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Passover - Jewish festival of religious freedom

by Army Maj. (Ret.) Bill Peterson
MacDill AFB Jewish lay Leader

The Jewish spring festival of Passover begins on the evening of April 16 with the ceremonial, Seder dinner. Passover is an eight-day celebration that commemorates the deliverance of the ancient people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

The essence of Passover

Passover is the festival of freedom. It marks the beginning of the Covenant between God, the liberator and the Jews, as a people redeemed.

Passover is a holiday of spring. It illuminates the possibility of renewal - as intrinsic to human nature as blossoming trees to the natural world.

Passover is the feast of unleavened bread (Matzoh). Matzoh is the link between slavery and freedom - the most central symbol of the Passover festival.

The story of Passover

The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for more than two centuries under the Pharaohs. Moses, a Hebrew who was raised in the house of Pharaoh, discovers his true identity but is forced to flee Egypt after killing an Egyptian taskmaster. In the wilderness of Sinai, he encounters God at the Burning Bush and returns to Egypt to lead the people to freedom. Moses, with his brother Aaron, confronts the most powerful Middle Eastern ruler in those days, to demand that he free the Hebrew slaves. Moses' declaration of God's intention,

"Let my people go" has resounded throughout the ages as a universal cry for freedom. Pharaoh is not easily convinced of the wisdom of his course of action but God sends ten plagues to persuade him.

The final plague against the first born of Egypt passes over the slaves and gives Pharaoh the justification for releasing them.

With no time to wait for leavened bread to rise, the Israelites eat a meal of roasted lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, the first Passover observance.

Moses then leads the people of Israel through the desert to receive their Holy Scriptures from God at Mt. Sinai, and ultimately to the land that today bears their name.

Passover as a symbol of freedom, deliverance and defiance of restrictive regimes has always captured the American imagination. The Passover story inspired Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams when they proposed "Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God" as the motto for the seal of the United States. Almost a century later, the refrain of the spiritual calling for freedom from slavery began with "Go down Moses," and ended with "Let my people go." Today Passover stands as an ongoing commemoration of the spirit of liberty and an inspiration to oppressed peoples seeking to break the chains of bondage.

Jews will commemorate the event with a festive dinner called the Seder, remembering the struggle and the liberation. The dinner is marked by reading from the Haggadah, retelling the story and by eating symbolic foods. Matzoh and bitter herbs are central, as they have been for over 3,000 years.

While this is a time of family gatherings, local Tampa Bay area synagogues will host community Seders. Jewish military members and their families should contact the Base Chapel at 828-3621 or the MacDill Jewish Lay leader at 828-6103 for further information. (Portions of this article are reprinted from Passover, Jewish Chaplains Council, NY 1988)

 

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