Jews all over the world celebrate Passover in commemoration of their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt, and the 'passing over' of the forces of destruction over their homes as the Angel of Death spared the first born of the Israelites on the eve of Exodus.

Passover begins with the 15th and ends with the 21st day of the Jewish month of Nisan (March or April). On the first night of Passover, a special family meal called the seder is held. During the week of Passover, all leaven is forbidden. So only unleavened bread – matzo – may be eaten during this period. Matzo symbolized both the suffering of the Hebrews in slavery in Egypt, as well as the haste with which they left Egypt during the Exodus.

– The Story of Passover  –

In ancient Egypt, more than three thousand years ago, ruled the Pharaoh Ramses II. Under him the land of Egypt prospered, for he was a strong and powerful ruler. One of Pharaoh's closest friends and advisers was Moses, a foundling, who had been brought up in the royal court by one of the princesses as her own son. But Moses was a Hebrew, not an Egyptian, and his people were slaves under Ramses II.

One day Moses saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave, and he was so angry that he killed the Egyptian. Moses then fled to Midian, where he lived for many years as a shepherd. One day, while tending his flock, Moses saw a burning bush.

The bush burnt fiercely but remained unharmed, and Moses understood that God – Yahweh, the Lord of Israel – was calling him to deliver his people, the Hebrews, from slavery in Egypt. Aaron, his brother, was to be his spokesperson, but Moses was to be Yahweh's special representative. Moses wondered how he would lead his people out of Egypt, but God promised Moses that He would help him.

Moses and Aaron returned to Egypt, and told the Pharaoh of God's wish and command that he let the Hebrews go. But Ramses refused, for he did not recognise their God, their Yahweh, their Lord of Israel, he said.

Moses then performed a miracle to convince Ramses of God's power. Aaron threw his staff upon the ground, and the staff turned into a snake. But Ramses remained unconvinced and refused to let the Hebrews go.

The next morning, as the Pharaoh was walking by the river Nile, Moses and Aaron again asked him to let their people go. When Ramses refused, Aaron struck the Nile with his staff and turned the river into blood, so no one could drink from it. But Ramses remained unconvinced and still refused to let the Hebrews go.

God then sent nine plagues to Egypt, each worse than the earlier. With every plague, Ramses would be afraid, and promise to let the Hebrews go. But as soon as God would lift the plague, he would go back on his word and refuse the Hebrews their freedom once again.

Then God sent one final, terrible plague to the land of Egypt. He sent his Angel of Death to visit every single household in Egypt, and take away the firstborn child. But Moses had warned the Hebrews, and told them to mark their doors with a special sign. So, that night, when the Angel of Death came to Egypt, he passed over the houses with the special sign, and spared the firstborn of the Hebrews. This was the beginning of the Passover, the Jewish festival that celebrates the 'passing over' of the Angel of Death, and the sparing of the firstborn of the Israelites.

But the Angel of Death did not spare a single Egyptian family that night, and took even the Pharaoh's son. In despair the Pharaoh told Moses to take his people and to leave Egypt forever.

Moses and his people packed their belongings and left Egypt as fast as they could, before Ramses changed his mind again. The Israelites left so quickly there wasn't enough time for the dough to ferment and to be baked into bread. Instead they made unleavened bread. Even today, during the Passover week, only unleavened bread, called matzo, is eaten. The matzo symbolises the suffering of the Hebrews in bondage in Egypt, as well as the haste in which they left. Passover is also sometimes called the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

When the Pharaoh realised that Moses and the Israelites had actually left Egypt, he sent his army after them, to capture them and bring them back. The Pharaoh's army pursued the Israelites eastwards to the Sea of Reeds, a papyrus lake, which God enabled the Hebrews to cross safely. But the Egyptian army was engulfed by the waters of the lake and each and every Egyptian soldier perished.

Moses then led his people to Mt. Sinai, where Yahweh again revealed himself to Moses. Out of this revelation came the Covenant between Yahweh and the people of Israel, and the Ten Commandments.


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