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Jewish communities worldwide celebrate Passover – a Festival of Freedom

Each glass of wine left for Elijah indicates Jewish hope for Messiah to come

Israelis at a Passover seder on the first night of the 8-day long Jewish holiday of Passover, in Mishmar David, April 15, 2022. (Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Jewish families in Israel and across the globe will sit around their dining tables this Wednesday evening, at sundown for the traditional Passover Seder, a ritual meal to mark the beginning of the eight-day Jewish celebration, which ends at sundown on April 13.

Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, is one of the most sacred and widely observed holidays for Jewish people. It commemorates the story of the Israelites’ escape from ancient Egypt, which appears in the Hebrew Bible’s books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, in addition to other texts. Jews observe the weeklong festival with a number of important rituals aside from the traditional seder meal.

Seder, in Hebrew, means “order.” During the ceremonial meal, Jewish households recount the story of Passover in a specific order using the Haggadah booklet as a guide for the retelling, for the song and for the elements of the meal. The Haggadah, itself, tells the story of the Israelites fleeing their lives of slavery in Egypt, with Moses as their guide and God leading them with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.

The retelling of the Passover story to Jewish children each year is a fulfillment of a mitzvah – a good deed which is also considered one’s religious duty.

During Passover, observant Jews refrain from eating or holding leavened foods, known as chametz (grains like wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt). According to tradition, this is because the Israelites fled Egypt so quickly that there was no time for the bread to rise. It is also the reason Passover is referred to as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The biblical story of Passover can be found in the Book of Exodus, when the angel of the Lord passed over the homes of the Israelites in Egypt, allowing them to flee Egypt and escape the life of slavery they were forced into. For this reason, the holiday has become a symbol of God’s deliverance and mercy. And God gave the command to celebrate the miracle each year:

“Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:15).

The word Passover is taken from Exodus 12:13: “Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” 

The smeared blood on the doorposts of the Israelites' homes protected them – and all those who believed in Israel’s God – from the tenth and most deadly plague, when the angel of death struck the homes of Pharaoh's followers, causing the death of every living firstborn family member.

Because Jesus was Jewish, we know He celebrated the Passover holiday each year. One such recorded celebration took place with His followers – the day before His crucifixion. Many do not realize that the Last Supper was believed to be a Passover Seder feast.

According to the Gospel of Mark 14:12, Jesus prepared for the Last Supper on the “first day of unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb.” As followers of Jesus (Yeshua) we understand that He is the Passover Lamb who was sacrificed and whose blood protects from the curse of sin and death (John 1:29).

We also know that Jesus was recorded as going up to Jerusalem during the holiday. In ancient times, Passover was one of the three Jewish pilgrimage festivals, which required all the male Israelites to go up to Jerusalem, no matter how long the journey, to visit the Temple, as was commanded by the Torah. (Exodus 23:17).

Passover is also referred to as a Spring Festival. The date of Passover changes each year because the date is set by the lunar-based Hebrew calendar (as opposed to the Gregorian calendar). It always occurs during the Hebrew month of Nisan and there is a long holiday “spring” break for schools, allowing families to spend time together, travel and enjoy seasonal activities.

During the Passover seder there are several common traditions, one of which is to drink no less than four cups of wine, each to represent the four expressions of deliverance that were promised by God in Exodus 6:6-7: I will bring out; I will deliver; I will redeem; I will take

It is also tradition to leave an additional fifth untouched full glass of wine at the seder table, known as the “Cup of Elijah” to honor the biblical prophet Elijah, whose “visit” is anticipated by seder attendees each year.

According to Jewish tradition, Elijah will arrive one day to drink his cup of wine and proclaim the coming of the Messianic age. In this ritual, we see the amazing hope found in Judaism for the coming of Messiah, who will bring a time of perfect peace and prosperity, as this is how many will understand it (Zechariah 12:10).

But for those of us who already know Jesus as our Passover Lamb, we rejoice that the Messiah has already come, has invited us into relationship with Him, has redeemed us and given us life everlasting with Him.

Indeed, we also anxiously wait for His return this second time with hope that truly all Israel will be saved.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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