Last night, at sunset, the Jewish holiday of Passover began. Now, I’m going to go with the assumption that most of my readers are more than just my mother and that most people don’t know what Passover is. Bare with me as I will do my best to provide you a quick education in jewish traditions while not putting you to sleep.
First, have you read your bible? Even if it was just back in sunday school so many years ago that you care not to remember what you insisted being allowed to wear, just go with that. Alright, so assuming that you have read your bible, or at least had it read to you, you have most likely heard the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. This is a good starting point.
The Jews were slaves to the Egyptians for 400ish years. They built their cities, labored under the lash, and were generally bitter and miserable as beasts of burden. Then, at one point, a falling star foretold even doom and gloom and the Pharaoh declared that the firstborn Hebrew manchild must die. This sucked. One mother decided to disobey and put her newborn son into a basket and sent him floating down the river Nile. Quite ballsy, considering things like crocodiles. The baby in the Basket was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and rescued from the basket, drawn from the water, and so she named him “Moses” which means “Drawn from the water”. Original, huh?
Ok, fast forward a few dozen or thirty years. New Pharaoh and Moses is considered a prince of Egypt, close to the throne, etc. Until he finds out by some way that he’s actually not a prince of egypt and is instead the son of slaves. So, like most emo kids of his age, he goes on a soul quest, trying to figure out just who he is, asking the age old questions of what makes a man who he is, nature or nurture? (you like how I got that in there, didn’t you? Turned it all into philosophy and junk. I really am just that good.)
To make a long story short (too late), Moses begins to identify as a Hebrew and feels that slavery is wrong and evil. An egyptian day Abe Lincoln. He gets himself all self-righteous and in a moment of identity crisis forgets that he’s a slave and not a prince and he murders an Egyptian overseer to protect another slave. This gets a bit messy and he’s found and banished from Egypt (some stories have him running away at this point, but I personally enjoy Mr. DeMille’s version).
But wait, there’s more!
Moses makes it through the desert to Midian, to the children of Ishmael, and there he finds peace and love and life with a young shepherdess names Tziporah. It is here in this wilderness beneath Mt Sinai that Moses first notices the Burning Bush upon the side of mountain. He goes up, gets an encounter of the divine kind with God, and it’s back to Egypt!
Our story picks up pace here, it really does, I promise.
To Egypt! Moses reunites with his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam, and between the three of them they begin to orchestrate their people into being ready for freedom. With one small block in the way, Pharaoh. For being Gods themselves, we are now on our 3rd Pharaoh of this story as they appear to be less than hardy in their godly ways.
Pharaoh is greedy and stubborn, he likes having slaves to do things, otherwise he might have to make other people work, and that would be just plain silly. So, he refuses to do what Moses tells him, and in turn Egypt is visited by 10 plagues. Well ok, we’ll cover the first 9.
Blood, frogs, gnats, wild beasts, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness.
There, 9 plagues. Now through all of this, Pharaoh was a stubborn jackass and refused to let anybody go. But it was the 10th plague, the one that he caused himself, that finally softened his heart. The Death of the First Born. And it is here that we come to the namesake of this holiday. Gloom and doom and a bit of thriller action for the win.
God passed along through Moses that the Angel of Death would descend to egypt over the night and would slay the first born of every household. The only way to save your first born is to mark your doorposts and lintel with the blood of a lamb. This would be the signal for the Angel to “Pass over” that house, as it was the house of a believer and a Hebrew.
Now, you know where the name comes from, but why the matzah? Well that happens next.
Finally, The Pharaoh relents and tells Moses to get the heck out of Egypt, him and the Hebrew slaves. Free at last, Free at last, Great God Almighty, Free at last. And so the Hebrews, who have been packing for going on like five weeks now, are ready to go. But their bread has not yet had a chance to rise when they pack their goods and go. The hot sun bakes the bread upon their backs, and this is why we eat unleavened bread like matzah.
Some other stuff happened in the story, but to be honest, it’s not all that important to what Passover is at the moment. If you want to know the rest, read your bible. Or better yet be like all good Jews and watch The Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston. Yul Brenner. Anne Baxter. Yvonne De Carlo. There is plenty here for everybody to enjoy.
So, lets fast forward to modern days and how Passover is celebrated. It’s in a way slightly like Lent, in that it is a period of time in which there is some self-deprivation involved. No leavened bread. No bread, pasta, crackers, cookies, etc. Some traditions go to extremes and insist that no grains that need to be soaked in water for longer than 18 minutes is permissable, but I say that’s a bit too much for me. And I intend to have some rice and some oatmeal this week.
Passover is celebrated with family, over a seder dinner. And I’m thinking that I should probably explain these in different posts. Or it just gets a bit blocky to read. So tonight, later, I will put up a post about Seder and traditions. But for now, just enjoy knowing that Egypt was defeated and the Hebrews were freed and that Charlton Heston is Moses.