13. The Passover

The Pharaoh kept going back on his word of releasing the Jews from bondage and slavery. God then inflicted the nine calamities or the nine plagues one after the other on the Pharaoh and on the people of Egypt, which harassed and hassled them to such an extent that they had lost their good night’s sleep. Yet new calamities kept coming, the sole reason being the betrayal by the Pharaoh! He never kept his promise of freeing the Jews from bondage and slavery.

Now, God decided to send the last and the final of the plagues. This time every Egyptian citizen, right from the Pharaoh, was going to be directly affected. The plague would strike down the first-born of both people and animals.

God now asked Moses to warn the Pharaoh about the looming plague, which he and Aaron did without wasting any time. The Pharaoh, mulish and unyielding despite all the calamities, refused to release the Jews from bondage and slavery; his sins were reaching their brink.

That happened to be the first day of the month of ‘Nissan’ of the Hebrew calendar, the day when God instructed Moses about the preparations that the Jews were supposed to do.

Jews marking their doorways for the Passover
Jews marking their doorways for the Passover

God commanded Moses in very clear terms saying, – ‘Every Jew would be required to tie a lamb for their household on the tenth day of the month. Four days later (on the fourteenth day of the month) the lamb would be sacrificed to God. The sacrificed lamb was to be feasted upon. Importantly, all were to eat unleavened bread with this meat. The food was to be finished the very day and the leftover was to be not to be eaten but to be burned.

Before the midnight hour, all the Hebrews were required to mark their doors with a prescribed symbol. The tenth calamity or the tenth plague would befall Egypt between the midnight of the fourteen day and the dawn of the fifteenth. The calamity would spare the houses (of the Hebrews) which would be marked in the specified way, that is to say it would ‘Passover’ – ‘Pass without touching’ them. But the houses which were not found to be marked, would have to suffer as per the warning, as the calamity would consume their first-born irrespective of its age’.

God also commanded that with the Passover, the month of ‘Nissan’ would then on, be the month of supreme importance for the Jews. Also, every year, all their forthcoming generations would celebrate the actual incident of the ‘Passover,’ for seven days starting from the 15th day of the month.

The word of God came true. On the fifteenth day, Egypt was struck by the tumultuous calamity; even the Pharaoh’s palace did not escape the wrath. There was complete mayhem. It was as if the whole nation was mourning and a grievous gloom fell on it. All that could be heard from every corner were people wailing and weeping in sorrow. The only ones to be happy and those that had emerged unscathed were the Jews; and they were repeatedly thanking God for his grace.

Egyptian Firstborn Destroyed
Egyptian Firstborn Destroyed

To commemorate their liberation from the slavery, the Jews celebrate the festival of ‘Passover’ for seven days, starting from the 15th day of the month of Nissan, the month of supreme importance. One of the chief traditions followed even today in the celebrations, is ‘eating the unleavened bread’.

Horrific that it was, the tenth plague brought the Pharaoh to his senses and down on his knees now, he surrendered to Moses, the very same day, exactly as foretold by God. The Pharaoh sent for Moses and issued orders to free right away, all the Jews from slavery and bondage of the Egyptians. The order also said that the Jews, with all their belongings, were free to go wherever they wished Unable to take any more pain, the Pharaoh further entreated Moses to stop any more calamities from besetting Egypt, adding also that Moses pray to his God to shower compassion on him.

At last….
….it was time. ‘The moment’ had come, the moment that the Jews longed for and waited for, through centuries! The Jews were now free from bondage and slavery in Egypt!

The Jews were euphoric but there was no time for enjoying this euphoria to their heart’s content, the main reason being God’s instruction that they leave Egypt the very day they were released from slavery.

Aware that this day was soon to dawn, the Jews had already packed all their belongings packed for the journey. Their domestic animals too were readied for the departure. No sooner did the Pharaoh order the release of the Jews from the slavery of Egyptians, than the Jews started to gather at the pre-decided place along with all their belongings and flocks. Also, terrified by the various calamities, the Egyptians gifted the departing Jews with silver-gold jewellery, clothing and many other valuables. The Jews took them along; they were no longer impoverished now.

According to the description given in the Bible, some six hundred thousand Hebrew men along with their wives, children, families and kindred gathered at the decided place. Besides, some Egyptians, sensing that the future belonged to the Jews, decided to join them.

Jews gather for Exodus
Jews gather for Exodus

Then began immediately under the supervision of Moses, the task of leading them out of Egypt under Moses, that too in a very systematic and orderly manner.

The story says that in the journey that followed, it was God Himself Who showed them the way. Moreover, to prevent this huge congregation of the Jews from losing their way, God Himself led them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and in the form of a pillar of fire by night.

The event that has been considered the most significant of all in the history of the Jews and that the Bible names the ‘Exodus’ (the migration of the Israelites out of Egypt after their release) had begun!
(To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar