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The Perplexing Paradox of the Passover Seder

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Let My People Sing


LIsten, Hear and Enjoy beautiful child-friendly Seder Service

A fiesty questioning spirit is encouraged throughout the Passover Seder paradoxically through the very thematic and organized text of the Haggadah which sets the order of the evening.

Provocative discussion is deliberately coaxed through a myriad hidden clues and challenging secret codes concealed within the deceptively orderly methodical Seder service.

Elijah the Prophet & the Seder

“Behold, I send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And he [Elijah] will turn [back to G-d] the hearts of the parents through their children and the hearts of the children through their parents.” (Malachi 3:23-24). Please scroll to bottom of project to read full article.

Seder The Last Supper?

Q. Was Jesus' Last Supper a Seder?

Many people assume that Jesus’ Last Supper was a Seder, a ritual meal held in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover. And indeed, according to the Gospel of Mark 14:12, Jesus prepared for the Last Supper on the “first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb.” If Jesus and his disciples gathered together to eat soon after the Passover lamb was sacrificed, what else could they possibly have eaten if not the Passover meal? And if they ate the Passover sacrifice, they must have held a Seder.

Three out of four of the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) agree that the Last Supper was held only after the Jewish holiday had begun. Moreover, one of the best known and painstakingly detailed studies of the Last Supper—Joachim Jeremias’s book The Eucharistic Words of Jesus—lists no fewer than 14 distinct parallels between the Last Supper tradition and the Passover Seder.

The Rabbis of the Passover Haggadah

Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus

One of the five rabbis in the story of the all-night Haggadah discussion in Bnei Barak, Rabbi Eliezer was a disciple of Johanan ben Zakkai. He was the greatest of Johanan’s students (at one time Johanan said if all the Torah scholars of his time were placed on one side of a scale and Eliezer on the other, Eliezer would outweigh them all). Eliezer helped plan Johanan’s escape from Jerusalem during the siege that led to the destruction of the city (the story is that they brought him out in a coffin and convinced Vespasian to let them open a rabbinic college at Yavneh).

Eliezer traveled to Rome with two other rabbis to petition the emperor. On the way they met with Roman philosophers, one of whom asked, “If God abhors idolatry, why does he not destroy them?” Eliezer responded, “If only such things as could be dispensed with were worshipped by idolaters, perhaps the idols would be destroyed. But the pagans worship, among other things, the sun, the moon, the stars, and other natural phenomena. Shall the whole universe be destroyed because of a few misguided creatures?”

Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah

Also one of the five rabbis at the Bnei Barak all-night Seder, Joshua was in many ways the opposite of Eliezer and yet also his closest friend. Rabbi Joshua was poor, where Eliezer was wealthy. Joshua was a pacifist who thought the war with Rome a bad idea, while Eliezer supported it. Eliezer was, as Finkelstein says it, “somewhat dour” while Joshua was “good humored and cheerful.” Joshua earned his living making needles.

Yet in learning, Joshua and Eliezer were brothers. Joshua’s genius was evident not only in Torah but in science and especially astronomy. He spoke of a comet that appeared every seventy years, which we now know as Halley’s comet. Although he was ugly in appearance, his pleasant voice and teaching were once compared to “wine in a disfigured pitcher.”

Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah

Of the five rabbis at Bnei Barak, Eleazar is the one who speaks in the story. He is the youngest of the group and his reference to his age is taken to mean that he had aged prematurely. He looked as old as his colleagues, but was by far their junior. He is of the descendants of Ezra the scribe and is emerging as the leader of the next generation of rabbis in Palestine. Rabbi Joshua said of him, “Despite all out difficulties, our generation is not fatherless so long as we have Eleazar ben Azariah as one of our leaders.”

Rabbi Akiva

One of the greatest names in the history of Judaism, Akiba was also present at the Bnei Barak Seder. Akiva was a shepherd until he was forty and then became a student of Torah. One of his teachers, Rabbi Tarfon, quickly recognized that Akiva had ceased being the student and had become the master of his age instead. Akiba is pivotal in the development of the Mishnah and a giant among the Tannaim.

Akiva is famous for dying with remarkable kedushat Hashem (sanctification of the name). As the Romans peeled away his flesh slowly and terribly, Akiva said he rejoiced to see if he loved God not only with his mind and all his might, but also with his life. He recited Shema until the torture killed him.

Rabbi Akiva: "All the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holiest of Holy."

