Shalom everyone! The biblical holidays of Pesach (Passover) and Chag HaMatzot (Feast of Unleavened Bread), both collectively known as Pesach in modern times, are observed each year beginning on the 14th day of Aviv (14 of Aviv), and lasts seven days ending on 21st day of Aviv (21 of Aviv). These holidays are celebrated to commemorate the deliverance of our ancestors, B’nei Yisrael, from the bondage of slavery in Mizraim (Egypt), and also to celebrate the birth of the independent Israelite nation. The season is the first of the three pilgrimage festivals, B’nei Yisrael were commanded to come to Jerusalem to celebrate once they were in the Land of Israel. The pilgrimage festivals are Shavuot and Sukkot.
Pesach, 14 of Aviv, is a preparation day upon which B’nei Yisrael are commanded to remove all leavened products from our habitations, and sacrifice the Pesach offering in the late afternoon. This Pesach offering would be consumed in our habitations a few hours later at sundown, the evening of the 15 of Aviv, the first day of Chag HaMatzot. The first (15 of Aviv) and seventh (21 of Aviv) days of Chag HaMatzot are considered yom tov, that is, we are forbidden to do normal work on these days; instead we are commanded to have a sacred assembly on these days.
Pesach and Chag HaMatzot represent the culmination of the ten plagues YAH the Creator of the Universe rained down upon Egypt to force the Pharaoh to free the B’nei Yisrael and allow them to leave the country to serve and worship Him. Pharaoh, who considered himself a deity, was unwilling to allow any of his enslaved labor force to leave the land of Egypt to serve another deity, a direct affront to his own divinity and authority. YAH therefore sent Moses (Moshe), an Israelite from the tribe of Levi though raised as an Egyptian prince, to intercede with Pharaoh on behalf of the B’nei Yisrael to secure their freedom. Pharaoh refused and the following plagues were rained down upon Egypt as divine retribution. According to the Book of Exodus, the B’nei Yisrael, who dwelt in Goshen, a district of Egypt, were protected by YAH from these plagues:
- The Egyptian water supply was turned into blood (Exodus 7:17-21).
- The plague of frogs overran Egypt, invading virtually every space of Egyptian personal and professional life (Exodus 7:26-8:10).
- The plague of lice infested the Egyptians (Exodus 8:12-15).
- Swarms of flies tormented the Egyptians, the land was full of them (Exodus 8:16-27).
- Egyptian livestock died en masse from disease (Exodus 9:1-7).
- Egyptians and their remaining livestock were infected with the skin disease of painful, festering boils (Exodus 9:8-12).
- Thunderstorm of hail and fire was rained on Egypt which destroyed crops, livestock and killed some Egyptians (Exodus 9:13-33).
- The plague of locusts invaded the land and devastated Egyptian crops even more (Exodus 10:1-19).
- The land of Egypt was covered in heavy darkness for three days, the Egyptians could not leave their homes or even work (Exodus 10:21-23).
- The death of the firstborn of Egypt, including the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn son and heir (Exodus 11:1 – Exodus 12:32).
According to the Book of Exodus, the tenth and final plague took place on the night of the 15 of Aviv, however, YAH commanded the B’nei Yisrael to prepare for this occasion days in advance. On the 10 of Aviv, the B’nei Yisrael were commanded to take a yearling without blemish from the sheep (lamb) or goats (kid), one for each household. They were instructed to keep this lamb until the dusk of the 14 of Aviv when the lamb/kid was to be killed. The B’nei Yisrael were then commanded to dip hyssop into the lamb’s blood and smear the blood on the two sideposts and lintel of the doors of their houses. This act protected the B’nei Yisrael from the Malach HaMavet (Angel of Death) who passed over the land of Egypt, and smote all the firstborn of the Egyptians. They were commanded to roast the lamb with fire and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. All of the lamb was to be eaten, none of it was to be left in the morning. The B’nei Yisrael were also commanded to eat this special meal fully dressed, with shoes on their feet and staff in hand, as they were to eat this meal in haste and be ready to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice.
