan 14 the holiday technically begins. This agrees with the commandment given in the Torah, "In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening" (Exodus 12:18).

Note: A second chance for observing Passover (Pesach Sheni) was given in the Torah (Numbers 9:9-12) to accommodate those who are ritually unclean for the seder. This second day would be one month later, on Iyyar 14.

In the Torah, Passover is also called:

  • Chag Ha-Aviv - The Spring Festival (Deut 16:1)
  • Chag HaMatzot - The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 12:17-20)
  • Chag HaPesach - The Festival of the Pascal Lamb (Num 9:2)

Among Rabbinically observant Jews, the liberation of the Jewish people is the keynote of the Passover season, and indeed Passover is often called zeman cheruteinu, the "season of our liberation." Jews remember the redemption of Israel as the herald of the future redemption of all mankind. As such, Passover is a Messianic holiday since the Messiah is the Redeemer of all humanity.

For Messianic Jews, Passover marks the liberation of the entire world from the bondage to the evil one (a type of Pharaoh who enslaves humanity) by the hand of One greater than Moses. Like the original Passover in Egypt, the sacrifice of the Lamb causes the wrath of God to "pass over" those who are trusting in the LORD's provision for redemption, but in the case of the sacrifice of the Mashiach Yeshua, this redemption delivers us from the cruel bondage of Satan and causes the wrath of God to forever be put away from us (baruch HaShem!).

Jewish tradition prescribes a number of rituals associated with the observance of Pesach, including the mitzvah of removing chametz (and abstaining from eating chametz during the seven days of Pesach), the mitzvah of preparing a Seder and reading from the Haggadah (liturgy), the mitzvah of hearing the Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim) read during the Sabbath during Passover week, and the mitzvah of beginning the study of the Hebrew classic Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), reading a chapter a week until the festival of Shavu'ot (Pentecost).

When does Passover begin?

Erev Pesach, Pesach, and Chag Ha-Matzot

Passover Timeline

Introduction

It might be a bit confusing to understand exactly when Passover begins, at least from a traditional Jewish point of view.  Does it begin on Nisan 14 or Nisan 15?  In order to find an answer to this question, we first need to make a distinction between zman shechitat korban Pesach (the time of the slaughter of the Passover lambs) and then consider the commemoration of the holiday that was later instituted as the "Passover Seder."

The Passover in Egypt

The original sacrifice of the Passover (in Egypt) was of an unblemished male lamb that was selected on Nisan 10 and kept until the evening of the 14th, when it was sacrificed and its blood applied to the two doorposts and upper lintel of the house using a bunch of hyssop (Exod. 12:2-7, 22). The door to the house was then sealed and no one was permitted to leave until the following morning (Exod. 12:22). The blood on the doors would function as a sign for God to "pass over" the house when He descended to slay all the firstborn of Egypt later that night (Exod. 12:13). Within the sealed house - during that very night (לַיְלָה) - the lamb would be roasted over a fire and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exod. 12:8). This sacred meal was to be commemorated as a feast to the LORD throughout all the generations and retold during the Passover seder service (Exod. 12:14, 25-27). Moreover, to commemorate the haste in which the Jews were brought out of Egypt, for seven days - from the evening of Nisan 14 until the evening of Nisan 21 - only unleavened bread was to be eaten and no leaven was to be found within any of the houses (Exod. 12:17-20).

Passover at the Temple

During the time of the Temple, zman shechitat korban Pesach (the time of the slaughter of the Passover lambs) was performed during the afternoon hours of Nisan 14, in observance of the commandment: "In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, between the evenings (i.e., bein ha-arbayim: בֵּין הָעַרְבָּיִם), is the Passover for the LORD" (Lev. 23:5). Note that the time of the lamb's sacrifice is described as "bein ha-arbayim," usually translated as "between the evenings" or "between the settings." To the sages, the "first setting" of the Sun occurred at the beginning of its descent after noon, and the "second setting" referred to sundown or twilight.  Hence "bein ha-arbayim" would mean sometime after noon but before twilight, or more simply, "the afternoon."

The sacrifice of the Passover lambs on the afternoon of Nisan 14 agrees with Jewish Oral Law and tradition. As Maimonides wrote, "It is a positive commandment to slaughter the Korban Pesach on the fourteenth of Nisan after midday"(Hilchot Korban Pesach). There is some discussion among the sages, however, as to whether the sacrifice of the korban Pesach occurred before or after the second set of tamid (daily) offerings made at the Temple (Exod. 29:38-42, Num. 28:1-8). In general, however, most of the sages agreed with Maimonides who clearly stated: "The Korban Pesach is not slaughtered until after the Tamid of the afternoon." In other words, the slaughter of the Passover lambs occurred on the late afternoon of Nisan 14.

Note that though the sacrifice of the Passover lamb occurred on the afternoon Nisan 14, the ceremonial eating of the meal, or the "seder," would begin later, just before sundown and continue throughout the night. This agrees with Exod. 12:8 which states clearly that the Passover meal was consumed during the night: "They shall eat the flesh [of the Pascal lamb] that night" (i.e., ba-lailah hazeh: בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה). And since the Jewish day begins after sundown (when three stars are visible in the night sky), the traditional Passover Seder would begin just before sundown on Nisan 14 but would continue into the new day of Nisan 15, which is also the start of the seven-day festival of chag ha-matzot (חַג הַמַּצּוֹת), the "Feast of Unleavened Bread" (Lev. 23:6).

In light of all this perhaps you can better appreciate why Jewish tradition regards "Passover" as an eight day holiday, since it links the times of the korban Pesach, the Seder meal, and the seven days of unleavened bread together as a whole.

Passover Today

 

Today the traditional Passover Seder begins on "Erev Pesach," meaning just before sundown on Nisan 14 and running into the first hours of Nisan 15 (outside of Israel a second seder is often held the following evening as well). The date of Passover can be somewhat confusing if you look at a Jewish calendar to see it listed simply as "Nisan 15." Again we must remember that the Jewish day begins on the night before it is listed on the calendar.  For example, if the calendar says that March 30th is Nisan 15 (i.e., Passover), then you must understand that Nisan 15 actually begins at sundown on the night before, i.e., on March 29th:




Unfortunately, most Jewish calendars refer to the previous evening as "Erev Pesach" without indicating that the first "day" of Passover spans the end of Nisan 14 and carries over to Nisan 15. 

In answer to our original question, then, (i.e., "Does Passover begin on Nisan 14 or Nisan 15?"), the answer is that while the Passover sacrifice was made on the afternoon of the 14th, the Passover Seder will span both the 14th and 15th!  I realize all this might be a bit confusing, but it's just the way the Jewish calendar works! 


Addendum:

The important point in all of this, of course, is that Yeshua the is the "Lamb of God" who was sacrificed and raised from the dead according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-5). As for the precise calculations involved in all this, including the time of His early Seder with His disciples, the exact hours of His crucifixion, and so on, there are numerous questions, though I completely trust that Yeshua 100% fulfilled the types and prophecies concerning the meaning of the Passover.
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

ra'uy ha-seh ha-tavuach lekabel gevurah,
osher v'chokhmah v'koach vikar v'khavod uvracha

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing! (Rev. 5:12)


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