Why do we read the Song of Songs on Passover? Q & A.---More on Shir HaShirim

Rabbi Tarfon

The last mentioned of the five rabbis at Bnei Barak, Tarfon was the teacher of Akiva. He was a wealthier man than Akiva, and once he decided to help his pupil, investing in him to give him a future source of income. Tarfon gave Akiva a sum of money. He came to his pupil later and found that Akiva had given it away to students poorer than he. Tarfon asked him to show his return on the investment and Akiba read to him from a Psalm, “He has given to the needy and his lovingkindness endures forever.”

Rabbi Tarfon loved his pupil and said of Akiba, “He who departs from Rabbi Akiva departs from life itself.”

Rabbi ben Zoma

This disciple of Akiva, though not present at the Bnei Barak Seder is mentioned in the story because of something he taught Rabbi Eleazar. Ben Zoma was very poor but enjoyed the simple pleasures of life immensely. Eating his poor crust of bread he remarked that primitive man had to do so much work plowing, planting, reaping, threshing, kneading, and baking bread while he, Ben Zoma, was as a rich man, able to buy his bread without hard labor. He taught that everyone should live every moment as a guest of God’s good providence. “A good guest always thinks of the preparations made to receive him, and is accordingly grateful.”

In the story of the Bnei Barak Seder, Rabbi Eleazar spoke of Ben Zoma’s teaching. This poor student of Torah was regarded as a master of seeing the deeper meaning of texts. In the case of this famous Seder, one of Ben Zoma’s teachings involved proving from a verse in Exodus that the Passover story would still be told annually in the World to Come.

Rabbi Judah, son of Ilai

This lesser-known rabbi is mentioned briefly in conjunction with the ten plagues. He was so soft of heart, he could not bear to say all the ten plagues and so created a mnemonic (d’tzach, adash, b’achab) which summarized them.

He was also a poor scholar and it is said for a while he and his wife had only one outer garment between them and took turns going out in it. He was said to radiate such joy he looked like an angel. A Roman lady once asked him why he was so cheerful. Was he a breeder of hogs or a money-lender? He replied, “No, I am a student of Torah.”

Rabbi Jose of Galilee

A man of temper and a zealot for the revolt against Rome, Rabbi Jose was not satisfied with the ten plagues and sought to prove they were worse and more numerous that appeared on the surface in the Torah. His teaching is an example of the sort of playful games, not to be taken too seriously, the rabbis played with the text to show what kinds of things could be “proven” with the rules of exegesis.

Hillel

Arguably the most famous rabbi of all time, Hillel lived a generation before Yeshua. He was famous for his piety and poverty. Once someone wagered four hundred zuz that they could cause Hillel to lose his temper. They made slurs about his Babylonian ancestry and even tried to disturb him as he prepared for Shabbat. Finally Hillel said, “Better you should lose your money rather than I should lose my temper.”

In the Haggadah, Hillel is mentioned as the founder of the custom of eating Matzah with bitter herbs and charoset. In Hillel’s time a slice of lamb was also eaten together with these. Hillel’s practice reflects a literal interpretation of Numbers 9:11. This practice is retained alongside the other interpretation: that these should all be eaten separately and not together. Thus, the Haggadah does it both ways so as to retain the honor of Hillel and to fulfill both interpretations.

Rabban Gamaliel

The grandson of Hillel and the teacher of Paul (mentioned in Acts 5:34 and 22:3) is a formative figure in passing the legacy of Hillel down to his pupil Johanan ben Zakkai and so into modern Judaism. The title Rabban (our teacher) was invented for Gamaliel, so significant was his role in developing Judaism. Many of his teachings are in the Mishnah anonymously, as part of the accepted tradition of the Tannaim.

In the Haggadah, one of Gamaliel’s teachings is part of the recitation. He ruled that no Seder is complete unless it teaches about the Pesach (the Passover lamb), the Matzah (unleavened bread), and the Maror (bitter herbs). Gamaliel’s teaching and the answers now part of the Haggadah are a refreshing dose of literal interpretation in a scattering of fanciful stories and traditions.

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The Great Sanhedrin

Talmudic Era

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The Passover Haggadah

  1. A Night to Remember: the Haggadah of Contemporary Voice
  2. Social Action Haggadot
  3. Free downloadable interactive Haggadah
  4. Haggadah Supplemental Enhancements & Readings
  5. Hot New Haggadot
  6. Old Rare Haggadot download or read on-line , Tzvee's Blog
  7. Online Haggadot

New Haggadot

More New Haggadot & Books

eg. Valley Girl, Shakespearean English, Dr. Seuss, etc. From Arabic, Farsi, French, Estonian, Danish, German, Hungarian, Hindi, Italian, Klingon, Leet, Java etc. etc. to Zulu.

Traditional Haggadahs

See The Katz Illustrated Haggadah

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MEDIA

Dare Explore New Pathways . . .

