Archive for the ‘Israelite’ Tag

Let my people go! – Pesach (Passover)/ The Feast of Unleavened Bread   7 comments

Let my people go, that they may serve me.

Exodus 9 v 1

The Israelites Eat the Passover (illustration ...

The Israelites Eat the Passover (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Pesach’, usually called ‘The Passover’ in English, is the greatest of the Judaic festivals and the oldest in the Jewish calendar. Like the Christian Easter, it varies in date from year to year, occurring in the Spring and lasting for seven or eight days, not all of which are taken as holidays.

The festival probably dates back to the time when the Jews were wandering shepherds in the deserts of the Middle East, pitching their tents wherever they found grazing for their flocks. At the time of ‘lambing’, they observed a festival at which either a sheep or a goat was sacrificed as a thanksgiving. The sacrifice was made at nightfall and the animal was roasted whole and eaten the same night. No bones could be broken and no meat left uneaten at dawn.

As protection against evil the tent posts were daubed with the blood of the sheep. This was a family affair, unconnected with priests and places of worship.

Other groups of more settled Jews who farmed crops had their own festival in springtime, before the barley harvest. This was the ‘Feast of Unleavened Bread‘, i.e. bread without yeast or any other leavening to make it rise. At the beginning of the feast all sour doughs, used like yeast to leaven the bread, had to be destroyed to safeguard the produce of the forthcoming year. Then the first sheaf of the newly cut barley was presented as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the priest. Since these people were not nomadic, they had their own permanent places of worship, set high up on a nearby hill.

Handmade shmura matzo used at the Passover Sed...
Handmade shmura matzo used at the Passover Seder especially for the mitzvot of eating matzo and afikoman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even so, there were years of poor harvests when the Jews found themselves dependent, like Joseph’s family, on the Egyptians for corn. Thanks to Joseph, who had been sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, but had risen to a position of authority, the Jews were able to move to Egypt to share the plentiful harvests, so that they also increased in population.

This did not please the Pharaohs, who gradually enslaved them, so that they longed to be free to return to ‘the land promised to them by God’. Under the leadership of Moses, they achieved their freedom through a terrible punishment of their captors, when the first-born of each Egyptian family died in a single night.

This punishment ‘passed over’ the houses of the Hebrew slaves who then, led by Moses, set out on their ‘exodus’ to find their ‘land flowing with milk and honey’. Ever since that time, Jews have remembered the night when they ate hurriedly, ready for the journey, and painted their houses with the blood of lambs, so that the plague did not touch their homes.

English: Jews Celebrating Passover. Lubok, XIX...
English: Jews Celebrating Passover. Lubok, XIXth century. Русский: Празднование Песаха. Лубок XIX века. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The two festivals of ‘Pesach’ and ‘Unleavened Bread’ thus became combined in the ceremonies of ‘The Passover’ as a celebration symbolising the historic struggle of the Jewish people for national freedom. In the early days of Jewish history, and in the time of Jesus of Nazareth, it was a festival of Pilgrimage when all who could make their way to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Following the destruction of the Temple by the Romans and the further dispersal of the Jews throughout the known world around the Mediterranean, the festival again divided into two parts, one in the local synagogue, and the other in each home.

 

Passover Seder 013
Passover Seder 013 (Photo credit: roger_mommaerts)

In the home, every room is made spotlessly clean before the eve of Passover, all leavened bread destroyed, and the ‘matzoh’ of unleavened bread prepared. Greetings are exchanged, the home filled with light, and the table set for the entire family to sit around. This meal is called the ‘Seder‘ and the various parts of it remind everyone present of the deliverance from cruelty and enslavement in Egypt.

To begin the meal the youngest son asks four traditional questions which his father answers in full, symbolising the passing of the Jewish heritage from one generation to the next.

English: Festive Seder table with wine, matza ...
English: Festive Seder table with wine, matza and Seder plate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The meal has four special items. Four cups of wine are taken, possibly connected to one of the dreams which Joseph interpreted. There are cakes of bread, roasted egg, a dish of salt water (representing the tears of the Hebrew slaves), bitter herbs and a sweet paste of almonds, apple and wine, said to represent the clay with which the Israelites were forced to make bricks for the Pharaohs. In all, there are fourteen parts to the Seder, giving rise to inspired works of art in the making of the Seder dishes, Passover banners and matzoh covers. The last part of the Seder consists of prayers and songs, with a cup of wine poured symbolically for Elijah, the door being left open for him to enter and drink.

Christians are interested in this meal, because it was at the Seder that Jesus took the cup and the unleavened bread and instituted what became, for them, the central sacramental act of their religion, ‘The Last Supper’, now called in Christian worship ‘Communion’, ‘The Eucharist‘ or ‘The Mass’.

The festival remains essentially a family gathering for remembrance and rejoicing in freedom. In Jewish tradition the festival is known as ‘The Season of Release’, the central theme of which can be interpreted on three levels. Historically, it celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. On the seasonal level, it marks the release of the earth from the grip of winter, and on a personal level, for those taking part, it symbolises their hope of individual release from the bondage of sin, or wrongdoing.

Blowing Your Own Trumpet: The True Meaning of ‘Jubilee’   Leave a comment

I’m not good at ‘blowing my own trumpet’, so they tell me. I’m too shy. The British aren’t generally good at it. We have a reputation for ‘reserve’, which we perhaps deserve! Though I can think of some Kings and Prime Ministers who haven’t done too badly at it blowing their own trumpets, our current Queen doesn’t like being the centre of attention, so a four-day event to mark her sixty years as monarch is not, as she sees it, for herself, but for her people.

 

In its origins, the word ‘Jubilee‘ has nothing to do with monarchy. The word was ‘coined’ when Moses received ‘the Law’, long before God reluctantly agreed to let the Hebrews anoint an earthly king to rule over them. Every fiftieth year in Israel was to be a year when the trumpet was, quite literally, blown, to proclaim Liberty to all Israelites who were slaves and the restoration of ancestral property. The land was to remain fallow (Leviticus 25). There is doubt as to whether these laws were ever seriously kept, but the spirit of them was honoured, especially in the way David treated the family of Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel), as well as in the story of Naomi and Ruth. Kinship ties were very closely related to property-holding for rich and poor alike, and there were strict rules about the buying and selling of land:

 

“The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.” (Lev 25:23).

 

“If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money interest or sell him food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, that brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.

 

“If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you: he is to work for you until the year of the Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own kin and to the property of his forefathers. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.”  (Lev 25: 35-42)

 

The true meaning of Jubilee is that we each have a ‘stake’ in our land, not as permanent owners, because the earth is the Lord’s and we are merely tenants. Even the Queen. Even though we may sell our labour, we are not slaves, and can never be made so by our fellow countrymen. We are all subjects of the Queen, and she is subject to God, as we are. She is the ‘chief’ stake-holder in the land, whose role is to maintain the Liberty of her subjects. Just by being there, she does that. We know that she would not give her assent to any Law which threatened this Liberty, though it has always been enough for her to exercise this power without having to invoke her authority. So, even if some of her subjects would still like to replace her as Head of State and Governor of the Church, we can all still celebrate the past sixty years of Liberty, especially when we look back to the threats posed to it in the troubled sixteen years of her father’s reign. Britons will never surrender to slavery! Amen.

 

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Posted June 3, 2012 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

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