Passover – the celebration of freedom and faith
Photo credit: KUL Heschel Center
Passover or Pesach in Hebrew is a time of celebration of freedom and faith. Jews remember the story of liberation from Egyptian slavery. God, confessed until then as the Creator of the World, revealed himself as the Liberator. Passover is the time when, abandoning our personal slavery, we are encouraged to follow the voice of God. It is a beautiful lesson of trust for both Jews and Christians as relates for the Heschel Centre KUL, the superior of the sisters at the Community of the Beatitudes in Emmaus-Nicopolis in Israel, Sr. Eliana Kuryło CB – also a biblical Hebrew tutor at the Biblical Institute in Toulouse.
Passover is the most important and oldest Jewish holiday. Celebrated for eight days from the 15th to the 22nd of the month of Nissan, this year it falls from April 5th to 13th and coincides with the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord.
The meaning of the feast
Passover or Pesach in Hebrew is a time of celebration of freedom and faith. Until the exodus from Egypt, God kept revealing himself as the Creator and the only Master of this world. From the moment of leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, He shows Himself also as the Deliverer who performs signs and wonders. He is God in whom we trust, because it is He and no one else who leads his people step by step towards freedom.
The central place of the Jewish Passover celebration is a family home, which has been rid of bread and wheat products in the preparation for the holiday. The first night of the festival lasting eight days (as commanded by God in the Torah), opens with a symbolic meal called Seder (from Hebrew: order). The supper recalls step by step what happened on the night when God freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Each observant family reads the Haggadah, a small book containing the description of the history of liberation, prayers, biblical quotes and comments to help spiritually enter into the night of waiting for God’s presence and recalling his protection. This is the night leading to freedom everyone who opens their soul to God’s saving power.
A special plate is used during the Passover dinner on which we can find six symbolic kinds of food. Bitter herbs and vinegar symbolize the hardships and tears shed during the long years of Egyptian slavery. There is also matzah hidden in a special pouch, reminding that on the night of exodus, there was no time to wait for the dough to rise in order to bake the bread. There was only the time to eat thin dough hastily cooked on the fire. It also signified the Hebrews’ belief that God would give them nourishment after setting his people free. Matza is eaten during eight days of the festival so as not to forget about God’s providence and the hardships of leaving Egypt.
On the Seder plate there is also a desert composed of cooked apples, dates and figs often mixed with cinnamon, nuts and a bit of wine. It often has the shape of a small brick evoking slave labor. Because it contains an element of sweetness, it also symbolizes the joy of liberation. There is a bone reminding of the lamb that was eaten on the last night in Egypt and the lamb that was later sacrificed in the Temple of Jerusalem. A hard-boiled egg symbolizes the sacrifices brought to the Temple before Passover, and parsley or celery evokes the difficult working conditions in Egypt. Just as the parsley or celery bends in a flexible way, so were the backs of Hebrews bent, burdened with an immense effort of slave work. Before eating each kind of food, a special blessing is recited in order not to forget that everything we have is a gift from God and to remember what was left behind.
The plagues of Egypt are remembered during the seder meal. Each of them was an increasingly stronger manifestation of God’s power and presence. Four cups of wine are also blessed, signifying the four stages of liberation. The first cup echoes the words: I will bring you out, the second: I will rescue you, the third: I will redeem you, and the fourth: I will take you to Myself [as a nation] – Ex 6, 6-7. God is and should be worshiped in prayer, song and in thanksgiving for each stage of the liberation. At the end of the supper, we hear Hallel (Ps 113-118) that is recited or sung. They are psalms of praise and thanksgiving.
It is common to read the Book of Song of Songs during the Passover festival. It is there that we hear about the voice of our Bridegroom who calls us, wants us to follow Him and seek Him, tasting His love and freedom. Everyone celebrating the Passover should feel as if here and now they were coming out of Egypt in order to abandon their personal slavery that is everything that paralyzes the soul keeping it away from God. It is a beautiful lesson of trust and healing for both Jews and Christians.
About the author
Sr Eliana Kurylo, CB – a linguist and a translator by education, she is also a tutor of biblical Hebrew at the Biblical Institute of Toulouse. Leading Bible workshops, she worked for many years as a student chaplain in New Zealand and Toulouse, France. She has been involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue for many years. She is currently the superior of the sisters at the Community of the Beatitudes in Emmaus-Nicopolis, Israel.