The editors of this volume, both distinguished New Testament scholars who wanted Christian readers to learn more about the Judaic origins of Christianity and the context surrounding the life of Jesus, plus introduce Jewish readers to what is unquestionably one of the canonical texts in Western Civilization.

Whilst Always Remembering the Past . . .

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Four Questions

Children are not only encouraged to ask the Four Questions specifically for children in the text, but on on this night all questions are allowed, that is one of the reasons that this night is different from all other nights!

The Passover Seder truly gets underway with the Four Questions---from then on the entire evening is sometimes spent debating questions inspired by the cryptic text. In fact, it is not uncommon for participants to engage in deep spirited debate to the wee hours of the morning.

Create Your Own Questions

eg. (Note: There are no wrong answers---the aim is to inspire discussion and new insights.)

1. Who do you think is the real hero of the Passover Story, and Why?

There is no right answer, since a good case could be made for each of these individuals!

  1. Moses
  2. Aaron
  3. Miriam
  4. Zipporah
  5. Jethro
  6. Nahshon ben Amidav
  7. Bithiah, Pharoah's Daughter
  8. Yocheved, Moses' Mother

3. Why the number 4 dominates much of the Haggadah?

4. Why the name "Passover" a word usually used as a euphemism for Passing Over, from one side to another, from one world to the next?

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ANSWERS

(Answers we have received so far-----please feel free to join in and send us your questions, or respond to some of these!)

1. Who do you think is the real Hero of the Passover Story?

Re: 1

The hero of the Passover story at some level is all these independent individuals who broke with convention and took a leap of faith to follow their own inner voice.

So, amazingly enough, it might be that the story of Passover is not so much about Moses, as about the critical importance of each and every individual's contribution to the successful outcome of the Exodus mission.

One overriding theme seems to be that each of these individuals somehow went out of way to take an extra step, to think for themselves, and were curious enough to explore new possibilities.

Nahshon, was the one man in a million, or the one man in a generation. The Bible calls him Ish Iti the man! He is the only one in the 600,000 men, and approximately 2 million individuals who left Egypt with Moses, who dared wade into the Red Sea when the mass exodusing Egypt were cornered by the Pharaohs chariots in hot pursuit.

Nahshon had the courage, initiative and independent spirit that is required to live as free people---the very traits that Israelites needed to acquire in order to abandon their conformist, slave mentality.

Had Nahshon not taken that first step to independence, the masses might not have been deemed worthy of redemption.

Note: Moses' greatness as a leader in not pushing ahead, but followed God's instructions to the letter.

In addition, going back a little in time, had Yocheved not originally disregarded the Pharaoh's admonition to kill all Hebrew newborn male offspring, Moses would not have lived. Women n the Passover Story

Had Bithiah, Pharaoh's daughter not been curious enough to stop what she was doing, and reach out for the basket flowing by, and had she not in complete violation of the royal decree decide to keep baby Moses, who knows what the ultimate fate of Moses would have been?

Had Miriam not hid in the bulrushes to watch the basket carrying baby Moses down the river Nile, and then had she not had the audacity and courage to to up to Pharaoh's daughter and offer to find a wet nurse for the baby, then Moses would not have had the opportunity to be nurtured by his own mother and learn about his Israelite heritage.

Moses's courage, as well as independence, curiosity and compassion is obvious from the beginning but results in his becoming a homeless fugitive hiding in the wilderness after his intervention on behalf of a slave being beaten to death. His curiosity, courage and compassion again comes to play when he comes across Jethro's daughter's being harassed while drawing water at a well in Midian.

Later because of his immense compassion he goes searching after a missing lamb from the herd.. His curiosity gets the better of him, and he stops what he is doing as something catches his eye, a burning bush that is not consumed. This is the point of the story where Moses' true greatness becomes apparent. He is able to override all his naturally independent and curious nature to pledge complete obedience and unquestioning fidelity to God and accept the passive role he is given as a messenger of God.

Moses only appears once in the Haggadah. Why? Can you find him? Moses in the Haggadah

Aaron, who is Moses's brother thus comes into the picture because ironically, Moses God's chosen messenger has a speech impediment. Aaron also becomes the liaison between Moses the Israelites, and only because of his exceptional diplomacy, peacemaking skills are the masses kept under control so that they can unite as one people.

