April 16, 2019
In the Torah portion for the first day of Passover, we learn about the institution of the first Passover (Pesach), one of the holiest and oldest religious festivals in the Jewish calendar. In the Haftarah from the Book of Joshua, we read about the first celebration of Passover in the Holy Land after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River.
According to a report by British Broadcasting Co. Jews have celebrated Passover since about 1300 BC, or for more than 3,000 years. Jews have continued to celebrate Passover with family and friends, sometimes travelling long distances, and recall and relive the exodus from Egypt. The Passover celebration this year begins at sundown on Friday, April 19, and ends Saturday evening, April 27. This celebration can be traced to this Torah portion, where Moses gives the laws of the Passover to the elders and tells them that all generations to come are to observe the Passover traditions. Children are to be told of the Passover’s origin and significance: Passover is a celebration of freedom.
As told in the Book of Exodus, God promised that he would release the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. When Moses and Aaron first went to see the Pharaoh, they told him what the Lord had said, “Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.” But the Pharaoh with a “hardened heart” did not listen and refused to let the Israelites go even after Moses and Aaron told him again and again – six times – this message of the Lord: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” (Ex 7:16; 8:1; 8:20; 9:1; 9:13; 10:3). He relented only after the tenth and worst plague that claimed the life of his own first-born son. He then called Moses and Aaron and told them that they could leave Egypt as soon as possible: “Go, worship the Lord, as you said.”
The name “Passover” is a reminder of the special divine protection during the tenth plague where first-born sons were killed, while the children of the Israelites were saved. This involves according to Rashi, the “springing and passing over (pasach) – because the Holy One, blessed be He, passed over the houses of the Israelites in between.”
We learn from the Torah reading about the folly and tragedy of having a “hardened heart.” If we don’t listen to the God, there are dire consequences. We also learn that freedom is not absolute. There is a purpose to being free, as God has told Moses and Aaron: “So they may worship me.” With freedom comes the responsibility to know, listen, serve and worship God. We are to walk with faith and to strive to serve others as well and in the name of God, to do greater things than ourselves. Last but not the least, we should be thankful of God’s divine protection in our lives and celebrate this gift during Passover and every day.
Reflection and Discussion:  Are you a modern-day Pharaoh who refuses to listen to God?  Do you agree that there are limits to our freedom and a must-do in our life is to worship and serve God?  What are ways we can worship God on our own and with others?
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