Passover is, as it were, the “firstborn” of the biblical festivals. God set it in place when He proclaimed at the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt: “You shall therefore keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year” (Exodus 13:10). As a first, Passover also sets a precedent for the purpose of the mo’edim, the set times of the Festival Cycle. Arnold Eisen describes this basic purpose well in saying that they are a remembrance that we are between redemptions. “We are commanded to recall the past, in order to remember the present – to see it clearly, to know it fully, in all its possibilities – in the light of our future full redemption.” These appointments with God offer unique opportunities that enable us to look back on God’s mighty deeds, to live in His light in the present, and to look forward in faith.
Together with remembrance, rebirth and hope are also key elements of Passover. It is always celebrated in the spring when fresh new life is bursting forth after the gray confines of the winter. Passover offers the possibility and hope of renewal, of growth and positive change.
Time of our Freedom - Zman Cheruteinu
The festival of Passover is in fact a composite of four significant appointed times, namely: the Time of our Freedom (Z’man Cheruteinu), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot), the Feast of First Fruits (Chag HaBikkurim), and the start of the Counting of the Omer (Shemirat HaOmer).
Z’man Cheruteinu focuses on God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. Passover Eve, when the special Seder meal is enjoyed, commemorates the momentous events of the Exodus. The Hebrew name for Egypt is Mitzraim, which is derived from the Hebrew words tzar, narrow and confined, tza’ar, pain, and meitzar, meaning constriction of vision, all of which are aspects of slavery. This season of freedom reminds us that, no matter the constraints or challenges we face, our God who delivers from evil always offers the hope of redemption.
The transition of the redeemed Israelites, from slaves bound in Egypt to a people following God in the wilderness en route to their Promised Land, required movement; a movement away from and a movement towards. To gain freedom we need to be ready to move with God in the direction He leads and in the way He opens up before us, which will always be closer to Himself. At this season let us press forward with renewed dedication to move further away from the limitations of our own ‘Egypt’ and closer towards the Beloved of our souls.
This movement from bondage towards freedom, from exile to redemption, is recounted at the Seder meal in the form of a Haggadah, a special retelling of the Exodus story. We re-enact the meal the Israelites ate in anticipation of their liberation, as directed by God, with matzah, green and bitter herbs, and a reminder of the lamb that was sacrificed. We remember that on the eve of deliverance, a Passover lamb was slaughtered by each family and its blood applied to the doorposts of the home. At this sign of the blood, the plague of death would pass by their door but would enter the houses of those spiritually bound to Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt, and the first born sons would die.
We also remember that by the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, Yeshua ben Yosef, God offered His without-blemish, first-born son as a sacrifice for His Household. All who apply this Lamb’s blood to the doorposts of their hearts are spared spiritual death as children of the Father and, as Yeshua said, enter his “new creation” life.
Truly, I say to you, he who hears [the Hebrew word indicates ‘hears and actively obeys’] my word and believes on Him who sent me has everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).
The Seder night is also known by its biblical reference, Leil Shimurim, a ‘night of vigil, or watching’ for God. And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching (leil shimurim) by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations (Exodus 12:41-42).
World history was critically impacted on Leil Shimurim. It was a night of great anticipation. The Israelites had seen the power of their God unleashed upon the great nation of Egypt with its gods that represented the forces of nature. He had demonstrated that all nature was in the hands of the one God and Creator of all. Now His people would be delivered and brought to Himself. The birth of His nation would prove that He also was the Master of mankind’s history.
Centuries later, Yeshua and twelve close disciples would celebrate their last Seder meal together on another history-shaking “night of watching”. After the meal, they would keep vigil in an olive grove on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. For Yeshua, as the Lamb about to be sacrificed, it would be a time of agonizing anticipation as the weight of mankind’s history pressed upon him. Would the light of Truth he carried go forth to illumine the darkness of the nations and bring to further fullness the freedom and redemption offered by his Father? Would hearts be prepared to hear? Where were his disciples? Were they keeping vigil with him? No, they were asleep!
And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "So, could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40).
Yeshua, as the Servant Messiah, would drink the cup of suffering alone. He would be betrayed by his brothers, be captured, mocked and whipped, and suffer death by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans; then he would be raised to new life by his Father and open the gate of freedom for all. During the forty-nine days of the Omer that followed, the disciples would truly awaken and experience a dramatic transformation on the Jubilee day of Shavuot-Pentecost. As a result, the good news would spread like holy fire to all corners of the earth. All who received it could then sing in praise and thankfulness,
“We have been set free from slavery in Egypt. Behold our God, who is majestic in holiness, doing wonders! Our Father is God and we will exalt Him! The Lord will reign forever and ever!” (Exodus 15:1-18).