Zipporah, Moses's wife, like Aaron his brother, plays a vital supportive role. There is a curious incident in the Old Testament where Moses seems to have second thoughts and wants to delay or even abandon his mission to free the Israelites. If not for Zipporah's insight into the situation, and courages independent action, Moses probably would have let pass by the momentous opportunity to redeem the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Jethro, Zipporah's father who was a renowned priest in Midian, ( some say the wisest of men in the area, and that Pharaoh consulted with him ) and that Jethro, Yitro, was a spiritual seeker of a universal truth and thus he researched with all forms of religion, wisdom, alchemy/science and was the most curious of men.

Jethro plays an important role first by his initiative to take the bold step of inviting Moses to live with him, even though he either knew that Moses was on Egypt's Most Wanted list of criminals, or even if he just assumed Moses was a penniless, homeless wanderer.

He furthermore thinks for himself and gets to know Moses well enough to offer him Zipporah, his daughter's hand in marriage. Jethro becomes Moses' mentor, and he is the person Moses' turns to for advice after the incident with the burning bush, and even later on during the exodus from Egypt, it is upon Jethro's advice that the Israelite's create the first judicial court system.

Jethro is the ultimate independant renaissance man. Yet his interest is solely universal, and not for personal gain. The Bible bestows the highest honor upon him, by naming the climactic chapter of the Giving of the Ten Commandments after Jethro, ie. "Yitro".

1. Jethro was the first to utter a benediction to God for the wonders performed for the Israelites (comp. Exodus xviii. 10).

2. Such a thing had not been done either by Moses or by any of the Israelites (Sanh. l.c.; Mek. l.c. 2).

3. Jethro knew that God was greater than all the gods (comp. Ex. xviii. 11), because he had previously worshiped all the idols of the world (Mek. l.c.; Tan. l.c.); but at the same time he did not deny to idols all divine power (Yalk., Ex. 269)

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2. Why the number 4 dominates much of the Haggadah?

Read:---- Echad Mi Yodea - Who Knows One at the end of the Seder. Four are the mothers.

The Four Mothers:

If we had no mothers we would have no sedarim. Remember this, and at your Seder thank the mothers there for the hard work they have put in - for the Seder and throughout the year. That is why the number four rightly dominates the Seder.

Show your appreciation.

Chag sameach

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2a

Another 4 Women:

Now that Number four has been mentioned to be connected to the Four Mothers, what about the other Four women without whom Moses' could not have achieved his mission to free the Israelites?

Note: Click the links Bitiah and Zipporah and read their bio's. Both were ironically not Jewish by birth, but both were indispensable to the story of the Exodus!

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Re. 2a-1

Just a small observation to the comment above that Bithiah and Zipporah were not Jews by birth. If I am correct, neither were the Four Mothers that are listed.

  • 1. Sarah was related to Abraham, and Abraham's family were pagan idol worshippers.
  • 2. Rebecca, Issac's wife was the sister of 'Lavan the Aramean, who is a pivotal character mentioned in the Haggadah, ( see below ). Lavan, too was a pagan idol worshipper.
  • 3. Both Rachel and Leah were Lavan's the Aramean's daughters and thus grew up with idol worship!

Perhaps one message here is that you should judge each person only by their personal merits.

Daughters and siblings are not negatively stigmatized because of Lavan's pagan background. So, no matter if you came from a family of slaves, or whatever origins you have, you are the master of your own destiny and should be judged purely as a person in your own right.

However, it is Lavan's deceitful actions, not his paganism, that creates cataclismic consequences for the Israelites. He is thus possibly pointed out as an example of how one's action's can completely unknowingly reverberate down throughout history.

Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer explains in his Hukkat HaPesach that Laban was, in fact, the primum mobile of the entire Exile and Exodus saga.

Rachel was Jacob's divinely intended wife and could hypothetically have given birth to Joseph as Jacob's firstborn with rights of primogeniture. In this counterfactual, Jacob's favoring Joseph's succession as the leader of the fledging nation of Israel would have been seen as perfectly normal and fitting, given the customs of the time. >No older brothers would have felt cheated and jealous, and Joseph would not have been sold into slavery. Thus, there would have been no need for Jacob's family to be sent to Egypt to unite with Joseph.

In actuality, Laban married Jacob to Leah first, causing Leah's sons to precede Joseph in birth order, so that they felt justifiably outraged when their father seemed to violate societal norms by treating his youngest son as his heir, in preference to his older sons' natural and legal rights.

In this way, Laban can be seen as symbolically "having uprooted all", by his duplicity, which resulted in the severing of the Patriarch's family tree before the Children of Israel could become more than a single small family.

Lavan's name can also be seen as symbolic in this matter: it means "white", the visual representation of purity, without visible stain, symbolizing those evenwithout such apparent evil motives whose actions nevertheless result in undesirable outcomes.

