Saturday 20th April 2019
15th Nissan 5779
A Deeper Meaning of Pesach
by Herschel Raysman
On the original Passover, God told His people to slaughter a lamb and apply its blood to the doorposts and lintels of their homes, with the promise that Malach HaMavet – the Angel of Death – would pass over the homes when He saw the applied blood. Then, they were instructed to eat the lamb roasted with fire, together with bitter herbs and unleavened bread - matzoh.
That night, on the 14th Nissan, God rescued them from Egypt and told them to keep the festival of Passover as a remembrance of their salvation from bondage and slavery. The Passover, however, was more than just a remembrance. As one of God’s appointed times, the Passover foreshadowed the work of Messiah
In 1 Corinthians chapter 10, Paul (Sh’aul) taught that the Israelites were immersed in water and the Spirit, but that it did not profit them because of unbelief. Paul continued with an admonition: ‘all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come’ (1 Cor 10:11). In other words, as followers of Yeshua, we must learn from Israel’s triumphs but more importantly, we must learn from their mistakes so that we are not condemned to repeat them.
Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. (Exodus 12:17)
Now, obviously, this command was primarily addressed to the Jewish people, but there is also a universal application to all who believe in the Lord. In Leviticus 23:1, we read:
These are my appointed feasts (Hebrew – mo’adim – My appointed times), the
appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies
(Hebrew: mikra’ei kodesh – My holy convocations).
Furthermore, the LORD chose the Passover to celebrate a final meal with His disciples prior to His death. During the course of this last supper, He issued the instruction: “as often as your do this -the Passover meal – do this in remembrance of Me’ (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24-25). At Beit Ariel, when we share communion together, we call this service Zichron HaMashiach – the Remembrance of Messiah!
All the symbols involved in the Passover story - the burning bush, Moses’ staff which became the rod of God, the lamb roasted over fire and the blood applied to the doorposts etc, all these symbols have a deep spiritual context.
It is evident from the story that the Father delivered the Israelites from the Egyptian oppression, not because they were special or because they deserved it. All that the text says is that God remembered the promises that He made to the Patriarchs and so, at the appointed time, He acted in redemptive history. However, Israel was not mere spectators – they obeyed God’s instructions. They did exactly what they were commanded to do; they roasted the lamb and applied the blood. Their faith and obedience brought about a great act of deliverance and redemption.
The FFOZ commentary points out that this annual observance foreshadowed Messiah’s death. In a metaphoric sense, He is our Passover Lamb. His blood marks our lives and spare us from eternal judgment and separation from God. He died on the 14th day of Passover, the day of the annual lamb sacrifice. According to John’s chronology of the Passion week, the Romans crucified Yeshua on Passover. At the time when Israel slaughtered their Passover lambs in remembrance of their great salvation from Egypt, Yeshua was crucified and His blood was applied in the heavenly court as a mark of salvation on all who would believe in Him.
The text of Leviticus fixes the appointed time for the Passover lambs to be roasted by fire as “twilight” on the 14th day of the first month of the biblical calendar, the month of Nissan. The Hebrew words for “twilight” approximates to mid-afternoon. Therefore, in the 2nd Temple period, the Jewish people slaughtered their Passover lambs in the Temple at mid-afternoon, during the ninth hour. This has significance for us as believers. According to the gospel of Mark, Yeshua died during the ninth hour of the day. In other words, Yeshua breathed His last at the very same hour that the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple.
That’s an example of how the appointed times work. They are God’s appointed times that are the shadows that point forward to Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice which is in itself a great mystery because we read in the book of Revelations chapter, 13:8, “that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world.”
And so, this annual festival of remembrance can be viewed as looking back to what took place over 2000 years ago, and simultaneously, the celebration of the seder is a dress rehearsal for His return when He will usher in His millennial reign. And with this in mind, Paul could say “Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
And so, as we re-enact this reminder of God’s incredible power, we can appreciate even more fully the truth that in the Messiah, we have been translated from darkness to light, from being enslaved to sin, to becoming a slave to righteousness.
But, there is another profound component to this journey.
