The Three Pilgrimage Feasts
God spoke to Moses, saying, “Now these are the ordinances which you shall set before them” Ex 21:1.
- Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread; as I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the feast of harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the feast of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD Ex 23:14–17.
In the time of Moses, these three great Israelite feasts, pesakh [Passover], shavuot [Weeks], and sukkot [Tabernacles], could be kept by each Israelite tribe anywhere in its own territory. But after God led King Solomon to build the Temple on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, the Torah command, “Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD,” Ex 23:17 meant that these three feasts had to be pilgrimagefeasts. Each Israelite family had to travel from its homes to “the place which the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there” Deut 12:5, the Temple in Jerusalem, to celebrate these festivals.
The first great pilgrimage festival, and by far the most important, is Passover, in Hebrew pesakh, “to pass over.” This same Hebrew word pesakh also means sacrifice. The lamb sacrificed for the Passover was called the pesakh lamb, the sacrificed lamb. The Passover was a foreshadow of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Our Father commanded: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever” Ex 12:14.
Our Father taught the Israelites how to celebrate the Passover when he gave them the Torah. Jews have had a Seder each year for three thousand years as prescribed in the halakha. Every traditional Seder hagada teaches that every Jew is obligated to regard himself as personally redeemed from Egypt Ex 13:8; Deut 15:15; Mishna Pesahim 10:5. Every true Catholic similarly recalls his baptism into Rabbi Yeshua’s death Rom 6:3–4 and looks with love at the crucifix at the front of his parish church in the New and Eternal Covenant.
The Jewish feast of Passover is an experience of exile and return, as its participants re-live the experience of the desert and the encounter with God. After the Mashiakh was crucified, his shlikhim also experienced a sense of exile in the desert followed by a transforming encounter with God. In this way the Mashiakh is spiritually present in the entire Seder.
St. John tells us that Rabbi Yeshua celebrated the Passover during each year of his public revelation. At the time of his first celebration he cleansed the Temple by driving out the merchants who had been licensed by the Jewish authorities to be there, reminding us that before we can come to God we have to empty ourselves of sin. The second prepared us for the Holy Eucharist, multiplying loaves and fishes so all could have the bread of life. And finally the Passover of the sacrificed Lamb of God.
Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke each give the cleansing of the Temple before RabbiYeshua’s final Passover Seder, giving the impression that the Temple cleansing occurred near the time of the Last Supper. The level of detail in St. John’s account suggests that it occurred before Rabbi Yeshua’s first Seder with his shlikhim. Much more important is Rabbi Yeshua’s emphasis on cleansing sin from the Temple, and from our hearts.
The Passover Seder startlingly foreshadows the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Seder is the Hebrew word for “order.” The Catholic Church’s celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is called the “Order” of Mass.
God, Not an Angel
The original Passover was so important in salvation history that our Father did not send an angel, but did it himself. “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt” Ex 12:12. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you” Ex 12:13.
An angel could have slaughtered the Egyptian first-born and protected the Israelite first-born. But God’s personal presence was important because the Passover foreshadowed Rabbi Yeshua’s Final Sacrifice.
The Sacrificed Lamb’s Body And Blood
Our Father had commanded, “Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household” Ex 12:3. Our Father continued, “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male” Ex 12:5, pre-figuring the sacrificed “Lamb of God.” This was the Hebrew month nisan.
God had declared that the sacrifice of the lambs was the Passover. The eating of the sacrificed lamb was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. “On the fourteenth day of the month in the evening, is the Lord’s passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the Lord” Lev 23:5–6.
This sacrifice was not like the holocausts that our Father would soon command be done by priests. On the Temple altar, with a big fire and a small lamb, the sacrifice was completely consumed. This sacrifice, “An ordinance for ever” Ex 12:14,17, was to be consumed not by fire but by ordinary Israelites. After the time of Moses the Passoversacrifice was supervised by the Aaronic priests Ex 28:1 but still done by the whole people, foreshadowing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in which ordinary men and women would participate in the Mashiakh’s sacrifice by receiving his Body and Blood.
Our Father directed, “Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them” Ex 12:7. The body and blood of the sacrificed lamb were separate, reminding us that the Mashiakh bled to death on the Cross. Sometimes we see a physician publish a learned treatise speculating that Rabbi Yeshua’s death resulted from this or that physical cause. During the Last Supper, Rabbi Yeshua separately consecrated his Body and Blood to represent his death on the Cross. Separation of body and blood brings death: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life” Lev 17:11.
Our Father knew which houses the Israelites lived in. He needed no outward sign. But to be passed over they had to eat the sacrificed lamb. And our Father told them to eat it humbly: “They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled with water, but roasted” Ex 12:8–9. Fire is a primitive way of cooking; only fire, meat, and a stick are needed. Boiling takes a pot and boiling water, accoutrements of Egyptian civilization. Our Father was preparing his children to depart from Egypt for the desert, where primitive cooking was necessary, a reflection of their ancestor, Abram the Hebrew, ha’ivri, who first crossed the desert on a journey to interior holiness.