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Re. 2a-2

Abraham had received a prophecy that his descendants would be strangers for 400 years in a land that was not theirs, and they would be afflicted, and those that afflicted them would be judged. They would return home to their own land with great riches.

Does this mean Egypt? Maybe it was Lavan who afflicted them?


Is this why Lavan Lavan appears in the Haggadah?


For how long was Jacob a stranger in Lavan's house?

Was it 400 years?


Were the people in Egypt for 400 years?


What is the significance of 400? Is it related to the number four in the Seder?

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2b.

Read --- Perhaps because the Story of the Exodus is about ascendance from slavery to self actualization the number four predominates to represent this world and how it works. ie.

  • God - The 4 letters of the Tetragrammaton-the name of God.
  • Mankind - Four is the number of nucleobase types in DNA & Four Blood Types
  • Nature as four-dimensionaltime and three-dimensional space. Plus, Four Mathematical rules: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division.
  • The World - The 4 Elements: Fire, Air, Water and Earth.
  • Four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter.
  • Four parts of a day: night, morning, afternoon, evening.
  • Four cardinal directions: north, south, east, west.

find more 4 possibilities . . .

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2c

The Hidden Fifth (Dimension of the Seder)

Each four in the Haggadah has a hidden fifth part, which Rabbi Jonathan Sacks... writes about in his Haggadah. See if you can find the fifth part of each four in the Haggadah. Two hints to get you started:

1. - We drink four cups - but there's a fifth cup that we do not drink

2. - There are four children at the seder (the four sons), but The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote about the fifth son who isn't there.

We welcome your responses and additional insights . . .

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Re: 2d -1

Could it be that since the number 4 perhaps represents this world, i.e. as mentioned, "Nature as four-dimensionaltime and three-dimensional space", that number five then equals trancedance into the spiritual dimension, ie. 5th dimension?

Therefore Elijah's (other-worldly) cup represents this fifth spiritual dimension?

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Re: 2d -2

Again from Echad Mi Yodea - Who Knows One--- Who knows Five?

Five are the Books of the Torah. Is the Torah what connects us between this four-dimensional world of time and space - into the fifth spiritual dimension?

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Re: 2d -3

The Torah as the trip tik guide to follow as a connecting path between the physical and spiritual dimensions is indeed a very interesting thought. Thank you for bringing that up.

It is strange too that the Israelites were not led in a direct route out of Egypt, but wandered for 40 years ( a multiple of 4 ) in the desert.

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Re: 2d -4

Note that 40 appears a lot in the Torah and other Biblical literature. Think of the

  • 40 days of the Flood, and the
  • 40 days spent by Moses each time he ascended Mount Sinai.

What other instances of 4 and 40 can you find?

Consider also the 4 corners of the tzitzit that remind us of heaven and of all the commandments of the Torah.

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Re: 2d -5

So, the Seder might be thought of as a physical re-enactment of the challenges we have to overcome to achieve redemption from slavery in Egypt by ourselves. Like the Torah, this is guide to follow that will enable us to transcend the narrow confines of (Egypt) representing the limitations and boundaries of our lives---and thus the ability to ascend to a higher spiritual dimension of existence.

Would the 40 have something to do with 4 representing this four-dimensional world of time and space and the 10 representing the 10 heavenly Sefiroth?

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3. Why the name "Passover" a word usually used as a euphemism for Passing Over, from one side to another, from one world to the next?

We call Pesach = Passover.

  • The Torah never calls the festival, Pesach.
  • The Torah calls Passover "Chag HaMatzot" = the Festival of Matzot.

Why?

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Re: 3a-1

The Torah calling Passover "Chag HaMatzot" makes sense.

The Torah is a moral and ethical guide or template to help humanity achieve spiritual transcendance, and Matzah is a symbol of humilty, as opposed to raised dough which symbolizes inflated ego and arrogance, and it seems that to achieve spiritual ascendance you need to have the humility to empty yourself of all egocentric traits.

Humility though is not at all the same as being self deprecating, meek and low . Moses is said in the Bible to have been the most humble of men.

Wikipedia: The other reason for eating matzah is symbolic: On the one hand, matza symbolizes redemption and freedom, but it is also (lechem oni), "poor man's bread."

Thus it serves as a reminder to be humble, and to not forget what life was like in servitude.

Also, leaven symbolizes corruption and pride as leaven "puffs up". Eating the "bread of affliction" is both a lesson in humility and an act that enhances one's appreciation of freedom.

b. The Name Passover/Pesach?

On the otherhand, from our earhtly point of view, the "passing over" the houses of the Israelites by the Angel of Death is the seminal point of the celebration. How can anyone forget the epic scene in the "Ten Commandments" when the sinister green mist slowly spreads throughout the land of Egypt killing all the first born of the land?

c. Why doesn't the Torah ever call the festival of Passover, Pesach?

