Passover from the Bible to the Temples

The focus is on the paschal offering.

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A bevy of explanations has been offered for these various biblical rites attached to the paschal lamb and its sacrifice. Some scholars regarded the injunction to have the lamb roasted as a distinction from ancient pagan spring festival rites, when meat was eaten either uncooked or half-broiled. Non-Israelites and uncircumcised ones were precluded from participating in the feast of the paschal lamb because the occasion was one of reaffirming God's covenant with the Israelites. The symbolism of the eating of the paschal lamb with the matzah and bitter herbs was a reminder to the Israelites of an enslaved past.

Interestingly, the smearing of blood on the doorposts did not become a part of the Passover pageantry. Since all paschal lambs were slaughtered in Jerusalem once the Temple was built, the Israelites would have been too far from their homes to smear blood on their doorposts.

Hag HaMatzot: The Feast of Unleavened Bread

The feast of unleavened bread was an agricultural festival that celebrated the beginning of the grain harvest when an offering of the first fruits was made and unleavened bread eaten. This feast coincided with the feast of the paschal lamb. The principal feature of the feast of unleavened bread is stated in the Bible: "Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread." The unleavened bread commemorated the speed with which the Jews had to leave Egypt and thus became symbolic of Israelite redemption.

According to Rabbi Abraham Bloch, the main distinction between the Hag HaPesach and Hag HaMatzot lies in the historical area that each seeks to reflect. The Hag HaPesach reenacts the events of the 14th of Nisan (the pre-exodus period), and the Hag HaMatzot marks the actual departure from Egypt of the Israelites, which was concluded with the crossing of the Red Sea (exodus period). Both are component parts of the same festival, the festival of Passover.

Other Celebrations of Passover in the Bible

The observance of the first Passover in Palestine is mentioned in the Book of Joshua(5:10-11). Here it is said that the Israelites, led by Joshua, successor to Moses, kept the feast at Gilgal. This reference to Passover stresses the classical message of the festival--the humble origin of the Jewish people, the covenant with Abraham, God's intervention in Egypt, the fulfillment of God's promises, and the reaffirmation of faith.

For about three centuries after the death of Joshua, anarchical conditions loomed as a result of lack of leadership and constant harassment by hostile neighbors. During this time, Passover played little or no role in the national life of the people.

The appearance of Samuel in the 11th century BCE at the end of the period of the Judges brought about a religious revival. Passover again assumed its prime function as a religious festival.

About 400 years after Samuel, during the religious revival in the reign of King Josiah (637-607 BCE), reference was made to a Passover celebration with this statement:

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Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs is the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He has served as the publications committee chairperson of the Rabbinical Assembly.