Iris Ben Zvi
Passover and the circle of festivals and seasons
The circle of the seasons of the year and the circle of remembrance are integrated in the Jewish festivals. The central axis is the three foot festivals. To complete the circle Independence Day and the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) have been added.
Passover is the festival in which we remember the exodus from Egypt, exodus from slavery to freedom. The festival commemorates the start of turning tribes into a nation, while consolidating it by means of a joint journey to a joint destination – the Promised Land. The matza reminds us of the tough conditions of the exodus and the journey.
As regards starting the circle of the year in nature – this is the festival of spring – the change of seasons, the start of the harvesting the wheat.
The journey in the desert was prolonged. We meet the giving of the Torah on the festival of Pentecost (Shavuot), the date on which we remember the giving of the Torah – a celebration of receipt of a code of values according to which the new nation shall live.
On this festival we meet the end of spring and the start of the summer, with a combination of references to the agricultural season of harvesting and first fruits. On the festival of Tabernacles (Succot) we see the end of the journey. This is the festival of the people in its land, who gather the crops, and are grateful for the fruits of the land. A nation who continues to remember, who has made a custom of raising memories by means of leaving their permanent homes and sitting in a temporary tabernacle (Succah) to remember the long journey back then, when the people arrived to their land. The circle of seasons is the end of the summer and the start of the autumn. The contents of the festival integrate the harvest festival, during which we celebrate the end of harvesting the crops in time for winter, and ask for rain.
Independence Day is not part of the exodus from Egypt story however it was born as a result of the story. It tells of the renewal of independence that had been lost and about the price that was paid in order to return to being a people in our land. Independence Day tells about a new journey of a people who remember the story of the exodus from slavery to freedom in those days, at such an essential level that it caused them to choose to return to this land in this time, and to request specifically there renewal of our freedom. As Herzl writes: “Is there no saviour? Indeed there is, Gentlemen, there is one that already existed in the past, now is the time to return to a very ancient issue, very well known, very well tested ....the exodus from Egypt.”
The determination of the dates for Rosh Hashana in the Hebrew month of Tishrei in autumn were perhaps when the people returned to the Land of Israel and became a agricultural people, that correlated the circle of their lives with the rhythms of the agricultural year, according to which the agricultural season starts in Israel when the agriculture is reliant on the winter rains (“The first of Tishri is New Year's day, for ordinary years, and for sabbatical years and jubilees; and also for the planting of trees and for herbs” Mishnah, Rosh Hashana Tractate, Chapter A).
Furthermore, moving Rosh Hashana from Passover to Tishrei and correlating the New Year with the agricultural year of the workers on the land, relates to the fact that Passover (the spring season) is the season of birthing – the New Year of the shepherds and the nomads.
Passover – when the exodus from Egypt became a memory and ceased being the date of the start of the year (at the beginning of Nissan which is considered to be the first month of the year in the Jewish calendar). And although this is an important memory, and its story constitutes a recurring motif during the three foot festivals – they are the main ancient festivals which also accompany us in the country that has gained its independence anew.
The importance of the memory of the journey that is entailed in leaving slavery for freedom is great, and with it comes the importance of the understanding that freedom is not given on a silver platter, either then or now.
Additional material for thought is the nature of freedom, and which freedom we wish to achieve in our lives. It is easy to point to a release from threats and external pressures as an objective. It is more difficult to differentiate where we are fettered internally – where do we not have freedom of thought in certain areas and freedom of expression perhaps in other areas, due to fetters such as prejudice, thought patterns or behavioural patterns. Are we aware of these fetters? Do we identify with them? Do we want to be released? Leaving slavery is a process; even the choice of walking towards the unknown freedom is a journey that is not simple. The understanding of the process, and that it is journey, and that we must act to achieve freedom – can be drawn from the story of the festival.