This one is tough. The only thing that it possibly might be, is that it is a reminder of the Pascal sacrifice, and any killing of a living creature is insensitive at some level and espially a spiritual level such a primitive physical act is unseemily. Passover is a festival to encourage human growth from human baseness, with primitive needs, to a higher intellectual, and sensitive spiritual level.

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Re: 3a-2

"The only thing that it possibly might be" is dangerous language and invariably inaccurate. There are always many answers.

Perhaps it has something to do with the matza being what we do on Earth, so that is what the Divine calls the Festival, recognising our contribution.

On the other hand, the passing over is what the Divine did for us, so that is what we call the Festival, recognising and acknowledging His actions.

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Re: 3a-3

Passover or Passed Over?

There is also a very transcedental feel to the word "Passover" ie. "Pass Over". You never pass over the street, or something common place.

Passing Over is euphamistic for crossing over from this world to the next.

You also pass over boundaries, great obstacles, challenges, grades, perhaps you can pass over to another dimension.

The irony is that on Passover, we did not pass over, but we were Passed over! However, as mentioned by someone before, perhaps the whole point of the Passover Seder is for us to learn how not to be passed over, and to learn to "Pass Over by ourselves " without help, and reach a high level of freedom.

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4. Is Passover connected to Purim?

There definitely seem to be interesting similarities between the Esther, the heroine of Purim, and the Hero of Passover, Moses.

Purim:

1. Esther in Megillath Purim is orphaned--she is brought up by a cousin. 2. Esther lives most her life in a foreign palace away from her Jewish brethren.

Passover:

1. Moses, in the Exodus story that is central to Passover, is brought up by proxy caregivers as if he were orphaned.

2. Moses also lives in a foreign palace with strangers for most of his life away from his Jewish brethren. ie. He is thought to have been around 80 years old at the time of the Exodus

Yom Kippurim

The challenges and adversity that connects both Moses and Esther make them both fit well into the characteristic parameters of Geni's project. Inspirational Luminary Guides, "wild cards of genealogy".

Since Yom Kippur is a perfect time for self introspection in a foreign palace, that of the soul, away from all commitments. Stop and listen to your still small inner voice and then you might suddenly notice and see that truly very often genius and greatness emerges forged from the crucible of physical challenge, discrimination, despair and abandonment and not in pristine impeccable pedigrees and environments. Change your focus and you might find genealogical treasure where you least expect it in your own family.

Answers we have received so far from the Purim Project:

  1. 1

What if the Passover Haggadah is an operating manual geared for personal elevation and self actualization in this world, just as the Torah is a guide how to achieve spiritual and universal elevation---both are guides to help orient us through the intellectual process of finding ourselves and learning how to work well together in the world, and thus achieve elevated spiritual insight.

Furthermore, what if the purpose is to link what we learn from the searching and questioning of everything we see, use, and do on Passover, to a midway point on Yom Kippur, which is also a time of intensive soul searching and questioning and continuing on to the ultimate goal of arriving at a level of self actualization, faith, trust and maturity such as existed in the Purim story!

  1. 2

Purim has no mention of God whatsoever, yet the hidden hand of God is everywhere. The story of Purim is replete with startling coincidences that thwart court intrigues, diabolical plots and a heinous nihilistic scheme. The reverse is true in the Passover Haggadah, which goes out of its way to point out the overt hand of God in the story of the Exodus.

  1. 3

Passover, a Torah mandated holiday to be observed without fail by every generation, is ironically abrogated by a fast initiated by Esther a little known Jewish orphan, chosen in a beauty contest as the Persian King’s new wife.

  1. 4

In the story of Purim, inconceivably the entire Jewish population unites to observe this "questionable" three day fast over Passover on Esther's behalf, and no matzah, maror or any symbolic Passover foods were to be consumed thus abrogating the mitzvah of Pesah.

So why the reason for this puzzling fast . Taanit Esther, which thus strangely connects Purim to Passover by the way it abrogates it?

One of the main lessons of Purim is that there are nocoincidence in life. Though indiscernible, the hidden hand of God is obviously at work throughout Megillat (Story) of Esther' .

In contrast, the Passover Haggadah (Story) elaborates painstakingly on the overt hand of God in the miracle of Passover. In fact, the very essence of the story of Passover is of God’s clear intervention in freeing the Israelites from slavery!

So, could it be that one connection is in the timing of the Holidays? Timing is in fact the very essence of what constitutes the underpinning of most miracles.