Our Father had promised Moses, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” Ex 12:13. When I see the blood. To be passed over, they had to, “Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood which is in the basin” Ex 12:22. The Talmud says that the blood was sprinkled with hyssop, on the outside where other Israelite families could see it the next morning. However, Rashi’s commentary on Exodus, a more recent tradition, says that the blood was on the inside, so that the family inside could see it while consuming the sacrificed lamb.
On that night the Israelites were physically redeemed from Egyptian slavery by the body and blood of sacrificed lambs, eaten with unleavened bread. With the body and blood of sacrificed lambs and the unleavened bread, our Father prepared his children for his todah sacrifice on Mt. Sinai which would soon follow. Twelve hundred years later the Mashiakh would celebrate a Passover in which we all would be spiritually redeemed by his Body and Blood as the Final Sacrifice, under the appearance of bread and wine.
“And you shall let none of it remain until the morning” Ex 12:10. The entire lamb had to be eaten at once, so the family, and neighbors if the family was small, had to celebrate together. Rabbi Yeshua’s sacrificed Body could not remain on the Cross until morning. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we consume it immediately after the consecration together, as parish family.
“In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s passover” Ex 12:11. Our Father gently prepared us for his Son’s teaching that we must always be ready. “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” Mt 24:42.
Did the body and blood of the Passover lamb also heal Israel’s afflictions? Probably many Israelites, after their hard and bitter slavery, were in less than good health. And they would soon begin a long journey. Our Father had emphasized that, “The Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel” Ex 11:7. While our Father was destroying Egypt’s firstborn, he may have emphasized the distinction by healing Israel. Psalm 105, after describing the ten plagues, says, “There was none among his tribes who stumbled” Ps 105:37. And Psalm 107, after describing how some were near death, says, “He sent forth his word, and healed them” Ps 107:20. A fine pre-figure of the days when the body and blood of the sacrificed Lamb would heal the souls of the new Israel.
Finally, our Father commanded, “You shall not break a bone of it” Ex 12:46. When his Son would be sacrificed on the cross, the sign of the Passover would be even more clear: the soldiers broke the bones of Dismas and Gesmas, but they did not break any bone of Rabbi Yeshua Jn 19:33–36.
Before we begin, a quick Seder overview. The Seder is done a little differently in each Jewish home. In Reform Jewish “temples” there is also some variance from one to another. Orthodox Jews mostly hold to this tradition:
The Seder Begins with Light
The Seder begins when the woman of the house lights the traditional white candles, praying, Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel yom tov. “Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has made us holy by the law and has commanded us to kindle the festival light.” Reflect on kindle the festival light. Reflect on Rabbi Yeshua Jn 8:12. A young virgin from Nazareth would one day recite the same Hebrew prayer and follow all the other mitzvotfrom the time she was betrothed until the end of her earthly life.
After this, the father, the head of household, presides over the meal as the authority and teacher of the children. The head of household often begins with a recitation of the fifteen parts of the Seder, called the fifteen steps to freedom. The sages taught that the Passover feast occurs on the fifteenth day of nisan, so there are fifteen parts of the Seder: kiddush, the first cup of wine; urkhatz, the washing of hands; karpas, dipping the green vegetable in salt water; yachatz, breaking of the middle matzah; magid, the telling of the Passover story; rakhtza, the second washing of hands; motzi, the blessing; matzah, the eating; maror, the bitter herbs; korekh, the sandwich of broken matzah held together by bitter herbs and kharoset; shulkhan orekh, the festive meal; tzafun, eating of the afikoman; barukh, the grace after the meal; hallel, the song of praise; and finally the nirtzah, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
The theme of oral teaching pervades the entire Seder. These Hebrew names form a rhyme that children can easily memorize: kiddush urkhatz karpas yachatz magid rakhtza motzi matzah maror korekh shulkhan orekh tzafun barukh hallel nirtzah.
Catholics also light white candles before beginning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Jewish tradition holds that the man leading the Seder wear a kitel, a plain white garment. In an Orthodox Jewish Seder the head of household is always a man. Rabbi Yeshuawore a white garment while celebrating his Last Supper, and is traditionally depicted as wearing white, in a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” Is 1:18, and also the Jewish tradition.
The Seder Plate
The Seder plate has six areas on which symbol foods are placed. The plate itself reminds Jews of Israel’s bondage in Egypt and deliverance from evil, but the six foods on it are together symbols of Israel’s redemption and deliverance: karpas and salt water, hazaret, maror, kharoset, beitza, and zeroah.
The karpas, parsley or green vegetable, represent the coming of spring with its renewal of life, symbolizing the journey from slavery to the promised land. It also represents for Jews the hyssop that God commanded be used to apply the blood of the sacrificed lamb to the lintel and doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over the Jewish homes. Jews dip the karpas in salt water, representing the tears of life, before eating to recall the tears shed along the way. Rabbi Yeshua said, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me” Mt 26:23.
The hazaret, horseradish root or root of the bitter herb, reminds Jews that life is often bitter as it was for the Israelites in Egypt. The maror, freshly ground horseradish or bitter herb, is a symbol of the bitterness of slavery and a reminder of how bitter life is without redemption. Jews take about a teaspoonful of the bitter horseradish; it makes their eyes well up with tears, the tears of bitterness. The kharoset, a sweet mixture of chopped apples, nuts and wine, often with spices such as ginger and cinnamon, reminds Jews of the color and texture of the straw and clay by which their ancestors made bricks. Its sweet taste reminds Jews that even the most bitter labor is sweetened by the promise of redemption.
The beitza is a hardboiled egg with the shell peeled off and the egg roasted brown. The original beitza was the daily Temple sacrifice; its flesh burned by the altar fire. During the Seder a slice of the roasted egg, representing life, is dipped into the salt water, the tears of life, and eaten, to remind Jews of their grief and tears from the loss of the Temple.
Zeroah, the shank bone of a lamb. Today the rabbis do not permit lamb to be served at any Seder because there is no Temple in which to sacrifice. So Jews substitute the shank bone of a lamb.
The Four Cups of Wine
Passover wine is made from the first fruit to ripen in the season. The farmers would tie a ribbon around the branch bearing the first fruit of each type. The ribbon showed that these fruits were bikurim, the first-fruits. In Israel, early grapes in the Jordan Valley can mature in June, and in most other areas July, too late for Passover, so their juice had to be preserved until the following year in jars or skins. Israel’s long hot summers begin with shavuot, allowing plenty of time for natural fermentation, which makes grape juice into wine.
During the Seder, Jews drink four cups of wine. Why four cups? Our Father in heaven was the goel for Israel, redeeming them from slavery in Egypt. The Torah uses four Hebrew words to express the redemption: v’hotzaiti, “and I will bring you out,” v’hitzalti, “and I will deliver you,” v’ga-alti, “and I will redeem you,” and v’lakakhti, “and I will take you.” The Mashiakh would one day become the goel for us all. These four expressions of redemption remind us of the Mashiakh’s four great Eucharistic actions. He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it as our participation in his redemptive Final Sacrifice. The rabbis call for red wine, reminding us of the sacrificed lamb whose blood on the doorposts and lintel of each home redeemed the Israelite people.
The first cup, taken before the meal, is called the kiddush cup, or cup of sanctification. It is a preparation for the Seder as the head of household prays, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.”
The second is called the cup of plagues, recalling God’s mighty power as he destroyed the Egyptian gods.
The third is called the cup of blessing, or cup of redemption. After the meal, and after the afikoman, Jews drink the cup of redemption to recall that God blessed them by redeeming them from slavery through the body and blood of the sacrificed lamb.
The fourth is the hallel cup. After the third cup, ancient Seder tradition calls for the recitation and singing of the hallel. When that too is done, all present drink the hallel cup, the cup of praise.
The Fifteen Steps to Freedom
All Israel had been slaves in Egypt for centuries. Their original journey to freedom had passed through God’s sending of Moses, of ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, and finally receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The ceremonial journey is rich in meaning and entails fifteen steps.
1. The First Cup of Wine
The head of household and all present “make kiddush,” sanctify the Passover, by blessing the first of the four cups of wine, called the kiddush or sanctification cup, Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, boray poree hagafen. “Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who creates the fruit of the wine.” Then all present drink it.
2. The First Washing of Hands
Following that, the urkhatz, the first washing of hands, without a blessing, symbolizes washing away, or emptying ourselves, of worldly wisdom so that we can be open to the wisdom of God’s providence.
Jewish law requires that every Jewish man wash his hands before touching any food, for spiritual and physical purification. Devout Jews go to the mikva, ritual bath, before sunset every Friday and also prior to all holy days, including pesakh.
God’s Mashiakh, celebrating his last Passover with his shlikhim, would one day rise from the table, gird himself with a towel, pour water into a basin, wash the feet of his shlikhim, and teach them to wash one another’s feet.
3. Dipping the Green Vegetable in Salt Water
After the urkhatz, the head of household dips the karpas, green vegetable, in salt water. The Hebrew word karpas has four letters, kaf-raish-peh-samekh. Kaf means the palm of a hand. Raish is an impoverished person. Peh, mouth. Samekh, support. Karpas is a green vegetable that represents a benevolent hand opened for the needy. The last two letters, mouth-support, remind us that, even if our means are limited, we can always give helping words. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” We dip the karpas in salt water to recall the bitter tears shed during the time of slavery in Egypt. But more, the Israelite people through their suffering retained their dignity by giving. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” Acts 20:35.
4. Breaking the Middle Matzah
Then comes the breaking of the middle matzah. The youngest children see it as a simple game of hide-and-seek. But it teaches them that God also plays hide-and-seek with us, to teach us as we become ready to understand.
On the table is a white linen cloth, which is called a matzah tof, or unity, a linen napkin. The head of household opens it and exposes the three pieces of matzah inside. He then breaks the middle matzah in two. One piece of the broken middle matzah is called the afikoman, a Greek word also used in modern Hebrew meaning “that which is to come,” or “that which comes after.” The head of household wraps the afikoman in the white linen matzah tof and hides it, reminding us of the Mashiakh who would one day, after being broken (crucified), was buried in the traditional white linen shroud.
The head of household then raises one of the other pieces of matzah, announces that we will re-live the experience of the oppression in Egypt, and says, “This is the bread our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.”
5. Telling the Passover Story
Then comes the “four questions.”
