Benyamin Yogev (Buja)
Study of the Festival According to Benyamin Yogev
Pesach (Passover) is the sacrifice which the Children of Israel sacrificed on the night of the plague of the death of the firstborn, in order that G-d pass over their homes when he cast the plague on Egypt. In the years following this, the Passover sacrifice was made within the family, to remember the exodus from Egypt, and was eaten on the eve of the festival. After the destruction of the Temple the custom of the Passover sacrifice was ceased and Seder Night replaced it.
The Seder Plate
The traditional plate is used on Seder Night and on it six dishes are placed to symbolize various concepts relating to the exodus from Egypt and the Seder Night. The bitter herbs and the horseradish symbolize the difficulties of slavery. The haroset symbolizes the cement blocks which are forefathers built with as slaves in Egypt. The celery is dipped in salt water to symbolize the food of the slaves and the saltiness of the tears that they cried. The lamb shank symbolizes the Passover sacrifice, which was customarily eaten on the eve of Passover. The egg symbolizes the sacrifice of the celebration, and the mourning over the destruction of the temple.
On the eve of Passover it is customary to convene to read the Passover Haggadah, and to recount the story of the exodus from Egypt, and also to fulfil the commandments of the festival: drinking four glasses of wine, eating matza, bitter herbs and haroset, and more.
Hametz and matza
On the festival of Passover Jews are commanded to eat matzas and to abstain from eating hametz (and even from having any in their home) for seven days to remember the speediness which the Children of Israel left Egypt, before the dough had fermented. By this the memory of the exodus from Egypt continues from Seder Night itself for one entire week.
Harvesting the sheaves
The festival of Passover is also the festival of starting to harvest the sheaves of barley, the festival of raising the crops – the first sheaves that were brought as a sacrifice for afternoon prayers. On the renewal of the agricultural settlement in Israel, this custom was also renewed – the festival of the sheaves, which is noted in several kibbutzim before the Passover seder.
The form of the festival of Passover has undergone many changes, however its core and significance remain: the festival of the exodus from slavery to freedom. The first Passover was “the Egyptian Passover” noted in the Book of Exodus 12, in which the Children of Israel are commanded to slaughter a lamb quickly and spread its blood on the lintel of the door so that the plague of the killing of the firstborn would pass over them. The second Passover is the “Passover of the generations”, which also commands them in the same verse, which Israel celebrated every year following the exodus from Egypt. In the Passover of the generations all the family convenes and eats the Passover sacrifice. For one week they eat matzas and it is forbidden for any hametz to be found in their homes. On this Passover everyone is commanded: “the citizen, the resident and the stranger, on condition that they have been circumcised. The third Passover is “Joshua’s Passover”, recalled in the Book of Joshua, Chapter 5.This Passover the Children of Israel carried out in a circle after Joshua circumcised all those who had left Egypt, who could not carry out the circumcision as commanded when they were in the desert. On the eve of this Passover the Children of Israel ate for the first time matzas and roasted seeds from the crops of Israel, and the manna was ceased. Thus the festival of the sheaves, the first harvest festival was added to the Passover festival. When the Temple was built, it was customary to make a pilgrimage on Passover and conduct the festival in Jerusalem.
The story of the festival
The Mishnah in the Pessachim Tractate describes the tradition of Passover, and places in its centre the commanded “And you shall tell” – the duty of the father to teach his son about Passover. In the centre of the study, the sages said, Chapter 26:5-11: 5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labour. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. These verses command every man from Israel to state before the priest when he brings the first fruits. At this time every man brings he fruits of his labour, every man is Israel is returned to repeat the story of the exodus from Egypt, which starts with “My father was a wandering Aramean”. This is called the “Magid” and is the core of the traditional Passover Haggadah which is read to this day on Seder Night, although in the years of exile the final verses were omitted, which describe the arrival to the promised land.
