"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A night different from all others

    They first broke the hard, dry bread in the desert, homeless refugees,
lost, wandering, wondering.
    34 centuries ago.
The word in the middle of the plate is Passover in Hebrew.
    This year, their descendants will gather the evening of April 7, all over the world, and break bread again, just as they have done every year since that first night feast in the desert in the middle of nowhere, remembering...
    A night different from all others.
    "Pesah." Passover.
    So much drama, so much history, so much hope, so much faith, in a single word.
    One of the oldest religious rites in the world, Passover reminds its
observers of who they are, where they've been, and what their God has done for them.
   A year earlier, they’d hidden behind locked doors, lamb's blood smeared on the lintels of their slave hovels. That night, their God sent the tenth plaque on Egypt, a death angel that killed all first-born--except that it passed over those homes marked by blood. Then Pharoah, mourning the death of his heir, let the Israelites go, and they fled into the desert and history.
    Gentiles can learn from Passover, too.
    To better understand the Jewish mind and faith, you should read Exodus. And then if you'd attend a seder, the opening meal of the eight-day Passover custom, you'd be immersed in the culture of Yahweh and his people.
    All leaven is cleansed from the houses before Passover. Special dishes and utensils are required. Each element of the meal symbolizes the hardships
they've survived: unleavened bread, haroset, greens,  roast egg, shank bone. Salt water to remind them of their tears. Bitter herbs to bring those tears to their eyes. Wine. For the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten--hence the "Festival of the Unleavened Bread." 
    You see, Passover reminds them they were slaves, that they were freed, that they wandered in the wilderness, that life was hard, and that God took care of them.
    The feast is designed to provoke the curiosity of children, the youngest of whom asks four questions. The rest of the seder answers the questions, so that generations to come will know why the night is different from all others. 
They read the Haggadah, the telling of the Story. "You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 13:8) A cup of wine is left for Elijah, and the door left open to invite him in--A stark contrast to the event Passover commemorates.
     The story and traditions have grown over the years, but it is always a multi-generational family ritual, not a worship service in a synagogue.
    Great care has gone into preparing "The Story" also. Special illuminated manuscripts were treasured. This one in the Jewish national museum and library in Jerusalem, dates from 1480 in Italy, The Haggadah Shei Pesha. 
     After 3,400 years, Passover still carries power. No matter that the wilderness of wandering may be rush hour traffic, or the slavery may be a minimum wage job or a world that doesn't understand. Or persecution, or the Holocaust. They are chosen, they are delivered, they are freed. So when the sun goes down this midweek, remember for a special people, it's another year, of faith, of freedom. A night different from all others.
    Passover.
     Shalom.


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