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Passover Guide for the Perplexed, 2014

Passover's centrality in the American culture, state of mind and ethos has been evident from the 17th century Pilgrims and the 18th century Founding Fathers, until today.
A Jewish child walks beside a stream near Jerusalem. The water from the stream is used to make matzo for Pesach.

A Jewish child walks beside a stream near Jerusalem. The water from the stream is used to make matzo for Pesach.
Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90

1.  The Passover legacy constitutes the foundation of Judaism, and is therefore included in most Jewish blessings (“in memory of the Exodus”).  Passover symbolizes the rejuvenation of nature and mankind, spiritually and physically, individually and collectively/nationally.  Passover stipulates that human rejuvenation – just like the rejuvenation of nature – must be driven by memory/history/roots.   Therefore, parents are instructed to educate their children about the lessons of Passover. Passover was an early – and much more successful – edition of the (19th century) Spring of Nations.  It is celebrated in the spring, the bud of nature.  The biblical scroll of Song of Songs, which highlights spring, is read during Passover.  Spring, Aviv in Hebrew (אביב) consists of two Hebrew words: Father – אב – of 12 – יב – months/tribes.  Spring is mentioned 3 times in the Torah, all in reference to the Exodus.  Passover – which commemorates the creation of the Jewish nation – lasts seven days, just like the creation of the universe.

2.  Passover is the oldest Jewish national liberation holiday, highlighting the comprehensive nature of Judaism: religion, nationality, culture/morality, language and history.  Passover underlines the centrality of spiritual, physical, individual and national liberty and optimism, playing a critical role in preserving Judaism, Jews and the yearning to reconstruct the Jewish Homeland during the super-challenging 40 years in the desert and the 2,500 years of exiles, destruction, pogroms, the Holocaust, wars and terrorism.

Passover – the role model of faith, education, morality, responsibility and governance driven liberty – interacts with Shavou’ot/Pentecost – the role model of morality. Liberty and morality are mutually-inclusive.  The interdependence of liberty and morality distinguishes Western democracies from rogue regimes – a clash of civilizations.

The Hebrew word for “responsibility” – אחריות – encompasses the word “liberty” – חירות.  It begins with the leading letter in the Hebrew alphabet, א, and ends with the last letter of the alphabet, ת – encompassing the total responsibility of leadership.

The Exodus is mentioned 50 times in the Torah, equal to the 50 years of the Jubilee, a time of liberation. 50 days following the Exodus, Moses received the Torah (the Pentecost Holiday), which includes – according to Jewish tradition – 50 gates of Wisdom.  What does that mean for the 50 States in the USA, whose Hebrew name is ארצות הברית – the States of the Covenant?!

According to Heinrich Heine, the 19th century German poet, “Since the Exodus, freedom has always spoken with a Hebrew accent.”

3. Passover, and especially the Exodus/Liberty, were the pillars of fire guiding the twelve tribes of Israel, and the thirteen American colonies, from subjugation to sovereignty. The Passover legacy comprises a critical part of the American story. Moses, the US Founding Fathers and Israel’s Founding Father, Ben Gurion, were challenged by the “loyalists,” who were intimidated by the price/sacrifice of liberty, preferring subjugation to Egypt, the British King and the British Mandate. They featured in prior editions of the clash of civilizations against Pharaoh, the British monarchy and church and the Arab/Muslim world.  The latter still rejects non-Muslim (“infidel”) sovereignty in any area considered – by Muslims – to be the abode of Islam (e.g., Spain and Portugal, southern France, Israel, etc.).

4.  Passover’s centrality in the American culture, state of mind and ethos has been evident from the 17th century Pilgrims and the 18th century Founding Fathers, until today. The Pilgrims considered Britain “the modern day Egypt,” the British king was “the modern day Pharaoh,” the sail through the Atlantic Ocean was “the modern day parting of the sea” and America was “the modern day Promised Land/New Canaan.” In 1775, the president of Harvard University, Samuel Langdon, said that “the Jewish government [that God handed down to Moses] was a perfect republic.” Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense (the cement of the 1776 Revolution) referred to King George as “the hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England.”  The root of the term Federalism is “Foedus,” the Latin word for “The Covenant.” The Founding Fathers studied the political structure of the semi-independent 12 Tribes (the colonies), which were governed by tribal presidents (the governors) and by Moses (the Executive), Aaron (the Judiciary) and the 70 Elders (the Legislature). John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin proposed the “Parting of the Sea” as the official US seal. George Washington and John Adams, the first and second presidents, were compared to Moses and Joshua. Washington was eulogized as Moses and Virginia was compared to Goshen.

Yoram Ettinger

About the Author: Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is consultant to Israel’s Cabinet members and Israeli legislators, and lecturer in the U.S., Canada and Israel on Israel’s unique contributions to American interests, the foundations of U.S.-Israel relations, the Iranian threat, and Jewish-Arab issues.


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