Pesach begins on Monday evening – weather permitting, in the light of the full moon of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish year; on the 15th day of the month.
Pesach, meaning ‘Passover’, recalls the Exodus of our ancestors from slavery in Egypt and the killing and roasting of a lamb, the symbol of the night recounted in the Torah (Exodus 12), when the Eternal one ‘passed over’ the houses of the Israelites, which were daubed with the blood of a lamb.
After the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, it was no longer possible to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem, bringing a lamb for sacrifice. Nevertheless, the early rabbis ensured that the essential features of the commemoration of the Exodus – the removal of leaven, eating matzah and maror and telling the tale – as recounted in the Torah (in Exodus 12 and 13), were observed. They did so by setting down the rituals associated with the festival and creating the first Haggadah and what they called the Seder, the order of the ‘telling’ on the first night of Pesach.
The rabbis referred to Pesach as z’man cheiruteinu, ‘the season of our liberation’. Nevertheless, the experience of our Hebrew slave ancestors has not simply remained ours. Throughout history, the liberation of the Israelites has inspired other oppressed and persecuted peoples – not least the slaves who toiled under the lash in North and South America in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Today, too, the Exodus narrative proclaims a message of hope for all those peoples who long for freedom and justice across the globe, reminding us that when we gather together to recall the past, we are also acknowledging that the process of redemption is not yet complete. No single people can truly be free until all peoples are free. And so, prompted by the final words of the Haggadah, let us declare:‘Next year in Jerusalem!’ – May that sacred city become Y’rushalayim, ‘a city of peace’. Next year in a world redeemed!
Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah