Pesach commemorates the liberation of Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt by God. It also celebrates their freedom and independence to worship and live under the Jewish leadership of Moses. The reference to “passing over” refers to Jewish households around 1300 BCE who put lambs blood over their doors so that the angel of death could “pass over” their house. This was to prevent the death of their first born sons, which God warned Pharaoh about in request to free the Jews from slavery and listen to Moses.
Rabbi Johnathan Sacks, an interreligious leader, philosopher, and respected moral voice in Judaism has given an important account of what Pesach means to Jews living across the world today. He says, “Pesach is the oldest and most transformative story of hope ever told. It tells of how an otherwise undistinguished group of slaves found their way to freedom from the greatest and longest-lived empire of their time, indeed of any time. It tells the revolutionary story of how the supreme Power intervened in history to liberate the supremely powerless. It is a story of the defeat and probability by the force of possibility. It defines what it is to be a Jew: a living symbol of hope.”
Pesach reminds Jews across Scotland and across the world of the history their ancestors have lived through. Rabbi Sacks discusses this further in his own views. He says, “Once a year, every year, every Jew is commanded to relive the experience of Egypt as a constant reminder of the bread of oppression and the bitter herbs of slavery—to know that the battle for freedom is never finally won but must be fought in every generation.”
Today Jewish people celebrate Pesach as a commemoration of their liberation by God from slavery in Egypt by celebrating with their families at a traditional “seder” or traditional Jewish meal which marks the beginning of Pesach. During the time of Pesach, it is a tradition that Jewish people do not eat food with chametz (leaven grains). Today chametz would include foods like bread and cakes and other foods which have a leavening agent (or yeast) in them. Many Jewish people will eat Matzah during Pesach which is an unleavened flat bread. Matzah itself reminds the Jewish people of their ancestors who did not eat leaven bread during their Exodus from Egypt because they did not have time to plan and bake bread to rise, therefore matzah or other substitutes for unleavened bread has a historical and religious significance to this holiday. There is a special dish called a “seder plate” in which specific food are served. During the beginning part of the dinner, there will be prayers and well as blessings and readings said. It is a tradition to also have wine at the seder dinner and the seder will usually end with a song. During the rest of the week, Jews will refrain from eating unleavened bread and will usually attend a synagogue service, depending on their religiosity.
We would like to wish all Jews across Scotland warm wishes during their celebration of Pesach this week.