Passover and God's Chosen People
The eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Following the rituals of Passover affords us the ability to re-experience the true freedom that our ancestors gained. The biblical name for the festival is Hag HaPesach and its name refers to God passing over, or protecting, the houses of the Children of Israel (Ex. 12:23). God had prepared Moses, the central figure in the Book of Exodus, as a leader for His people, the Israelites and for the epic historical event that followed—their exodus from Egypt after 430 years of slavery..
God first saved the infant Moses from drowning, then provided him with the best education in the ancient world—Pharaoh’s court (Ex. 2:1-10). There, and later in the Midianite wilderness, God shaped Moses into an instrument for saving the Israelites from Egyptian bondage (Ex. 3:1-4:17). Their years of living in slavery were rancorous and painful, and the Jewish people cried out to God (Ex. 2:23-25). At the appointed time, God sent Moses and his brother, Aaron, to confront Pharaoh and demanded that he “let my people go.” But nine times Pharaoh refused to let the Jewish people go. He cursed them by keeping them in slavery and bondage. After each refusal, God sent plagues (blood [Ex. 7:14-25], frogs [Ex. 8:1-15], vermin [Ex. 8:16-19], beasts [Ex. 8:20-32], pestilence [Ex. 9:1-7], boils [Ex. 9:8-12], hail [Ex. 9:13-35], locusts [Ex. 10:1-20], and darkness [Ex. 10:21-29]) upon Pharaoh and his household. Still Pharaoh refused to release the Jewish people.
After decades of slavery to the Egyptian pharaohs, God saw their distress and sent Moses with a message: “Send forth My people, so that they may serve Me.” In spite of numerous warnings, Pharaoh refused to heed God’s command, even amidst 9 devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.
The 10th Plague
At the stroke of midnight of 15 Nissan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), God visited the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. While doing so, God spared the Children of Israel, “passing over” their homes—hence the name of the holiday. Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and he virtually chased his former slaves out of the land. Six hundred thousand adult males and considerably more women and children, left Egypt that day, and began the journey to Mount Sinai and their birth as God’s chosen people.
The Children of Israel are ordered to observe the anniversary of the Exodus every year by removing all leaven from their possession for seven days, eating matzah, and telling their children the story of their redemption.
Soon after allowing the Children of Israel to depart from Egypt, Pharaoh chases after them to force their return, and the Israelites find themselves trapped between Pharaoh's armies and the sea. God tells Moses to raise his staff over the water; the sea splits to allow the Israelites to pass through, and then closes over the pursuing Egyptians. Moses and the Children of Israel sing a song of praise and gratitude to God.
With its roots deeply imbedded in Jewish history and religion, Passover is observed and celebrated more than any other Jewish holiday. The reason why is not difficult to understand. Its fundamental theme is deliverance, and it represents liberation and joy. The Passover rites were divinely ordained as a constant reminder of God’s deliverance of His chosen people, whom He called “Israel my firstborn” and rescued from the Egyptian “house of bondage.”