The nature of Seder Night is influenced by the customs of the Greek symposium, in which eating and drinking with combined with philosophical discussions, however while the symposium was a debauch meal served by slaves, Seder Night is an educational event whereby the message is transferred from generation to generation that every man should see himself as if he had left Egypt, and therefore he is obligated to freedom and not to be a slave, and not an overseer of slaves.
Berl Katzenelson wrote: Passover. A people have safeguarded for thousands of years the day that they left slavery! Through all the absolution of the slavery and the enforcement and the Inquisition and the destruction and the progroms, the nation carries in its heart the longing for freedom and expresses them in a way that does not pass over any person in Israel, on any poor and rebellious soul! From fathers to sons, through all the generations, the story of the exodus from Egypt is told as a personal memory, which does not wane and does not fade. “In each and every generation man should see himself as if he left Egypt”. There is no greater historical recognition than this, and you have no merging of an individual and society – throughout the world and into the depths of the generations – that is greater than this pedagogic order. I do not know any literary work that is more educational as to the abhorrence of slavery and love of freedom as the story of slavery and exodus from Egypt. And I do not know of any ancient memory which is in entirety directed at the future, which is a symbol of the our present and our future as “the memory of the exodus from Egypt”.
The festival in Zionism
The foreseer of the State, Benyamin Zeev Herzl, saw in Zionism from the outside “a second exodus from Egypt”. In his diary he wrote (13.6.1895): Is there no saviour? Indeed there is Gentlemen. There is one that has already taken place once in the past. Now is the time to return to an ancient issue, very well known, very verified....the exodus from Egypt”.
And in “Altneuland” he wrote, at the time of Seder Night,: “we read today in our Haggadahs about the sages who sat at the table in Bnei Brak and told the story of the exodus from Egypte all thought the night. We are the descendants of Rabbi Eliezer, Raggi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elzazar Ben Azaria, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfun. And this is our night in Bnei Brak. The old wishes to wear a new form. First we will will finish the Seder according to our forefathers. And thereafter the New Era shall appear. Again there was Egypt and this time the exodus was good”.
At the start of Zionism the pioneers arrived in Israel, and wonder about the festival of Passover. They were, it seems, the first groups who tried to conduct a Passover Seder in the community in which there were no parents and no children. And how would they make a Haggadah? How will they transfer the educational message from father to son? When the kibbutzim were established and a generation of children appear din the Land of Israel, the kibbutzim created for themselves new Passover Haggadahs, which reflect the aspiration for freedom by means of values that they believed in. These Haggadahs placed in the centre of the story of the exodus from Egypt the human act and not the divine act. After the story of the exodus from Egypt, they told the story of immigration to Israel and establishment of the kibbutz, as a story of leaving slavery and freedom in their generation. The commandment “And tell your sons” is expressed in 4 current questions that the children asked in regard to the issue of the life of the people and the kibbutz, and the adults answered them. And indeed the Haggada included sections on current affairs from the life of the nation: the Holocaust, Aliyah B, the realization of Zionism and the establishment of the State – with the full meaning of “in each and every generation”. Until the creation of memorial days and Independence Day, on the establishing of the State, the kibbutz Passover Haggadah also included contents of memory and the aspiration for independence. The kibbutz Passover Haggadahs expressed the spirit of the Seder: commemorating the past which finds expression in the present.
Similar to other festivals, at Passover too the question arises whether we are succeeding in fulfilling the ceremonies of the festival customary the live content of its essence. The festival of Passover reminds us of our obligation to freedom and the objection to slavery, to abuse and racism. Genuine questions from the field of employment relations in Israel and other social questions, that challenge the obligation of Israeli society to freedom. These challengers are expressive amongst others by marking the festival of Passover in communities obligated through their lifestyles to repair society in Israel in our times. Amongst the adult movements of the youth movements and other communities, the custom shall spread. After carrying out the Seder Night each of us in his family and the tradition customary there, shall convene to marked the second festival of Passover together, and to hold a Seder with contents that express the challenges of the present in the light of the obligation to the essence of the festival: objection to slavery and aspiration to freedom