Traditionally, the youngest child asks, Ma nishtanah ha-lailah ha-zeh mikol ha-leilot. “Why is this night different from all other nights of the year? And the head of household explains, “On all other nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread, but on this night we eat only unleavened bread.” God told us, “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.’” So the head of household answers, “This night is different from all other nights because on this night we celebrate our going forth from slavery into freedom. We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord saved us with a mighty hand. If God had not taken our fathers out of Egypt, then we, our children, and our children’s children too, would still be Pharaoh’s slaves.”
The youngest child’s second question is, “On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables and herbs; why on this night do we eat only bitter herbs?” The head of household replies, “On this night we eat bitter herbs to remind us how bitter our lives were as slaves in Egypt.”
His third is, “On all other nights we never dip even once; why on this night do we dip twice?” The head of household explains, “We dip the parsley in salt water to remind us of our tears, for our slavery in Egypt and in sin. We dip the bitter herbs, the horseradish, in the sweet apples to remind us that our ancestors were able to withstand bitter slavery because they never lost the sweet hope of freedom.”
And the fourth, “On all other nights we eat either sitting up or reclining; why on this night do we all recline?” The head of household answers, “When we were slaves in Egypt, we had to eat standing up. But, with God’s help, now we are free men, and so we can eat reclining in comfort.” Some Jews see royalty in reclining; kings often reclined while dining, and so on this night they are royalty. When drinking the four cups of wine, Jews recline to the left and back to celebrate their freedom. Some Jews recline during the entire meal.
The head of household also tells the story of the four sons. A family has four sons. The wise son asks, “What are these statutes?” In the Torah, a statute is a law that does not have any apparent purpose. We trust that our Father in heaven has a purpose beyond our understanding. We obey because we love God, and men in his image and likeness.
The evil son asks, “What do these statutes mean to you?” He has disassociated himself from the Jewish nation. The evil son does not understand what is great, so it must be taught to him in bite-size bits, in the hope that he will one day understand and come home.
The simple son looks for God in a very plain way. In every situation the simple son looks for God’s presence. The Mashiakh would one day teach, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” Mt 18:3.
The fourth son does not know how to ask. Without questions he cannot learn, cannot grow in holiness, cannot prepare for eternal life. On Seder night all the children ask questions. His father and mother teach him how to ask.
After the story is told, Jews say a blessing and drink the second cup of wine, the cup of plagues. Each person present dips his finger in this second cup and places ten drops of wine, one at a time, on the plate while naming each one of the plagues that fell upon the Egyptians, saying: “Blood, frogs, gnats, flies, cattle, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death!”
6. The Second Washing of Hands
This washing of the hands, with a blessing, is called the rakhtza. It cleanses us to prepare our hearts for the blessing over the matzah, bringing to mind the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in which the priest washes his hands before consecrating the Host.
7. Blessing the Matzah
Jews make the hamotzi blessing over the matzah: Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, hamotzi lekhem min ha’aretz. “Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
While blessing the matzah, Jews hold it with all ten fingers, calling to mind the Ten Commandments, reminding us that it is a gift from God.
The lekhem, bread, reminds us of the Mashiakh who would be born in bet lekhem, a tiny Galilean village called “house of bread.” In this case, of course, the bread is unleavened, the same matzah that the Mashiakh would one day bless with the essential words of institution: “This is my body” Mt 26:26. Church tradition is that Rabbi Yeshua at this time consecrated unleavened bread which became his body and blood, soul and divinity.
8. Eating the Matzah
Our Father taught his people Israel how to eat the Passover meal. “In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste” Ex 12:11. He had sent Abram on a journey to interior holiness with the words lekh lekha. During the first Passover the Hebrew people had to eat in haste because they would soon leave on a journey that would take them to Mt. Sinai.
The matzah also reminds us of the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt. “And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any provisions” Ex 12:39. When baking bread, after the yeast is added, it takes about eighteen minutes for the dough to rise. The Israelites did not have even that brief interval. The dough they sun-baked on the hot rocks of the Egyptian fields was removed before it could leaven, and so remained flat. Unleavened bread represents our need to remain ever alert and prepared for the day when God calls us to our destiny as the Mashiakh told us, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” Mt 25:13.
The traditional Israelite blessing is, l’khayim, to life. The Hebrew word khai, life, is spelled khet-yod. In Jewish gematria these two letters add up to eighteen. The number eighteen has therefore become a Hebrew acronym for life. Our Father used this Hebrew acronym for life to overcome the Egyptian denial of meaning. “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses, for if any one eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel” Ex 12:15. When we add yeast to dough and wait about eighteen minutes it starts to leaven, or puff up. We puff up with pride, focus on self. The aroma of baking bread is gas from corruption of the dying yeast bodies. The same gas makes the texture in the bread. God used leaven in the Passover Seder as a symbol of corruption. The matzah, centerpiece of the Passover, rejects our puffing up with pride and teaches us to focus on God.
The Mashiakh is spiritually present in the matzah. It is unleavened, pure as he was pure. It has dark stripes, as his back was striped by Pilate’s scourging. It is pierced, as he was pierced on the cross. Once it was the bread of life for Israel in the desert, as he is the Bread of Life for all mankind.
9. Eating the Bitter Herbs
The head of household then blesses the bitter herbs. Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al akhilat maror. “Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has made us holy by the law and has commanded us to eat bitter herbs.”
