“And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. “It will come to pass when you come to the land which the LORD will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. “And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ “that you shall say, ‘It [is] the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’ ” So the people bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Exodus 12:24-27)
“These [are] the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth [day] of the first month at twilight [is] the LORD’s Passover.” (Leviticus 23:4-5)
These scriptures demonstrate the Feast of Pesach (Passover) was to be an ordinance to be observed not just by the Israelites as the exited Egypt and not by them as they settled into the Promised Land. It was to be a holy convocation observed by all future generations. Before we examine exactly what is involved in the Feast of Pesach, it is vital to point out this is described by God as a feast of Yahweh. Also notice it was to be observed at a very specific time and date. These are things we will return to later in this study but that I wanted to note at the outset if anything to note this is not just a Jewish feast. It is a feast of the Lord to be observed forever.
So what is the background of the Feast of Pesach? Arguably, this is the most well-known feast outside of perhaps Pentecost. Additionally, many people have likely attended a Passover Seder (service) at some point, either at their own church, a Jewish synagogue or a Messianic Jewish congregation. Thus, much of the background and elements of this feast may be somewhat familiar. Nevertheless, we are going to walk through the background of this feast and how it is celebrated followed by, in the next post, a discussion of how Jesus, as the Passover Lamb, fulfilled this feast.
As noted in Exodus 12, Passover was established by God prior to the Israelites deliverance from Egypt. Thus, it was to remind them of God’s power, His commitment to His people, His salvation of them from bondage, and His future provision of the Promised Land. As we will discover, each element of the Passover observance points to these aforementioned events in some form as well as pointing to the Passover Lamb and ultimate fulfillment of this feast.
On the 10th day of the month of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar, the head of the household was to select a one year old male lamb that was without spot blemish. It was to be kept until the 14th day of the month wherein the lamb was to be slaughtered at twilight. Why twilight? Remember the biblical day began at sundown, approximately 6 pm and concluded at 6 pm the following evening. Additionally, each day was divided into two twelve hour periods, namely 6 pm to 6 am and 6 am to 6 pm. Furthermore, each twelve hour period is further divided into two smaller periods of times, 6 am until noon is the morning portion of the biblical day and noon to 6 pm is the evening portion. Why does any of this matter? When Exodus 12:6 states the lamb was to be slaughtered at twilight or “between the evening” that meant between noon and 6 pm, or exactly at 3 pm. The importance of this timing will be discussed when we examine how Jesus fulfilled this feast.
For the first Passover feast, recorded in Exodus 12, God instructed the Israelites to take the blood from the slain lamb and place it on the two side posts and the upper part of the door to their homes. They were then to eat the cooked lamb, specifically all of the flesh, along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, ensuring none of the meat was left over until the morning. Any part of the lamb that remained was to be burned with fire. Furthermore, the Israelites were commanded to observe this first Passover meal with “a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It [is] the LORD’s Passover.” Why the haste? Exodus 12:12 notes the reason: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I [am] the LORD. “ Why the need to place blood on the door? Exodus 12:13 explains this: “Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you [are]. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy [you] when I strike the land of Egypt.” Once again, God reminds Israel in Exodus 12:14 “So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.”
Exodus 12 established the Passover meal as a continual reminder for future generations of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. It was to be a lasting convocation to ensure Israel never forgot about that glorious event when God yet again remained faithful to His covenant with Abraham. One might rightly ask how Pesach is observed today and for that matter, is it still observed today as commanded by God. This holy convocation continues to be observed to this day. While perhaps many who observe Pesach do not actually go out, select a lamb, slaughter it and wipe blood on their doorposts, the ceremony itself continues to be a time of reflection on God’s deliverance of His people from bondage in Egypt. So let’s walk through how a Pesach Seder is typically observed today.
The Pesach candles are lit by the eldest woman in the home no later than 18 minutes before sundown on Nisan 14 or erev Pesach. Once the candles are lit, a blessing is sung by the eldest woman:
Barukh attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha’olam,
asher kideshanu bemitzvotav ve-tsivanu lehadlik
ner shel (Shabbat v’shel) yom tov.
