Exodus: Passover’s Full Moon

 

Tonight is a full moon, and at sundown, Jews here in Taos and all over the world, gather around tables laden with ritual foods to observe and celebrate Passover.

The events described in the Book of Exodus are believed to have transpired around 1,300 BCE.

Passover celebrates the story of Moses and the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. In the story, the pharaoh decrees that the first-born sons of all the Israelites (then slaves in Egypt), are to be killed. Pharaoh is scared that the boys will soon outnumber the native Egyptians and fight his rule.

In an effort to protect baby Moses from Pharaoh’s infanticide, his mother, Amram, sends him down the river Nile in a basket made from bullrushes. Somewhere down river he is retrieved by the pharaoh’s daughter, Bithiah, and raised as a member of the Egyptian royal family. After discovering his true identity, Moses (together with his brother, the Jewish version of Merlin,  Aaron), fights for the freedom of the Israelites and brings ten plagues on the land of Egypt until the pharaoh agrees to set his people free.

The last of these plagues is where Passover draws its roots, where the Angel of Death mercilessly kills the firstborn of every Egyptian.

The origin story of the Jewish People may in fact have Pagan roots because of the transient nature of the early people who would become modern-day Jews, some scholars believe that they picked up the customs and religious traditions of the ancient people that they met and conquered. Others even surmise that Moses could in fact have been Akenaten, the Pharoah who ruled briefly as Amenhotep IV. He is known for abandoning the traditional religious rites of his people for the worship of one God, Aten.

In many ways this makes total sense. A deposed prince of Egypt (needing to flee for fear of assasination from one of his own) would certainly be able to muster an army of slaves; a motley crew of poor and downcast members of various pagan tribes from the nearby desert and beyond. Keeping them wandering in the desert for decades to let the old ones die out while training the youth to become warriors. This would also explain the reference to the Israelites taking “gold” out of Egypt. Certainly a prince had access to the Palace coffers.

He would  also have been familiar with the territories he led them through and to, from campaigns with the Egyptian armies into Gaza and beyond, and in this light the story begins to make more sense.

Jewish holidays begin at sundown because, according to the Bible, days begin at sundown. This is based on the story of creation from Genesis, where at the end of each day it reads, “And there was evening, and there was morning” after every day. Because the Torah defines a day as beginning with the evening, so do the Jewish people.

The observation of a new day beginning with the moon is also reflected in the Hebrew calendar, which is a lunar calendar. This is also the reason why the dates of Jewish holidays change every year. The lunar calendar reflects the cycles of the moon, and when it is compared  a 12-cycle solar calendar (which most of the Western world uses), there are slightly more than twelve lunations (or moon phases) in a solar year.

Most of the traditions actually come from the story of Passover itself.  According to the story, because the people left Egypt in a hurry, there was no time for their bread to rise in their ovens. Instead, the dough baked on their backs in the hot sun, as they fled, preventing it from rising but creating flat unleavened bread, which we know now as matzah. Because of this story, it is traditional to eat nothing with leavening in it during the 8 days of Passover.

At every Passover seder are the Haggadah and the Seder plate. The Haggadah is the specific prayer-book that leads a group through the rituals, prayers, stories, and songs essential for the observance of Passover.

A Seder plate contains the symbolic ingredients of Passover. The dish holds the shank bone, egg, bitter herbs, fruit paste, and a green, Spring vegetable. The bone represents the lamb sacrificed on the night before the exodus from Egypt, the egg represents the traditional offering left at the temple, the bitter herbs are the bitterness of slavery in Egypt, the paste represents the mortar used to build the structures of Egypt, the vegetable represents the labor of the enslaved. Salt water represents the tears of the Israelites.

Passover, all the rituals aside, really represents the first (successful) Democratic uprising against a cruel dictatorship. Today more than ever before we can take this universal story of Freedom to heart, and know that we too have the power to overcome slavery and injustice, and that we are obligated to continue to speak out against the oppressors still in our midst, until all people are free. It is the tale of triumph over the lie of the “other”, the supposed enemy in our midst, who is demonized, scapegoated and exploited for Political gain.

Palm Sunday, which leads to Easter, sometimes coincides with Passover. In three out of the four canonical gospels, (Matthew, Mark and Luke), it is written that Jesus’ Last Supper occurred “on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb,” according to Mark 14:12.

Easter, the Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, is on April 16, this year.

Here in Taos, we are a mixed multitude of cultures, and yes, along with the Tri-Cultural community of Native People, Hispanics and Anglos (of various Christian Faiths), there are atheists, agnostics,Taoists, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and more besides, living and working alongside one another in peace and harmony.

On Passover we are specifically reminded of the injunction to “not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Full Moons are said to bring things to fruition. May this moon bring us closer to the awareness that we are all One People. There is no Other.

I’d like to wish all my Jewish readers a very happy Passover and I’ll see you all back here on Wednesday.

 

Both the TJC and Chabad of Taos host Seders. Please visit their sites below for all information regarding Holiday services and events.

chabad of taos

Full Moon Shot by Bill Curry

 

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