“So they made the sons of Israel serve with rigor, and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field; in all their work they made them serve with rigor” Ex 1:14. Maror, the bitter herb, reminds us that the Egyptians made the Israelites’ lives bitter with hard labor. The bitterness was the hard work under the burning sun, but also the deliberate futility of the work. And so the deeper meaning of the maror is our need to be close to God.
The principle and foundation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is that we are created to serve God. We are to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as our free will allows, so that we do not desire health over sickness, riches over poverty, honor over dishonor, long life over short life. We are to desire only what is most conducive to the end for which we were created: To know, love and serve God in this life, that we might be happy with him in the life to come.
10. The Sandwich
The head of household invites all present to make a little korekh, sandwich from two pieces of the bottom matzah, placing within it the maror, bitter herbs.
Our Father created angels, who are purely spiritual. He also created cows, which are purely corporeal. And he created us, hybrid creatures of spirit and flesh. The ancient Israelites knew that each of us is partly spiritual and partly corporeal.
In Jewish tradition the matzah represents the soul. Matzah is bread stripped to its essentials. When you remove from bread the sugar, salt, poppy seeds, dill seeds, raisins, even time to rise, you get matzah. In the same way, a man stripped of all the externals is a soul. We see this at the grave site, when the man’s body is buried in the earth, and afterward when the family goes to where the man lived and disperses all that he owned. And yet we know the man still lives.
The maror represents our corporeal nature run amok. The ancient Israelites were not ascetics. They knew that, “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” Eccles 3:1. Anyone who has lived in a rural area knows that cows do well in a life guided by moment-to-moment whims. But for us, because we are immortal souls on a pilgrim journey, that kind of life does not satisfy our most important needs and therefore soon becomes bitter.
The ancient Israelites ate the matzah and maror together, following our Father’s command, “They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” Num 9:11. Rabbi Hillel began the tradition of eating the matzah and maror as a sandwich to show that matzah represents freedom while the maror trapped inside represents slavery and struggle. Our Father gives us free will to choose. We can have the life of the spirit or the life of the flesh. Each of us is mostly one or the other. Rabbi Yeshua, only a few decades later, spoke from this perspective. “You cannot serve God and mammon” Mt 6:24.
11. The Festive Dinner
At this time, the lady of the house begins to serve the festive dinner.
Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen, the great teacher of Kabala, said that man’s first sin was not the eating of the forbidden fruit but how we ate it. He taught that the tree of knowledge was not a tree or a food, but a way of eating. Whenever we take pleasure from the world without placing it within the context of our relationship with God we fall from grace. Most orthodox Catholic scholars hold that the tree of knowledge was an actual fruit-bearing tree, but Rabbi HaKohen offers a crucial lesson:
Observant Jews, while enjoying the festive dinner, try to heal their souls. They may continue to discuss the lessons of the Seder, reflect on an important goal for the year, look for a holy spouse, conceive a child, read holy books, or pray for healing or guidance. Some write their plan for reflection ahead of time, so that their hearts might be fertile soil for whatever seeds God may plant.
Rabbi Yeshua explained. “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear” Mt 13:3–9.
12. Eating the Afikoman
In the fourth step to freedom, above, we recall, the head of household broke the middle matzah, wrapped half of it in a matzah tof, a linen napkin, and “buried” it as the afikoman, “that which is to come.” Now the time has come. The youngest child at table finds the afikoman. The head of household breaks it and passes it around for all to eat.
The afikoman tradition is said to have its origins during the Second Temple era, perhaps in the diaspora which would account for its Greek name. Church tradition allows us to speculate that Rabbi Yeshua consecrated the afikoman at this time. The difference would be only a few hours. St. John Paul II, in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, § 18, taught, “This pledge of the future resurrection comes from the fact that the flesh of the Son of Man, given as food, is his body in its glorious state after the resurrection.” Rabbi Yeshua may have consecrated the “resurrected” unleavened bread, the afikoman, at this time. Too, we recall that the Passover was the first todah sacrifice. He may have done the consecration near the time of the grace after the meal. When, God willing, we enter heaven, we will see Rabbi Yeshua eternally at the Last Supper; then we will know.
After the afikoman Jews eat nothing else, and drink only water, tea, and the remaining two cups of wine. They savor the taste of the matzah, immersing themselves in its reflections, especially in the focus on God and our humility before him. Today, after Catholics receive Holy Communion in the New and Eternal Covenant, we savor it in the time of sacred silence.
13. Grace After the Meal
The Prayers of Thanksgiving
Jewish tradition tells us that Abraham often invited pagan wayfarers into his tent for a hearty meal, and then told them that they had to pray to God. You ate the food, now thank God who provided it! This was the first grace after a meal. Abraham taught it to his son Isaac, who taught it to his son Jacob, who taught it to his sons, the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel, and it became a custom among the Israelites.
That grace was one of the fifteen steps to freedom because it required that the Israelites have the courage to proclaim their dependence on God. Like the matzah, it taught and proclaimed humility. Through it our Father prepared us for a time when the Holy Spirit would descend on the Mashiakh’s shlikhim and give them courage to proclaim him to all the world.