Blessed art thou, Lord our God, Master of the universe, who sanctifies us with your commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light (of Shabbat and of) the holiday.
The Seder begins with a blessing known as the Kiddush, a traditional prayer typically spoken over the Shabbat (Sabbath) meal. The Kiddush spoken at the outset of Pesach is done “proclaiming the holiness of the holiday.” It constitutes the first of four cups of wine that are drank during the Pesach Seder, each carrying its own level of importance according to Hebrew tradition signifying “the Children of Israel had four great merits even while in exile: (1) They did not change their Hebrew names; (2) they continued to speak their own language, Hebrew; (3) they remained highly moral; (4) they remained loyal to one another.”
Next, water is poured over each individual’s hands to symbolize ritual purification. This is known as the urchatz meaning “wash.” Typically this is conducted by pouring water over the right hand three times followed by the left hand three times. While a blessing is usually spoken during the ceremonial washing of hands, at this point in the Seder, no blessing is typically given. The urchatz is then followed by the karpas or the dipping of a vegetable, typically parsley, lettuce, cucumber, radish, onion, or even boiled potato into salt water or vinegar. After the leader of the Seder calls out karpas, the following is recited:
Barukh attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha’olam, borei p’rei ha’adamah
Blessed art thou, Lord our God, Master of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the earth.
Each table at a Seder has a plate with three matzot or unleavened bread. The Seder leader will take the middle piece of the matzot, whereupon he will call out yachatz meaning divide, breaking the middle piece into two halves. He then takes the larger half which is known as the afikoman (dessert) wrapping it in a linen cloth. The smaller part is returned to the plate with the other matzot. The children at the Seder are asked to close their eyes while the Seder leader hides the afikoman somewhere in the room.
The next portion of the Seder service is called the Maggid or the telling of the Pesach story. Contained in this part are four questions rooted in the command by God in Exodus 12:25-27 which states “”It will come to pass when you come to the land which the LORD will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. “And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ “that you shall say, ‘It [is] the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’ ” The four questions that are recited, usually by a child is started with the following overarching question:
Mah nishtanah ha-lailah hazeh mikol ha-leilot?; Why is this night different from all nights?
After that question is posed, the following four questions are asked with the follow on answer recited:
1) Question: She-b’khol ha-heilot anu okhlin chameytz u-matzah. Ha-lailah hazeh kulo matzah? Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat bread or matzah, but on this night we eat only matzah?
Answer: Matzah reminds us that when the Jews left Egypt, they had no time to bake their bread, but took raw dough and baked it in the desert sun into crackers.
2) Question: She-b’khol ha-leilot anu okhlin she’ar y’rakot. Ha-leilah hazeh maror? Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only bitter herbs?
Answer: Maror reminds us of the bitter and cruel way the Pharoah treated the Jewish people as slaves in Egypt.
3) Question: She-b’khol ha-leilot ein anu matbilin afilu pa’em echat. Ha-lailah hazeh she’tei fe’amim? Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip our herbs even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
Answer: We dip bitter herbs into charoset to remind us of the bitterness of our slavery. The chopped apples and nuts look like clay to make bricks for Pharoah’s buildings. We dip parsley in salt water to remember the tears of our captivity.
4) Question: She-b’khol ha-leilot anu okhlin bein yosh’vin u’vein misubin. Ha-lailah hazeh kulanu mesubin? Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?
Answer: We lean on our pillows to reminds us that we are now free and no longer live as slaves.
These four questions are then followed by the recitation of the Avadim Hayinu, a combination of both Deut. 6:21 and 4:34. The Avadim Hayinu states:
Avadim hayinu le-pharoah b’mitzraim. Vai-yotzeinu Adonai Eloheinu misham b’yad chazakah u’vizeroah netuyah. We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt. But the Lord our God brought us out from there by a mighty and outstretched arm.
