The history of Passover
Passover commemorates the liberation of the Jews from slavery under Egyptian leaders.
Religious texts tell that God helped the children of Israel escape slavery in Egypt with the assistance of Moses and 10 plagues. Israelites were employed as slaves to build new monuments to Egypt's far-reaching power. Moses was the adopted brother of the Pharoah at the time. Moses had fled the palace years earlier due to disillusionment over his Egyptian upbringing and his ties to the Israelite slaves.
One evening Moses was contacted by God via a burning bush that would not be consumed by fire. God called out to Moses and commissioned him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt after hearing their pleas and witnessing their suffering.
Moses asked God to choose another for the mission, but the Lord was adamant. Moses set out to speak to Pharoah, but was unsuccessful in his efforts. It was then that God helped Moses’ effort by inflicting the 10 Plagues, also referred to as the Biblical Plagues in the Christian Bible. The plagues were designed to contrast the overwhelming power of the Israelite God from the importance of the Egyptian gods.
One of the plagues occurred when God turned the Nile River’s water into blood. He also brought on hordes of frogs, lice and flies. God brought pestilence to Egyptian livestock and then boils to Egyptian people. Plagues of hail, locusts and darkness followed. When these efforts did not produce the freedom sought by the Israelites, God said he would go through Egypt and all of the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, including Pharoah’s own son, would perish. Moses was informed to tell the Israelites to mark their own doors with lamb’s blood so that the Lord would pass over these homes and spare the Israelites’ children from harm.
This final plague devastated the Egyptian people and proved so horrific as to warrant the freedom of the Israelite slaves. Pharoah freed them, and Moses led them all on a mass exodus from Egypt.
Passover, or Pesach, is first mentioned in the Torah’s account of the Exodus from Egypt. Pesach is believed to mean “he hovered over, guarding,” which is the image evoked by the retelling of the Passover story.
Today there are many Passover traditions that date back to early history. Jewish people may dine on lamb or goat meat in memory of the lambs sacrificed. All forms of leavened bread or leavening agents (chametz) are avoided as the fleeing Israelite slaves had no leavened bread to take with them on their journey. Homes are cleared of all leavening agents. Firstborn sons are commanded to observe the Fast of the Firstborn. Passover seder feasts are enjoyed, and men and women drink four cups of wine during the meal. Homes are made Kosher for the purpose of the holiday, and a separate set of Passover dishes, glassware and silverware that have never touched chametz are used.
Games, songs and traditional readings are all part of the Passover celebration, which lasts for seven or eight days depending on the area of the world in which it is being observed. Historically, together with Shavuot and Sukkot, Passover completes the trio of the pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish people.