Devastated by the tenth and final plague, Pharaoh finally allows the B’nei Yisrael to leave Egypt. The B’nei Yisrael departed Egypt on the morning of 15 of Aviv, taking with them their flocks, the bones of Joseph and headed into the wilderness. They traveled on foot to and encamped by the Red Sea. The Book of Exodus tells us that some days after their departure, Pharaoh decided to pursue them in the wilderness to recapture them and bring them back to Egypt. He marshaled and lead his army on horses and chariots to pursue them but was thwarted by YAH who split the Red Sea and allowed the B’nei Yisrael to pass through it on dry ground. The B’nei Yisrael passed through the Red Sea on 21 of Aviv, the seventh and final day of Chag HaMatzot. The Egyptian host which followed them into the Red Sea were drowned in the sea on the same day.
The B’nei Yisrael were commanded to celebrate Pesach as an eternal ordinance, meaning, we must do this every year for as long as the heavens and the earth exist. We were commanded to teach our children to remember and observe this festival. Pesach not only is a remembrance of liberation from bondage in Egypt, but also a reminder of the future and final redemption of the House of Yisrael. The future redemption will be much greater than the redemption from Egypt 3,300 years ago. Pesach and Chag HaMatzot is therefore not only festivals to remember the past, but also a reminder of the wonderful future that lies ahead for all who trust in YAH and observe His commandments.
The following are rituals and observances associated with season of Pesach and Chag HaMatzot according to the account given in the Torah:
- 10 of Aviv:
- All households in B’nei Yisrael are to designate a lamb or kid in its first year for Pesach , and maintain the animal until it was killed in the late afternoon of the 14 of Aviv.
- 14 of Aviv: Pesach, Preparation day for Chag HaMatzot
- B’nei Yisrael are to remove and destroy all traces of leaven from all their habitations. From this day forward until the end of Chag HaMatzot, possession and consumption of leaven is forbidden.
- In the afternoon toward sunset, the yearling lamb or kid was killed in the presence of the community of Yisrael. The lamb/kid was to be roasted whole with fire, fully-cooked with no water. This and other preparations would have to be completed before sundown when the 15 of Aviv and first day of Chag Matzot would begin.
- Uncircumcised males are expressly forbidden from eating the Pesach sacrifice (Exodus 12:48-49).
- 15 of Aviv: Day 1 of Chag HaMatzot
- In the evening of each household was to eat the roasted lamb/kid with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. This was a festive meal which the household would eat fully dressed. The household was to consume the entire roasted lamb/kid, none of it was to be left for the morning.
- The household is to recount the events leading up to and on the night of the 15 of Aviv when YAH sent the Malach HaMavet among the Egyptians and smote their firstborn, and delivered B’nei Yisrael from bondage in Egypt.
- B’nei Yisrael are commanded to have a sacred assembly
- This day is a yom tov, a day of rest or “shabbat.” Work is forbidden. This is to commemorate the liberation of B’nei Yisrael and the beginning of their exodus out of Egypt.
- 15 – 21 of Aviv: Daily Communal Offerings in the Tabernacle/Temple
- Burnt offering: Two bulls, one ram and seven yearling male lambs
- Sin offering: One yearling male goat kid
- Peace offering: Male or female sheep, goat or cattle
- 16 of Aviv: Day 2 of Chag HaMatzot
- The day after the rest day/”shabbat” of the day 1 of Chag HaMatzot.
- Offering of the first-fruits of the spring barley harvest
- Day 1 of Sefirat HaOmer (Counting of the Omer)
- 16-20 of Aviv: Days 2 through 6 of Chag HaMatzot
- Chol HaMoed (Intermediate/working days)
- 21 of Aviv:
- This day is a yom tov, a day of rest or “shabbat.” Work is forbidden
- B’nei Yisrael are commanded to have a sacred assembly.