Passover is the annual holiday when Jews remember the Exodus of their people from slavery in Egypt. I’m 68 years old and have celebrated Passover throughout my whole life. I grew up in Kansas City in the middle of the USA and have lived the past 22 years in Sydney. It hasn’t mattered where I was living or visiting, Passover is the most celebrated Jewish holiday for me and my family.
It’s not the food, although it is abundant, and it’s not the religious ceremony. It’s not the over-sweet Passover wine or the longer-than-necessary prayers and reading of the script. What happens during the holiday is the release of a sort-of homing device such as happens in New South Wales during March as the Rugby League season begins. It’s similar to hearing the sounds of your national anthem being played while someone you don’t know is standing on the dais during the Olympics. There’s a feeling we call ‘hamishe’ in Yiddish, a feeling of home. That sentiment which drove Odysseus until he reached home and E.T. to ‘phone home’ is the hamishe feeling.
And that’s what I feel as I approach the holiday again in 2020. My parents have been gone for 15 years; my brother died years ago. What I’m experiencing is a desire to live in the hamishe reality. The songs don’t change year to year. The food tastes the same; the jokes – we could finish each other’s stories before they start. We are home again.
What causes this? Jewish tradition is much more important to most Jewish people in these days than the Scriptures. Most Jewish people would not seriously knock back the constitutional reality of what Moses or Isaiah wrote. In fact, most Jewish people today would say that the Scriptures are relevant, even though they would not consider them authoritative or inerrant. Still, the Bible is a good story, and the Exodus from Egypt was significant. And that forms the basis of the continuing Passover celebrations.
Most of my people would have some argument with the actual biblical story. They might disclaim the possibility of the 10 plagues, saying Moses got lucky or knew the secrets of Egyptian folklore. They would say things like, “the parting of the Red Sea didn’t actually happen. One, it wasn’t the Red Sea at all, and then secondly, the rendering of the movies like the one with Christian Bale (Exodus: Gods and Kings, 2014) where his feet were soaking wet, was more in line with reality.” or “Miracles are not part of the normal Jewish conversation; Moses and the Red Sea just couldn’t have happened.”
But that dismissal of the ongoing possibilities of a God-who-overrides is what has caused my people to miss so much in history. Abraham’s wife Sarah laughed in disbelief when the angel communicated about God overriding her 90-year-old body’s limitations. Moses dismissed his own allegiance of faith in striking a rock instead of speaking to it, as God had instructed. His lack of faith prevented his entry into the Promised Land. Saul let his own cleverness override God in sparing Agag and the best of the conquered treasure, while disobeying the clear command to rid Israel of the Amalekites. God wanted to override the situations of the people; those who trusted him would live in his pleasure. And continue to celebrate the God of history and the God of the Exodus. The God who overrides. He’s the God of the super-natural (extra-ordinary: above the normal).
Only by living in his promises and in relation to the Almighty and Yeshua the Messiah will Jewish people find the best hamishe feeling ever.
We find ourselves at this season in global history in dire circumstances. Nothing looks hopeful. The share market is plummeting. The Aussie dollar is falling, almost in free fall. Covid-19 is the latest of pandemics featuring a coronavirus. Countries in Europe and other continents are in lockdown. Some cities in the USA are in shelter-in-place, stuck at home with seriously limited excursion capacity. Churches in Australia are closing for the season, using internet apps such as Zoom and Skype for a chance to host church services and Bible meetings. Sports centres and tournaments are cancelled for the time being. Where is the hope for humanity?
As believers, we look to the Almighty for hope. But why would anyone do that? On what do we fix our hope? Is it because we are such good and noble and caring people? Thus it’s a reward for our good behaviour? Or is it because he has to do this to maintain our commitments to him? That is, if he doesn’t act, then we will walk away and find another deity?
The stories of Passover and its Christian counterpart, The Passion/Resurrection Day, teach us much more. Passover features the stories of God sparing the Jewish firstborns in Egypt and bringing his people out of slavery. They are God-who-overrides. This being is reflected in the deliverance Yeshua (Jesus) offers to all who put their trust in him. He died at the hands of the Romans and his execution was permanent. They buried him. He was a goner. And yet, he arose from the dead. That’s extra-ordinary! That’s the God-who-overrides. We are delivered by Yeshua from sin and death. Egypt then represents our bondage, our inability to find eternity, our failures to find grace and mercy to help in times of need.
Thus, if we trust Messiah Yeshua, we are set free from the bondage (Romans 8.2, 8.21) of our personal Egypt and brought into the light of the Kingdom (Colossians 1.13) of God’s beloved Son. The new covenant is better than the old covenant on so many levels: a better name, a better priesthood, better blood, better conditions, better promises, and on and on. Leaving Egypt was awesome. Crossing the Red Sea was God’s power-made-manifest to the Hebrews.
Then God led the Jewish people to the Promised Land and we experienced his hand in all our ways. We found ‘home’ and that hamishe feeling. Only by living in his promises and in relation to the Almighty and Yeshua the Messiah will Jewish people find the best hamishe feeling ever. It’s not the four cups of wine; it’s not grandmother’s matzo ball soup. It’s in finding our Elder Brother, Messiah Yeshua of whom the prophets wrote that we find home.
Easter is a Jewish story – the crucified Messiah, the Son of God, the (Passover) Lamb of God, who dies on Passover, is buried and rises from the dead on the Jewish holiday of First Fruits (Exodus 34, Leviticus 23, 1 Corinthians 15). It’s the story of redemption from something far worse than Egyptian slavery. We are saved from sin and death. And translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
Bob Mendelsohn is the director of Jews for Jesus in Australasia. He lives in Sydney with his wife and very near his son and two of his grandsons. He has worked with Jews for Jesus since 1979 and directed their works in New York City and Washington, DC, before moving to Sydney in 1998. Their office and bookshop are located in Bondi Junction. Even during the coronavirus, they are open for prayers and personal care. For such a time as this, contact Bob by phone on 1.800.MESSIAH.