The Festival Of All Festivals

The Festival Of All Festivals

Passover seder table. Wikimedia Commons
Passover seder table. Wikimedia Commons

Passover is not only the first of all the Jewish festivals, but in it is contained all the biblical holidays. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Pesach is thus the time not of one deliverance, but of many. It is the rabbinic sense of time to combine the recollection of many events into a single day [so] Pesach is a moment to remember many liberations … the master narrative through which we understand who we are and the story of which we are a part.”

Many commentators note that the placement of an egg on the seder plate expresses our mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple. (The egg is a food of mourning; its rounded shape symbolizing the cycle of life.) Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Rema) adds that the egg also evokes the absence of the korban chagigah (the paschal sacrifice). The Rema points out that seder night has a unique connection to the destruction of the Temple as the first seder always falls out on the same night as Tisha b’Av, when the Temple was destroyed.


Candlelighting, Readings
Candles: 7:17 p.m. (Fri.); 7:19 p.m. (Sun.); 8:21 p.m. (Mon.)
Torah: Exodus 33:12-34:26;
Numbers 28:19-25 (Shabbat)
Haftorah: Ezekiel 27:1-14 (Shabbat)
Havdalah: 8:18 p.m. (Sat.); 8:22 p.m. (Tue)


Zev Brenner

Rabbi Yaakov Emden wondered how we can encourage mourning on Passover (Pesach), especially since there is no similar expression of grief on any of our other holidays. He answers with the Midrash Tanchuma, which records a tradition that the final Redemption (that will include the Temple’s rebuilding) will take place on Pesach. Thus, when Pesach arrives without the Redemption having taken place, there is grief at another year of exile. For this reason, mourning is appropriate, specifically on Pesach.

This idea is perhaps the reason why Jews, before Pesach, give generously to Maot Hittim, the fund providing Passover food for the needy. This type of fund doesn’t exist for other holidays. Since, according to tradition, the Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam (baseless hatred), and Passover is a time when we anticipate the final Redemption, we go out of our way to engage in acts of loving kindness through charity to hasten the Messianic age, perhaps to commence this Pesach!

It is well known what a serious sin it is to eat chametz on Pesach. What is not well known is that this sin also exacerbates our exile. Eichah [Lamentations 1:3] states that “Yehuda has gone into exile because of suffering (me’ioni).” The Midrash Eichah Rabbah connects “mei’oni” to Passover’s “lechem oni,” the “bread of affliction” that is matzah. A disregard for chametz and lechem oni leads to mei’oni.

The connection of Passover to the other holidays is quite strong. Interestingly enough, in the Purim Megillah, Haman first cast his genocidal lots on the 13th day of Nissan. Queen Esther’s three day fast began on the eve of Passover, the 14th of Nissan.

According to the Ramban, just as Sukkot is followed seven days later by Shemini Azeret, so Pesach is followed seven weeks later by Shavuot. The days of the Omer (between Pesach and Shavuot) are the equivalent of a Chol Hamoed (interim days of a festival); all part of one holiday.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks interprets this to mean that the Exodus (Passover) was only the beginning of freedom. Full liberty was only achieved with the giving of the Torah (Shavuot).

The “confession statement” one made in Temple times when bringing the First Fruits to Jerusalem, usually on Shavuot, is from four verses in Deuteronomy that begin, “An Aramean sought to destroy my father.” Though it doesn’t seem to fit in with the Exodus story, it is an important part of the Haggadah and connects Passover to Shavuot.

The most fascinating connection of Passover to every other biblical holiday is revealed by the Kabbalistic Atbash system, based on exchanging the first letter of the alphabet for the last letter, the second letter for the second to last letter and so forth.

For example, every day of Passover has a partner. Passover’s first day (aleph) occurs on the same day of the week as does Tisha b’Av (its first letter spelled with a “tav,” the last letter of the Alef Bet). Passover’s second day (bet) occurs on the same day of the week as Shavuot (spelled with a “shin,” the second-to-last letter). Passover’s third day (“gimmel”), occurs on the same day of the week as Rosh HaShanah (first letter, “reish”). Passover’s fourth day (“daled”) occurs on the same day as Simchat Torah’s Torah reading (the Kriat HaTorah, spelled with a “kuf”). Passover’s fifth day (“heh”) falls on the same day as Yom Kippur’s tzom (the fast, tzom is spelled with a “tzaddi”). Passover’s sixth day (“vav”) always occurs on the same day as Purim (spelled with the next letter, “pei”).

Until recently, Passover’s seventh day had no holiday “partner.” That was corrected in 1948. Israel’s Independence Day (Yom Ha’Atzmaut’s is spelled with the next letter, “akin.” Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the fifth day of Iyar, always occurs on the same day of the week as the seventh day of Pesach!

As we recite liturgically both (and only) on Yom Kippur and the seders: “Next year in Jerusalem!”

Rabbi Zev Brenner is president and CEO of Talkline Communications Network, a Jewish radio and TV network, and its flagship program “Talkline with Zev Brenner.”

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