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The celebration of Passover
Pesach, more commonly referred to as Passover, is the most commonly observed Jewish holy day. According to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, eighty percent of Jews have attended a Pesach Seder, a traditional meal eaten to celebrate the holy day. Passover, also referred to as “the Spring Festival,” “the Festival of Matzah” or “the Time of Our Freedom,” is a celebration held to commemorate the Israelites deliverance out of slavery in Egypt (Rich, T.). It is a time for all Jewish people to remember their ancestors and the trust and faith they had in God that led them to freedom. The celebration of Passover dates back thousands of years, is still observed today, and has significant parallels to an important Christian feast day, Easter.
Passover can trace its origins to three specific books in the Bible: Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. In Exodus 12, the first mention of the Passover is made. This chapter tells the story of the tenth plague, the last of the Ten Plagues. These catastrophic events were carried out by God through Moses, to force the Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery. The tenth plague is referred to as the “Death of the Firstborn.” Exodus 12 explains how God told Moses to mark the two doorposts and lintel of each Israelites’ house with the blood of a slaughtered lamb. When the Angel of Death passed through Egypt, it would “pass over” the houses marked with lamb’s blood and strike down the firstborn male, human or animal, of every unmarked house. When the Pharaoh awoke to find his firstborn son killed, he allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt, thus beginning the exodus and their journey to the Promised Land. This chapter also lays out specific guidelines for Jews to follow on how and when they should perform the Passover sacrifice. God tells Moses to mark the month of the Passover as the first month of the year. The rituals are to be passed down and carried out by all generations to follow. The festival is to be held on the fourteenth day of the first month, and last for seven days. The first and last day of the festival are to be celebrated by holding a sacred assembly, and no work except preparing food is to be done on these days. Jewish households are to remove all leaven, and eat unleavened bread for the full seven days. The sacrificial lamb is to be procured on the tenth day of the first month, it is to be a one year old male without blemish, and it is to be slaughtered at twilight on the fourteenth day. The lamb must be roasted and eaten whole, and anything left over is to be burned the next day. These same Passover regulations are presented again in Leviticus 23:4-14 and Deuteronomy 16:1-8 (Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible: New American Bible).
Today, people of the Jewish faith still observe this festival. They remain obedient to God and his words, “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution”(Exodus 12:14). In today’s society, Jews no longer slaughter the sacrificial lamb, but most of the other traditions are still observed. Jewish households remove all leaven and eat unleavened bread for seven days, eight days for Jews outside Israel. They do not work on the first or last day of the festival, which is celebrated on the fifteenth of the first month for Jews outside Israel. They also celebrate the Feast of the Firstborn, the day before Passover begins, where all first born males take part in a minor fast to symbolize being spared by the Angel of Death. In addition to the Biblical regulations, Jews also celebrate a Seder meal on the first two nights of Passover. The word Seder also refers to the text of the Passover found in the Haggadah, that tells the story of the Exodus out of Egypt and explains the symbols and practices of the holy day. The Seder meal consists of 15 parts, and always includes wine and unleavened bread. The first part is the Sanctification, where the wine is blessed. The second part is the Washing, where all hands are washed prior to the meal. The third part is the Vegetable, where a vegetable, usually parsley, is dipped into salt water and eaten. The fourth part is the Breaking, where one of the three matzah, or unleavened bread, is broken and one piece is set aside. The fifth part is the Story, where the story of the Exodus is read and the youngest member present asks four traditional questions. The sixth part is the Washing, where hands are washed again, this time while saying a blessing. The seventh part is the Blessing over Grain Products, where a general blessing for bread is said over the matzah. The eighth part is the Blessing over Matzah, where a specific blessing is said over the matzah. The ninth part is the Bitter Herbs, where a blessing is said over the bitter herbs, usually horseradish. The tenth part is the Sandwich, where the paschal offering is eaten. The eleventh part is the Dinner, where the meal is eaten by all present. The twelfth part is the Afikomen, where the piece of matzah that was set aside is eaten as dessert. The thirteenth part is the Grace after Meals, where grace is recited. The fourteenth part is Praises, where psalms are recited. The fifteenth part is the Closing, where a statement is made that the Seder meal is complete, hymns are sung, and stories are told (Rich, T.) The Seder meal is the focal point of the festival, where all Jewish families can remember their ancestors and honor their fight for freedom from the Egyptians.
The celebration of Passover has been observed by Jews for over 3000 years, but its influence is not limited to only people of Jewish faith. The Christian feast day, Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, has several parallels to the celebration of Passover. Jesus was himself a Jew, and therefore celebrated Passover. The Bible points to Jesus’ ‘Last Supper’ with his disciples, which is believed to have been celebrated closely before Passover. Jesus’ ‘Last Supper’ was carried out like a Seder meal, with wine and unleavened bread. The major difference between the two meals lies in the paschal sacrifice. The Seder meal would have sacrificed a lamb, but during the ‘Last Supper’ Jesus gave himself as the paschal sacrifice. Like the lamb’s blood saved the firstborn Israelites and led them to freedom, so would Jesus’ blood save all sinners from death and lead to everlasting life (Transfield, C.). Also, both holy days are celebrated in Spring, Passover on the fifteenth day of the month of Nissan, and Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon of Spring (Rich, T.).
In conclusion, Passover is a very traditional, popular, and influential festival that brings history to life in the present day. It is a feast that honors the struggles of the Jewish people to escape slavery and claim their right to the Promised Land. It is a feast that celebrates faith, hope, and trust in God. It is a feast that unites all Jewish people as one people, chosen by God, to live according to His will and laws.
1.) Rich, Tracey R. “Pesach: Passover.” Judaism 101. (1995-2007)
2.) Saint Mary’s Press college study Bible: New American Bible. Saint Mary’s Press, Christian Brothers Publications. Winona, MN (2007).
3.) Transfield, Craig. “Passover and Easter.” (February 20,2003).