In the Haggadah – the prayer book used on Pesach - we read that in every generation, we must see ourselves as if we had been among that first generation that was freed from Egypt. While historical memory plays a role in virtually every Jewish holiday, Pesach, more than any other of the Jewish festivals, is more than merely a holiday of remembrance. The Hagaddah demands that “in each generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself [lirot et atzmo] as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt.”
It is not enough simply to retell the story of the exodus from Egypt. Rather, one must also project oneself into the story in order to annually experience afresh the transition from slavery to freedom. It is in this sense that I suggest that Passover is potentially a season of renewal and restoration. It affords us the opportunity to reflect on that original and powerful act of deliverance, redemption and salvation that is a free gift from above. And so, the writer of the book of Hebrews cautions us not “to neglect so great a salvation” (Heb 2:3).
Now, if the goal of the observance of Pesach is just to retell the story of our deliverance from Egypt, then it is strange that large sections from the book of Exodus are not used in the Haggadah. Surely, this is counter-intuitive! If we only want to retell the Exodus, then surely Torah is our source document. But the ancient Rabbis of the Mishnah who fashioned the seder ritual, did not choose a biblical text from the book of Exodus; instead, as their centrepiece for the evening they selected a passage from the book of Deuteronomy! The Rabbis of antiquity chose Deuteronomy 26:5–8 as the textual cornerstone for the Haggadah.
‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and lived there as an outsider, few in number. But there he became a great nation—mighty and numerous. The Egyptians treated us badly, afflicted us, and imposed hard labor on us. Then we cried out to Adonai, God of our fathers, and Adonai listened to our voice and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. Then Adonai brought us out from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders.
The context of these few verses has to do with bringing the first portion offering to HaShem from your harvest of crops, fruits and your vineyards. Then, once you hand them over to the priest in the Temple, you recite before him:
‘I declare today to Adonai your God, that I have entered into the land Adonai swore to our fathers to give us.' The kohen is to take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of Adonai your God. "Then you are to respond before Adonai your God’.. and then comes verses 5- 8 : ‘My father was a wandering Aramean…’.
These verses in Deuteronomy are considered to be the focus of the entire seder ritual and the traditional Haggadah provides a long section of midrash, rabbinic interpretation, in which the verses of Deuteronomy 26:5-8 are examined in light of the spiritual and political history of the Jewish people.
By reciting this text, the farmer recounts the ways his ancestors recognized and appreciated God’s presence in their lives. But now, toiling in the Land promised to them, the Israelite farmer recognizes God’s bounty in a deeply personal way.
He holds the first fruits of his own labour in his hands as he offers it to the priest and acknowledges that this bounty is primarily of God’s doing. This basket of first fruits is symbolic of God’s provision, His faithfulness and His promises.
And so, the shift in paradigm is from looking back and recounting a history lesson, to one of personalizing the events and changing the retelling from ‘it happened to them’ to ‘it’s happening to me today!” As we recite these verses from Torah, the question that needs to be asked is this: “what first fruits are you and I presenting to the Lord today”?
The offering of the first portion from the harvest is a reminder to us that daily, we must be willing to set aside the 1st portion of our fruitfulness as an offering that belongs to the Father alone! It is an olah – a burnt offering!
This retelling is not a history lesson; nor is it a myth. It is a promise of God’s mighty hand to deliver, to redeem and to set free in our day … to all who call upon His Name! The good news is that the promise of Passover is still relevant for today—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. Yeshua gave Himself up as a Lamb to the slaughter so we could have freedom from sin and death.
“The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:6–7)
May the words of the ancient Hebrew Prophet Isaiah, reach the hearts and minds of the Jewish people at Passover today:
“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5–6)
The apostle Paul emphasized the connection between Yeshua and the Feast of Passover (Pesach) and encourages us all, whether native-born Israelites or those who have been grafted in through the New Covenant in Yeshua’s blood, to celebrate the feast! “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the Feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:7–8)
So, let’s begin our journey as we learn from the past and anticipate the promise of renewal, restoration and revival!