The development of the new Torah.org enables us to provide a range of new content, especially introductory material. The Sabbath prior to Pesach is called Shabbos HaGadol, the Great Sabbath, because the Jews were shown that their redemption had begun — they were commanded to take a lamb, an idol of the Egyptians, in order to slaughter it, and knew they would not be harmed.
So, for this Sabbath, prior to the holiday, I would like to share with you our new page on the history of Passover.
The holiday of Passover celebrates the Exodus from Egypt â€“ when the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were liberated from slavery, and became a new and unique nation under God.
Like those who have expressed antipathy towards Jews for millennia, the Egyptian Pharoah had no reason to hate them. On the contrary, Jacob’s son Joseph saved the country from famine, and was even able to sell surplus grain to those in surrounding countries. This explains how and why Jacob and his entire family came from the Land of Israel, then called Cana’an, to Egypt (see Genesis Ch. 41-48). The Jews settled independently in a region called Goshen, but were loyal subjects of the realm.
Years later, a new Pharoah was crowned, one who claimed to be unaware of the Jews’ pivotal contribution to Egypt’s survival and enhanced international reputation. He insisted that something must be done about the Jews, for they had too much power. Otherwise, he said, the Jews could unite with a foreign power in an act of treason, joining those who came to wage war and (commentators differ on this point) either plundering Egypt’s wealth and carrying it off to Cana’an, or even expelling the Egyptians and taking the real estate for themselves.
To be certain, all of Pharaoh’s accusations were baseless lies â€“ until his own blind hatred made them reality. He not only enslaved the Jews, he made their lives impossible, and tried to kill them out by drowning all newborn Jewish boys. The oppressed Jews cried out to God, Who punished the Egyptians with a series of plagues that killed their crops, their livestock, and even their firstborn sons. Oral tradition teaches that the Egyptians willingly handed over their wealth to the Jews, so that they would leave and stop the plagues.
In the end, another bout of irrational hatred consumed Pharaoh. He ran to wage war against the departing Jews and drag them back â€“ and he and his entire army were drowned.
The Passover Haggadah declares this to be a recurring pattern: â€œFor not merely one rose upon us to destroy us. Rather, in every generation they rise over us to destroy us, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hands.â€ The ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans, the Crusaders and the Inquisitors, the Cossacks and the Nazis â€“ their empires are gone, their cultures in disrepute.
As for they Jews – fifty days after leaving Egypt, they were camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, where they experienced a Divine Revelation and accepted upon themselves a unique mission and code of conduct. This is what has preserved the Jewish people through the ages.
On Passover, we celebrate the birth of the eternal nation!