Passover (Pesach) Themes and Theology

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Passover also contains a strong connection to the theme of creation. It is one of the four new years of the Jewish calendar. Nisan, the time the festival occurs, was traditionally seen as the first month of the Jewish year. Pesach celebrates spring, rebirth, and renewal, symbolized by the green "karpas" and the egg on the seder plate. It is also a time of "beginning," as exemplified by the first grain harvest and the birth or creation of Israel as a nation. As a newborn nation, the Jews began their journey to receive Torah on Mt. Sinai.

seder plateMeticulous preparation is the theme of the weeks and days leading up to Pesach. Every speck of hametz (yeast or leaven) must be removed from the house in the days before sitting down to the seder table. On Passover, we also rid ourselves of spiritual "hametz"--any type of arrogance, indulgence, or self-assertion. As slaves, Jews had no choice but to be self-denying. After liberation, they had to freely choose to humble themselves and subject themselves to God's sovereignty. Traditional Judaism interprets hametz as a metaphor for the "yetzer hara"--the evil inclination. The absence of leaven is epitomized by matzah, the flat bread Jews eat during Passover. Matzah is also a link between exile and redemption. It is the bread of affliction, eaten by slaves who did not have decent food. It is also a symbol of freedom, because when the Jews left Egypt, they rushed away with unleavened bread.

Another notable theme of the Pesach seder is the repetition of patterns of four. This is based on the verse in Exodus that states, "I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God…" (Exodus 6:6-7). Among many other patterns of four at the seder, we drink four cups of wine, ask four questions, and speak about four types of children.

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