Passover falls in Nissan—the “First” month of the Jewish Calendar. So perhaps the Haggadah is essentially a beginner’s guide to a year long soul searching and questioning process.

Yom Kippur’s emphasis on introspective soul searching is thus indeed the midway point.

Purim, which falls exactly a month before Passover, and therefore the final month in the Jewish Calendar is a graduation celebration in that we have attained the insight, trust, and faith to no longer need saving by overt miracles.'

Note: The Fast of Esther is observed these days for only one day, the day before the joyous Festival of Purim.

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Talmud Bavli Megilla 6b discusses in which month of Adar should the Megilla be read and Purim be celebrated in the case of a leap year when there are two months of Adar.

We would expect the answer to be the first month of Adar because we don't "pass over" the opportunity to celebrate and fulfil a commandment at the first opportunity.

The reason given for the second month of Adar - which is what we practice - is to keep the two redemptions - Purim and Pesach - together.

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Ironically, the weekly Torah reading around the time of Passover deals with purification process for Yom Kippur. So, this fact seems to also agree with the 1. Passover - 2. Yom Kippur - 3. Purim analogy mentioned previously.

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The Legend of Serach Bat-Asher

Serach was a child among the 70 who descended into Egypt with Jacob; the only one still alive when 600,000 left Egypt with Moses; still alive when Joshua entered the Promised Land; still alive even after she died.

There is, a Talmud-era story about Rav Yochanan teaching about the Red Sea, how the Shechina’s light glowed through the sea walls as if through a lattice. Serach appeared and the survivor corrected Rav Yochanan: No, she said, the light was clearer than through a lattice; it was as if though a window (an important, if esoteric, mystical distinction). “Taman Havina,” she said in Aramaic. “I was there!”

(The Serach-Yochanan dispute is poetically reconciled in the Song of Songs, “My beloved is like a gazelle or young stag… behind our wall, looking through the windows, gazing through the lattice.”).

“When Serach was at a Passover seder, as she was many times,” writes Buxbaum in his supplement, “if someone said something that was inaccurate, she was not shy about correcting him… ‘I was there,’ ‘Hayiti Shom.’”

All Jewish souls – past, present and future – were at the Exodus, too, say the mystics, and that is why, says Buxbaum, though Serach was there physically, “our souls were present, and we can say: ‘We were there, too!’”

Serach was there. She was everywhere. As Buxbaum tells it, when Joseph sent his brothers back to Jacob, they worried that Jacob would die of shock upon hearing that Joseph was alive. “So they asked Jacob’s favorite granddaughter, seven-year-old Serach… wise beyond her years, to gently break the news to him. Serach sat near her grandfather and played the harp as she sang: ‘Joseph is alive and rules over Egypt,’” singing the song over and over until Jacob realized its truth, the holy spirit (which had left Jacob in the years he mourned for Joseph) returning to him. In return, Jacob blessed little Serach:  “Because you brought me back to life… I bless you that you never taste the bitterness of death.”

When Moses came on the scene, the elders went to Serach, because she was the only one alive, after more than 200 years, who remembered the old code words with which the redeemer could be authoritatively identified, (the words, “Pakod Pakaditi,” “I have surely remembered you.”)

When it was time to leave Egypt, and Moses was searching for days to find Joseph’s coffin, to fulfill the pledge that Joseph made the people swear, that they would not leave Egypt without him, it was only Serach who could remember where the Egyptians sank Joseph’s iron coffin at the bottom of the Nile.

And at the Red Sea, in Buxbaum’s script, an Israelite woman “saw greater visions than the visions seen by Ezekiel the Prophet… That female slave was Serach Bat-Asher.” And Serach (or rather the one who reads her part in the supplement) replies: “The Red Sea parted and the Heavens opened and I saw visions of God. I saw the Holy One above and the Shechinah below and myriads if angels watching us as we walked through the sea on dry land. I was there!”

And everyone at the seder can say: “We were there, too!”

Serach, explains Buxbaum, means “span” or “overlap,” as she united the generations and unites them still. He explains, just as it is written that “Elijah, who visits every seder, will repair the breach between parents and children, ‘turning the hearts of parents to their children and the heart of children to their parents.’ Serach will repair the breach between men and women, turning the heart of husbands to their wives and the heart of wives to their husbands, if we listen to her voice.”

Buxbaum’s supplement ends with the call: “Serach Bat-Asher! Serach Bat-Asher! We believe that you can visit our seder and we invite you to come. We do not want to be clever and close the door to mystic vision…. May we merit seeing you and greeting you. And if you appear as a young girl [or] an ancient woman… may we recognize you! Teach us the deepest lessons of the Passover story. Teach us how to bring the final redemption.”