Following the recitation of the Avadim Hayinu, the Seder leader then recounts the Exodus story of deliverance from Egypt followed by the partaking of the second cup of wine to signify deliverance and the Rochtzah, the washing of the hands before the partaking of the matzah, this time speaking the customary blessing of the washing of the hands. During the rochtzah, the following blessing is spoken:
Barukh attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha’olam, asher kiddsehanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al neilat yadayim. Blessed art thou, Lord our God, Master of the universe, who has sanctified us with thy commandments, and commanded us about washing the hands.
The eating of the matzot takes place next with motzi (blessing for bread) spoken over the matzah by the Seder leader: Baruch atah Adonai, Elohaynu, melech ha-olam ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz. Praised are You Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
The participants then partake of the matzah. The partaking of the matzah is then followed by the eating of the maror (the bitter herbs). Typically this is done by taking parsley and dipping it into horseradish with many also dipping the parsley into the charoset (apple/nut mixture) as a reminder of the harshness of the servitude in Egypt.
It is said in Jewish tradition that Rabbi Hillel invented what is known as the Korech or Hillel sandwich, a combination of the matzoh, maror, and charoset. In the past, the Passover lamb took the place of the charoset; however, it is common today for the charoset to be used in place of lamb. Hillel created this “sandwich” as a reminder of Exodus 12:8: “Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread [and] with bitter [herbs] they shall eat it.”
The eating of the matzah, maror, and charoset is immediately followed by a great feast called the shulchan orech. According to tradition, the Pesach meal begins with the eating of a hardboiled egg dipped in salt water symbolizing the crossing of the Red Sea. Typical fare at a Pesach meal includes “matzah ball soup, brisket and even matzah lasagna. Dessert often includes ice cream, cheesecake, or flourless cakes, often made with chocolate.”
During the shulchan orech, the children who are present for the Pesach Seder begin looking for the afikoman that was hidden earlier in the service. Once it has been located, the tzafun, the eating of the afikoman takes place with the Seder leader breaking the afikoman up and sharing it with everyone.
After the eating of the afikoman, the third cup of wine is poured, the barech or cup of redemption. This cup is drank in thankfulness for the meal in keeping with the Jewish tradition of giving thanks for a meal after the meal has been eaten. Often, this third cup is called the cup of Elijah with a door being opened in hopeful expectation that the prophet may walk into the home or congregation.
The blessing over the cup of redemption is as follows:
Barukh attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha’olam, borei peri hagafen
Blessed art thou, Lord our God, Master of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine
The barech is then followed by the closing of the door for Elijah and the drinking of the fourth and final cup, the hallel or the cup of restoration. After the hallel cup is drank, a portion of the hallel prayer is recited:
Yisrael b’takh ba-Adonai, ‘ezram u’maginam hu!
Beit Aharon bitkhu va-Adonai, ‘ezram u’maginam hu!
Yirei Adonai bitkhu va-Adonai, ‘ezram u’maginam hu!
O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield!
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield!
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield!
Hodu la’Adonai ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!
Odekha ki anitani vatehi-li lishuah
‘Even ma’asu habonim haitah l’rosh pinah
Mei’et Adonai haitah zot hi niflat b’eineiu
Zeh’haiyom ‘asah Adonai nafilah v’nismechah vo.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
That stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
The Passover Seder is concluded with the Nirtzah, a shout of Leshanah haba’ah bi-yerushalayim! Next year in Jerusalem!
Often the remainder of the evening is spent singing traditional Seder songs and enjoying the company of those in attendance.
As you can see, the Pesach Seder is a lengthy celebration full of tradition rooted in the exodus of Israel from the land of Egypt. It is a time of great rejoicing, remembrance, reflection, and expectation.
In the next post in this series, we will discover how each element of Pesach, both that which was prescribed in Exodus 12 and Leviticus 23, as well as each element of the traditional Pesach Seder points directly to the Passover Lamb, the true spotless Lamb, Jesus Christ.
If you desire to watch an entire Passover Seder, we encourage you to watch the following video: