What is the Passover Story or Pesach Story ?
The Passover story or Pesach story describes a period in time when the first Hebrew - Abraham - was told by G-d that his descendants would eventually become slaves in ancient Egypt for a period of four hundred years at which G-d would then bring them out of Egypt to their physical and political freedom and eventually, their spiritual freedom at Mount Sinai 50 days after leaving Egypt. Centuries after G-d told this to Abraham, the Hebrews indeed became slaves in Egypt and at the end of four hundred years of slavery, were led by G-d via Moshe - Moses in Hebrew - out of Egypt to their physical, political and ultimately, spiritual freedom at Mount Sinai.
When does the story of Passover or story of Pesach begin in the Hebrew Bible ?
The story of Passover or story of Pesach begins either (1) when Abraham was told by G-d that his descendants would become slaves in Egypt, or (2) later on in time, when Yosef or Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Abraham's grandson Jacob - also named Israel - was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, whereupon Yosef or Joseph went to Egypt with his owners, or (3) when after Yosef or Joseph rose in political stature to become the most powerful man in ancient Egypt after the Pharaoh or King of ancient Egypt, he summoned his eleven brothers, sister, father, and their extended family totalling seventy descendants of Jacob/Israel to emigrate to Egypt since there was a famine in Canaan where his father, brothers, and extended family lived, but not in Egypt where Yosef or Joseph had earlier successfully forewarned the Pharaoh that he must grow and save enough food for himself and the people of Egypt in order to survive during the famine period that would strike Egypt as well. Jacob/Israel and his 70 descendants would then subsequently agree to emigrate to Egypt.
When does the story of Passover or story of Pesach end in the Hebrew Bible ?
For all the above explanations stating when the story of Passover or story of Pesach begins, the story of Passover or story of Pesach ends upon the conclusion of Chapter 15 in the biblical Book of Shemot or Exodus, after the Hebrews had been saved by G-d from the Egyptian army who had been pursuing them through the Sinai Desert and through the Yam Suf or "Sea of Reeds" or the "Reed Sea" in order to bring them back to Egypt as slaves again after the Hebrews had left Egypt. Shemot or Exodus 15 concludes by stating that the Hebrews had begun to travel from the Yam Suf to desert oases in the Wilderness of Shur (the name for the northwestern part of the Sinai Peninsula, south of the Mediterranean Sea shoreline; it is an arid region).
While the Passover story or Pesach story extends across many centuries, it reaches its peak during the tenth of Ten Plagues that G-d unleashed on Egypt in order to convince the Pharaoh or King of Egypt that the G-d of the Hebrews was stronger than all the G-ds of Egypt combined - the Pharaoh himself was considered by the Egyptians to be half-G-d and half-human - and so the Pharaoh must free the Hebrew slaves or otherwise he would incur the wrath of the Hebrew G-d. The tenth and final plague is known as the Death of the First-Borns when G-d fulfills the promise to slay the first-born in each Egyptian household - including the household of the Pharaoh or King of Egypt - in order to finally convince the Pharaoh to let the Hebrews leave Egypt and attain their freedom while sparing the first-born in each Hebrew household as long as the Hebrews fulfilled G-ds' instructions told to them through Moses. These instructions stated that prior to the tenth plague, at dusk (after sunset, and at the end of twilight and before nightfall) on the 14th day of the first Hebrew month known as Nissan or Nisan, each Hebrew household must sacrifice and then spread the blood of a one-year old male lamb - the Korban Pesach in Hebrew or Passover (lamb) sacrifice - on their two doorposts and lintel (the horizontal beam that is located above the door or doors to a household). A short time later, after nightfall (the Hebrew/Jewish day is originally from nightfall to nightfall on the following day), on the 15th day of Nissan or Nisan, the sacrificed lamb would then be roasted and then eaten in the Hebrew household. When the Angel of Death, sent by G-d, comes to slay the first-borns of the Egyptians at midnight on the 15th day of Nissan or Nisan, it will "pass over" or "skip over" or "jump over" ("Pasach" in Hebrew) the households of the Hebrews that fulfilled these instructions and would not harm anyone in those households. Although the name Passover or Pesach in Hebrew was originally associated with the lamb that was sacrificed for the events of the tenth plague and hence, first Passover or first Pesach, the name Passover or Pesach eventually became linguistically associated with the action that was performed by the Angel of Death after sighting the lamb's blood on the two doorposts and lintel of the Hebrew household, that is, Pasach. In other words, the Hebrew word Pesach or Passover in English, symbolizing the sacrificial lamb whose blood on the two doorposts and lintel of each Hebrew household in Egypt resulted in the action of Pasach by the Angel of Death, became associated with and is the noun form of the verb Pasach, but eventually came to represent Pasach itself. In addition, the name Passover or Pesach eventually became associated in a colloquial form with the entire seven-day festival (for Jews living in Israel, most Reform Jews, and some Conservative Jews) or eight-day festival (for Jews living outside Israel, some Reform Jews, and most Conservative Jews) that commemorates and celebrates this event. After the 10th Plague occurred, the Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Hebrews leave Egypt, and so in the day on the 15th of Nissan or Nisan, they left Egypt in haste, at the urging of the Egyptians. The Hebrews left Egypt so fast that the dough which they baked for their journey did not have time to leaven, resulting in unleavened bread called matzo in Hebrew, an enduring symbol of the Exodus from Egypt event. The Hebrew leader Moses also asked the Hebrews to ask the Egyptians for valuables for their journey, and the Egyptians were happy to give them jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, so that they could be rid of the Hebrews as soon as possible and not incur the wrath of the Hebrew G-d.
The Passover Story or Pesach Story And African-American Spirituals
The Passover story or Pesach story has been a source of inspiration for many people down through the centuries, including the African-American slaves who toiled on the plantations in the 18th century on the Golden Isles of Georgia, part of the Sea Islands which stretch along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Various slave songs known as spirituals were written, demonstrating the genius of the authors in the messages they conveyed, often coded messages so that slave-owners would not understand the meanings of the words that were only intended to be understood between slaves. The Passover story or Pesach story and its central theme of freedom appealed to the slaves and so we find plenty of spirituals that mention the principle themes and biblical characters of the Passover story or Pesach story in the lyrics of the spirituals. Biblical characters such as Moses and the Pharaoh are mentioned in these spirituals, along with associated words such as freedom, free, the Sea (referring to the "Sea of Reeds" or the "Reed Sea" in the Passover story or Pesach story), Egypt, and Israel (referring to the Hebrews). Stories of the hardships of the slaves were reflected in the emotive feelings written into many spirituals, with one particularly famous song entitled "Follow The Drinking Gourd" being a coded song whose words not only gave advice but actually contained a completely coded map together with details on how to escape to freedom in Canada.
So how did the story of Passover or story of Pesach result in a seven-day festival?
Seven days after the Hebrews left Egypt, they reached the Yam Suf ("Sea of Reeds" or the "Reed Sea" in Hebrew) in the evening on the 21st day of Nissan or Nisan, and during this time, the Pharaoh could not bear having lost his slaves, whose labor upheld the slave-driven economy of ancient Egypt, and the Pharaoh feared that a potentially collapsing economy would likely result in a revolt by the Egyptians which would seriously threaten the continued rule of the Pharaoh. He subsequently changed his mind and sent his army out into the Sinai Desert after the Hebrews to bring them back to Egypt as slaves again. In the evening on the 21st day of Nissan or Nisan, after the Hebrews had reached the Yam Suf, the Hebrews looked back and saw the fast approaching Egyptian army. They cried out to Moses that G-d had let them down and that they would have been better off knowing that they were slaves in Egypt rather than having left Egypt into the unknown of the wilderness. This is when G-d commanded Moses to lift up his rod and stretch his hand over the waters of the Yam Suf, whereupon it parted into two huge walls of water, allowing the Hebrews to cross safely over onto the other shoreline. After all the Hebrews had entered the Yam Suf and were crossing through it, the entire Egyptian army entered the Yam Suf after them. But G-d saw this and in the morning of the 21st day of Nissan or Nisan, G-d created confusion among the Egyptian army by taking off the wheels of their chariots causing them to be driven heavily. When the Egyptian army saw this divine act, they realized that the G-d of the Hebrews was fighting for the Hebrews against them and turned to retreat out of the Yam Suf. By this time, all the Hebrews had safely crossed over onto the other shoreline whereupon G-d commanded Moses to again stretch out his hand over the waters of the Yam Suf whereupon the two walls of water came together, drowning the entire retreating Egyptian army and saving the Hebrews from becoming slaves again in Egypt. Therefore, based on the biblical account as well as on the biblical commandment from G-d to the Hebrews in Shemot or Exodus 12:15 to eat unleavened bread/matzo for seven days in commemoration of this seven-day period, Passover or Pesach is a seven-day festival which commemorates and celebrates the time from the Exodus from Egypt in the daytime on the 15th day of Nissan or Nisan up until and including the time when the Hebrews were finally and definitively saved from slavery again at the Yam Suf in the morning on the 21st day of Nissan or Nisan, or in other words, from the first taste of political and physical freedom by the Hebrews upon the Exodus from Egypt up to and including the complete securing of their political and physical freedom at the Yam Suf, the feeling of experiencing one's personal and collective political and physical freedom for the first time in this seven-day period was to be marked as a time that was and is obligated to be commemorated and celebrated in every generation as stated in a commandment by G-d in the biblical Book of Shemot or Exodus. At the same time, we are also obligated by G-d to continuously remember that it was the One, True, purely spiritual G-d who conquered the G-ds of the Egyptians and the Pharaoh and brought us out of Egypt.
So why is the Passover story or Pesach story an eight-day festival for Jews living outside Israel?
The reason why Passover or Pesach is an eight-day festival for Jews living outside Israel as well as some Reform Jews and most Conservative Jews has to do with the way the months of the Hebrew/Jewish calendar were determined before the establishment of the modern Hebrew/Jewish calendar by Rabbi Hillel II in either 358 C.E. or 359 C.E.
The exact dates for Hebrew/Jewish festivals and holidays are based on the lunar cycles. The day on which the new month began was a prerequisite to determining the date or dates for Hebrew/Jewish festivals and/or holidays for that month. With the establishment of the modern Hebrew/Jewish calendar by Rabbi Hillel II in either 358 C.E. or 359 C.E., the length of the lunar month was calculated and determined to be exactly 29.53059 days. This made it easy to determine the exact dates for Hebrew/Jewish festivals and holidays for all months. However, before this time, the length of the new or upcoming lunar month had to be determined by the sighting of the first full crescent of the new moon. The rabbinic leaders at the Temple in Jerusalem were the ones who officially declared the sighting of the new moon. They used two reliable and independent witnesses to witness the sighting of the first crescent of the new moon. Once sighted, both witnesses would then report the previous night's sighting of the first crescent of the new moon to the rabbis at the Temple in Jerusalem, who carefully interrogated them and corroborated the claims. Once the two sightings of the first crescent of the new moon were officially confirmed, the rabbis in Jerusalem would perform mathematical calculations to determine the date or dates for Hebrew/Jewish festivals and/or holidays in that month. Once that was done, the Temple rabbis would declare that a new month had begun, and sent out special messengers to tell the date or dates to first the Jews living in Jerusalem, then the Jews living in the rest of Israel, and then finally, the Jews living in communities beyond Israel's borders. However, based on centuries of experience of observing the lunar cycles, since the day on which the new lunar month began could be only one of two days, if the first crescent of the new moon was not sighted on the first day, it had to be on the second day. The day on which the first crescent of the new moon was sighted would be the first day of the new month. Therefore, a Hebrew/Jewish month could be either 29 days or 30 days in length. Since Jews living in Jerusalem and in the rest of Israel were geographically close in proximity to the Temple in Jerusalem, they would know which of the two days was chosen as the first day of the new month since the special messengers would arrive fairly quickly to inform them of the day on which the new month began and the date or dates for Hebrew/Jewish festivals and/or holidays for that month, and so they knew the exact day on which Passover or Pesach began and just celebrated one Seder meal, as the Seder meal opens up the Passover or Pesach festival. However, since Jews living in communities beyond Israel's borders, such as in Babylonia, had to wait a longer time to hear about which day was chosen as the first day of the new month as well as learning of the date or dates of Hebrew/Jewish festivals and/or holidays for that month, because of this doubt as to when the Hebrew/Jewish festivals and/or holidays began because of not knowing on which of two days the new month began, the rabbinic leaders of these outlying communities declared that an additional day be added to festivals and holidays for their communities to ensure that the festivals and/or holidays would be celebrated on their correct day. This means that the second day of festivals and holidays is the additional day that was added to solve the doubt as to when the new month began. In the case of Passover or Pesach, this meant that Seder meals would be held on two consecutive days in addition to declaring both Seder days to be identical "Yom Tov" days or holy days where the full application of Jewish law for Passover or Pesach applies to those days. This is why there are eight days of Passover or Pesach for Jews living outside Israel but only seven days for Passover or Pesach for Jews living in Israel.
When a definitive Hebrew/Jewish calendar was established by Rabbi Hillel II in either 358 C.E. or 359 C.E., it was decided that the extra day would be kept for Jews living outside Israel but not for the original reason for having an eighth day. Rather, the eighth day was kept for Jews living outside Israel because it was to be a reminder to Jews living outside Israel that they had not yet returned to their ancestral home in Israel.