After all, she was there. And we were there, too. “Serach at the Seder” may be purchased in PDF or as a book at http://www.jewishspirit.com
 This supplement to the Haggadah is a poetic, romantic rendition of Serach’s story, based on extensive footnoted sources from Biblical, Midrashic and Aggadic texts. The story is arranged as a play for eight participants at the seder, or it can be studied on its own.

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Elijah the Prophet

Elijah the Prophet & the Seder Rabbi Shomo Riskin

PARSHAT TZAV-SHABBAT HAGADOL
(Leviticus 6:1-8:36)

“Behold, I send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And he [Elijah] will turn [back to G-d] the hearts of the parents through their children and the hearts of the children through their parents.” (Malachi 3:23-24).

The Shabbat before Passover is called Shabbat Hagadol (the Great Sabbath), a phrase deriving from the last verse of the prophetic portion read on that day, which declares that G-d will send Elijah the Prophet on the “great day” of the Lord right before the coming of the redemption.

Let us attempt to link Elijah to our Passover Seder in a way more profound than merely opening the door for him and offering him a sip of wine.

Our analysis begins with another Seder anomaly, the fact that we begin our night of freedom with the distribution of an hors d’oeuvre of “karpas” (Greek for vegetation or vegetable, often parsley, dipped in a condiment).

The usual explanation for this practice is that vegetation emerges in the springtime. Passover is biblically called the Spring Festival, and so we dip a vegetable in salt water, reminiscent of spring renewal emerging from the tears of Egyptian enslavement.

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, in his late 19th-century Haggadah, suggests another interpretation. The Hebrew word “karpas” appears in the opening verses of the Book of Esther, in the description of the “hangings” that were found in the gardens of King Ahasuerus’ palace, where the great feast for all his kingdom was hosted; karpas (white cotton) joined with turquoise wool. Rashi connects the term “karpas” in the sense of material with the “ketonet passim,” the striped tunic that Jacob gave to his beloved son, Joseph.

The Jerusalem Talmud additionally suggests that we dip the karpas in charoset (a mixture of wine, nuts and dates), adding that the haroset is reminiscent of the blood of the babies murdered in Egypt. In our case, the karpas would become symbolic of Joseph’s tunic, which the brothers dipped into goat’s blood and brought to their father as a sign that his son had been torn apart by wild beasts when in fact they had sold him into Egyptian slavery.

Why begin the Seder this way? The Talmud criticizes Jacob for favoring Joseph over the other brothers and giving him the striped tunic. This gift, a piece of material with little monetary value, engendered vicious jealousy resulting in the sale of Joseph and the eventual enslavement of the Israelites for 210 years.

The point of the Seder is the retelling (“haggadah”) of the seminal experience of servitude and freedom from generation to generation. Through this, all parents become teachers. They must inspire their children to continue the Jewish narrative of identification with the underdog and the outcast. They must imbue in their offspring insistence upon freedom for every individual created in G-d’s image, and faith in the ultimate triumph of a world dedicated to peace and security for all.

This places an awesome responsibility on the shoulders of every parent: to convey the ethical monotheism, rooted in our ritual celebrations and teachings, to their children and eventually to all of humanity. Hence, parents must be warned at the outset not to repeat the tragic mistake of Jacob, not to create divisions and jealousies among their children. Instead, we must unite the generations in the common goal of continuing our Jewish narrative.

What has this to do with Elijah the Prophet, who is slated to be the herald of the Messiah, the announcer of the “good tidings of salvation and comfort”? Our redemption is dependent on our repentance and the most necessary component of redemption is “loving our fellow as we love ourselves” – the great rule of the Torah taught by Rabbi Akiva.

Loving humanity must begin with loving our family – first and foremost, our nuclear family. We read in the prophetic portion of this Shabbat that Elijah will bring everyone back to G-d by uniting parents with their children and children with parents. The biblical source of sibling hatred (the Joseph story), which has plagued Jewish history up to and including the present day, will be repaired by Elijah, who will unite the hearts of the children and the parents together in their commitment to G-d.

Toward the end of the Seder, we open the door for Elijah and welcome him to drink from the cup of redemption poured especially for him. But if Elijah can visit every Seder throughout the world, surely he can get through even the most forbidding kind of door. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson, teaches that we open the door not so much to let Elijah in as to let ourselves out. The Seder speaks of four children, but what about the myriad “fifth children” who never came to a Seder? We must go out after them and bring them in – perhaps together with Elijah, whom we will need desperately to unite the entire family of Israel around the Seder table.

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Pesach Sheni