To this day, Catholics everywhere in the world say grace after the Mass. When the deacon says, “The Mass is ended, go in peace,” we respond, “Thanks be to God.”
The Cup of Blessing and Redemption
At the end of the blessing, Jews drink the third cup of wine, called the “cup of blessing” or the “cup of redemption” to recall that God blessed them and redeemed them from slavery in Egypt by the body and blood of the sacrificed lamb.
The Mashiakh is spiritually present in the Seder wine. After the afikoman is broken and passed around for all to eat, Jews drink the cup of blessing. This was the cup that RabbiYeshua consecrated, “This is the chalice of my blood” Mt 26:27, as Rabbi Paul tells us, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” 1 Cor 10:16.
14. The Joyful Songs
The Israelite experience in Egypt had begun when our Father lifted Joseph from the dungeon’s darkness to enlighten Pharaoh and become his prime minister. It ended after our Father closed the Red Sea over the Egyptian soldiers, again bringing the Israelites from the darkness of slavery to the light of freedom.
Perhaps the most beloved of the joyful Passover songs is Dayenu 1:51 (Hebrew: it would have been enough for us), a wonderful song of God’s bountiful love and our eternal thanks. It has fifteen stanzas, corresponding to the fifteen steps to freedom. Five deal with the emergence from slavery, five with miracles along the way to Mt. Sinai, and five with God’s presence among us.
Dayenu’s 2:41 fifteen steps to freedom bring to mind the traditional Catholic Rosary of fifteen decades, five Joyful Mysteries 15:02, five Sorrowful Mysteries 15:02, and five Glorious Mysteries 15:02. Dayenu, it would have been enough for us. And now God has done even more, by giving the five Luminous Mysteries 20:28.
The Songs of Praise
Moses and the people of Israel sang a joyful song. It began, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation [l’yeshua]” Ex 15:1–2.
The ancient Israelites continued the tradition of the hallel each year near the end of the Seder. Hallel means “praise.” Jews sing the psalms of praise, 113 through 118. Near the end of the hallel are the words, “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord!” Ps 118:26.
The Cup of Praise
After singing the psalms, Jews pray a blessing over the fourth cup, the hallel cup, called the cup of praise because they drink it after the songs of praise to God as the final act of the Seder.
15. Next Year in Jerusalem
The head of household then declares the Seder complete, zeh haseder kehilkhato. Today our deacon says, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.”
Finally, the head of household articulates the age-old hope: “Next year in Jerusalem!” In the traditional Hebrew, leshana [in the year] habaah [that is to come] birushalaim [in Jerusalem] habenuya [that is rebuilt]. It has always been the head of household’s hope that he can bring his family to rebuilt Jerusalem, to visit or to live.
God commanded Moses: “Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” Ex 13:2. During the Old Testament days, this meant in particular the first-born male of a Hebrew mother. But also, Israel celebrated the Passover using bekhor flour to make the matzah, and bekhor fruit to make the wine. These bikurim (plural) prepared us for Rabbi Yeshua. “And she gave birth to her first-born [bekhor] son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger” Lk 2:7. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born [bekhor] among many brethren” Rom 8:29. “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born [bekhor] of all creation” Col 1:15. “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born [bekhor] from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent” Col 1:18.
Just as it took seven weeks, fifty days, from the night of the Passover to the Israelites’ arrival at Sinai, it took seven weeks for the spring harvest. “You shall count seven weeks; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you first put the sickle to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the feast of weeks” Deut 16:9–10.
Our Father told us, “Consecrate to me all the first-born [bekhor]; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” Ex 13:2. When the harvest was complete, farmers gathered their bikurim, first-fruits, in baskets and brought them to Jerusalem so that they could be eaten in the holy city. The journey would begin at dawn with the joyful call, “Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God” Jer 31:6.
Mishna Bikurim 3:3 describes the joyful journey: “Those from nearby bring figs and grapes, but those from afar bring dried figs and raisins. And an ox walks before them, its horns overlaid with gold, and a wreath of olive [leaves] on its head. A flutist plays before them until they arrive near Jerusalem. [Once] they arrived near Jerusalem, they sent [a messenger] ahead of them [to announce their arrival], and they decorated their first fruits. The [Temple] high officers, chiefs, and treasurer come out to meet them. According to the rank of the entrants, they would [determine which of these officials would] go out. And all the craftsmen of Jerusalem stand before them and greet them, [saying], ‘Brothers, men of such and such a place, you have come in peace.”
The winter wheat, planted after the autumn harvest, remained underground during winter but then rose. At the end of the spring harvest, just in time for shavuot, it was ready. From the dawn of creation our Father intended that this remind us of his Son’s death and resurrection. Rabbi Yeshua told us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” Jn 12:24.
The spring harvest also included the grapes, which in Israel’s warm climate were gathered and made into raisins or wine. Some of the bikurim wine was fermented and kept for the next pesakh. Olives were picked and made into oil, some of which was used for the Temple’s eternal light.
As a rule the first fruit was consecrated, but bekhor was more about consecration than numerical sequence. Rabbi Paul told us, “It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants” Rom 9:8. Abraham’s son Ishmael was born before Isaac, but God chose Isaac. Isaac’s son Esau was born before Jacob, but God chose Jacob. Jacob’s son Reuben was born before Joseph, but God chose Joseph.
Rabbi Paul told us that Rabbi Yeshua was “the first fruits of those who had fallen asleep”1 Cor 15:20. Rabbi Yeshua’s resurrection revealed to us all that we too could be raised from our own earthly death into eternal life.
The third great pilgrimage festival, sukkot, tabernacles, an autumn festival, begins in the Hebrew calendar on the fifteenth day of tishrei.
Our Father told Moses: “Say to the sons of Israel, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the feast of booths to the Lord. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. Seven days you shall present offerings by fire to the Lord” Lev 23:34–36.
He added, “You shall keep the feast of booths seven days, when you make your ingathering from your threshing floor and your wine press; you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place which the Lord will choose; because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful” Deut 16:13–15.
Five days after the purifying Days of Awe, sukkot commemorates the forty years of purification when the people Israel on their journey from Sinai to Canaan stayed in temporary booths or huts.
But why do Jews call these simple booths or huts tabernacles? In Hebrew a tabernacle is heikhal, from the root mkhl, container. A true Tabernacle is a container holding the Shkhina, the Presence of God. It can be a beautiful container such as Jews use to hold the sefer torah. When Solomon built the Temple it was called beit hamikdash, House of Holiness, from the root kdsh, holy.
Sukkot too pre-figures the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The temporary booths remind Catholics, “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” Heb 13:14, “The holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” Rev 21:2. The ingrafting (also called ingathering) from “your threshing floor and your wine press” Deut 16:13 pre-figures the bread and wine consecrated during the Holy Mass. The tabernacles holding the Shkhina pre-figure the tabernacles in which Catholics repose the Son of God whole and entire under the appearance of bread and wine.
The Days of Awe
Rosh Hashanah (Head of the Year)
Our Father told Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no laborious work; and you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord” Lev 23:24–25.
Many Catholics read “in the seventh month” and wonder how it can start the new year. Jews use 1 nisan (Mar-Apr) as the new year for counting the reign of kings and months on the calendar, 1 elul (Aug-Sept) as the new year for tithing animals, 15 shevat (Jan-Feb) as the new year for determining when the first fruit of trees may be eaten, and 1 tishrei (Sept-Oct) as the new year for increasing the year number, and for starting sabbatical or jubilee years. Rosh hashanah, the head of the year, occurs on the first day of the seventh month, which is mathematically the exact center of the year. Rosh hashanah, the head of the year at the center of the year, pre-figures God’s Mashiakh, whose arrival would herald the new creation and split all history in two.
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God; and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder Ex 19:16–19.
Moses commanded the Levites who carried the Ark of the Covenant: “Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.” Israel’s understanding is that on the first day of tishrei, which is rosh hashanah, God writes a Book of Life, who will live and who will die, who will have a good year and who will not.
And so the common greeting among Jews during the Days of Awe is, leshana tova, “For a good year,” short for “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
The theme for the Days of Awe begins with reflection on God’s particular judgment for us. We are to love God and one another. During the days between rosh hashanah and yom kippur Jews reconcile with one another through three great virtues. Teshuva is repentance, return to the community of faith as Jacob returned to the land of his fathers. Tefila is prayer; we think of the song maoz tzur, sung at hanukkah to celebrate the Temple re-dedication, with its words tikon bet tefilati, my house of prayer is up (in heaven). Tzedaka, good deeds or charity, from the same root as tzedek, reminds us of Melchizedek, the first king of righteousness. As the practical expression of these virtues, Jews often seek reconciliation with people they may have harmed during the year.
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
The Mosaic halakha, way of life, includes 248 positive “you shall” mitzvot and 365 negative (“you shall not”) mitzvot. The Hebrew word kippur comes from kapara, a sacrifice to remove sin. Atoning for sins is a grave obligation. During the year the asham, guilt-offering, served for personal atonement, but on yom kippur Jews confess all sins as a nation, using plural verbs, because they accepted the Torah as a nation. “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” Ex 24:7. The original Hebrew here is na’aseh v’nishma, literally, “We will do and we will hear.” The people Israel would dothe commandments before understanding them. God’s call is always to radical transformation. To accept it we need the faith of Abram when God commanded him, lekh lekha. Understanding can come later. Even today, the Catholic Church respects St. Anselm’s classic theological method fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding. As in Moses’ time, faith comes first.
Our Father told Moses, “And it shall be a statute to you for ever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you; for on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord. It is a sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute for ever” Lev 16:29–31. A statute forever. Our Father repeated his command for emphasis: “On the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present an offering by fire to the Lord” Lev 23:27.
An Aaronic priest would make the atonement. “And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments” Lev 16:32.
Our Father commanded,
Then he shall take the two goats, and set them before the Lord at the door of the tent of meeting; and Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin offering; but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel” Lev 16:7–10.
And so each year, on yom kippur, the high priest would have two similar goats. Rashi tells us that one of these was on his right and one on his left. The high priest would then randomly pick two stones from a box. The white one was inscribed le-Adonai, “for the Lord,” and the black one la-azazel, “for the goat of removal,” or scapegoat.”
The goat chosen “for the Lord” was taken and slaughtered with the greatest holiness and purity as a sacrifice to God. Its blood was then taken to the Holy of Holies and sprinkled directly into the Shkhina, the shining glory of God, between the two cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. But the goat “for azazel” was kept alive. The high priest would tie a piece of scarlet cloth to the azazel’s horn. Then a priest would lead the goat out into the wilderness, remove the scarlet cloth, tear it in half, put one half back on the goat’s horn, push the goat over a high precipice as a sacrifice, and bring the other half back to the Temple. If the cloth turned white our Father had accepted the sacrifice. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” Is 1:18. If it remained red, our Father had not accepted the sacrifice.
The azazel was said to have completely removed the sins of the whole people Israel. But, although the sins were removed, that is, moved to another place, they were not annihilated until Rabbi Yeshua’s Final Sacrifice. “For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.” Josephus tells us that during the Passover in AD 70 the Temple priests sacrificed more than a quarter million lambs. Yet the Temple itself was destroyed later that same year.
Hag Matan Torah
Hag matan torah, the festival of the gift of the Torah, is not formally a pilgrimage feast, but since it is celebrated the day after shavuot, in the days of the Temple it was always celebrated in Jerusalem.
Visibly, our Father wanted matan torah to be celebrated each year in Jerusalem during the Temple era. He had commanded that three feasts be celebrated only in Jerusalem. This continued the remarkable pattern of threes in the Law and the Prophets that suggest something very three-ish about the one God of Israel. But he included shavuot, a mere agricultural festival, while excluding matan torah, Israel’s remembrance of Mt. Sinai. We may conclude that remembrance of Mt. Sinai was so important that our Father wanted it celebrated each year in Jerusalem, but that shavuot, the feast of the spring harvest, would be even more important for its remembrance of bread and wine, the sacrifice of Melchizedek, under whose appearance his Son would be with us always.
Our Father prepared his people Israel for the Torah. They had been living for 430 years in Egypt, where men worshiped demons masquerading as river water, frogs, flies, beetles, cattle, all sorts of things. The Zohar, the primary book of Kabala, says that the people Israel had sunk to the 49th (50th is the lowest) spiritual level. They needed time for spiritual recovery. And so, after the Passover, our patient Father gave them fifty days, a day for each level, to prepare before their arrival at Mt. Sinai, by having them count the omer.
An omer is a measure of grain for the sacrifice of grain that would come at shavuot. The omer count, representing spiritual preparation for the Torah, begins on the second day of Passover. “And you shall count from the day after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven full weeks shall they be, counting fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath” Lev 23:15–16. Day one is the sixteenth day of nisan. Counting from that day through the month of iyar takes us to the fiftieth day, the sixth day of sivan. The fiftieth day of the omer, the sixth day of sivan, the day after shavuot, is the matan torah, the day on which our Father gave the Word of God to Moses.
Our Father commanded: “On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the Lord; it is a solemn assembly; you shall do no laborious work” Lev 23:36. He repeated for emphasis, “and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest” Lev 23:39. After the seven days of sukkot is an eighth day, celebrated on 22nd tishrei, called shemini [eight] atzeret [solemn assembly], or “assembly on the eighth day.”
Each Sabbath, in synagogue, Jews chant a passage from the Torah, just as Catholics read a passage from the Gospels. On this eighth day the ancient rabbis complete the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings by reading the last passage of the Torah, the end of Deuteronomy 34. This brings shalem, completion, reminding us of the Mashiakh who would tell his followers, shalom alekhem “Peace be with you.” The Hebrew root shlmgives us shalem, completion, and shalom, peace. In the Hebrew mind, completion brings peace. The completion of our days on earth brought the peace of Sheol. Rabbi Paultaught the same. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” 2 Tim 4:7–8.
The traditional Israelite day of solemn rest after labor is the seventh day, shabat. Shemini atzeret is a “shabat” of solemn rest on the eighth day. Catholics may see in this special Sunday of new beginnings a pre-figure of Rabbi Yeshua’s transition from the Sabbath Day to the Lord’s Day.
Jews from Israel also celebrate on this eighth day an historically more recent feast day, simkhat torah, rejoicing in the Torah. Jews rejoice in the Torah very much as Catholics rejoice in Rabbi Yeshua, the Torah Made Flesh.
Jews outside Israel celebrate it as well on the following day, 23rd tishrei. Outside Israel, extra days of holidays are celebrated. The lunar Jewish calendar required that the Sanhedrin send out messengers each month to tell the people when the new month began. People in distant lands, who were not always notified, knew that the old month would be either 29 or 30 days. But, not knowing which, they celebrated the holiday on both possible days. Even today, Israelis do not celebrate the extra days because it was not the custom of their ancestors, but Jews from another countries, even when visiting Israel, do celebrate them.
Jewish tradition holds that shemini atzeret and simkhat torah are separate from sukkot, but the themes of harvest and completion are intertwined. When we see that shemini atzeret and simkhat torah are celebrated in Israel on the eighth day, the day of the Mashiakh, we marvel that the signs of harvest, completion, solemn assembly, and the Lord’s Day come together to point straight to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which each Sunday re-presents Rabbi Yeshua’s completion of the Torah.