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In a Nutshell: The Passover Story

In a Nutshell: The Passover Story

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Arrival in Egypt

Jacob and his children had arrived in Egypt to be close Joseph; he was second in command to King Pharaoh, and with his ingenuity had saved the people of Egypt, and by extension those from neighboring countries, from death by famine. Jacob and his children were settled in the city of Goshen and prospered wonderfully--their numbers grew and grew.

As long as Jacob's son's are alive, the Children of Israel are accorded honor and respect, but after the passing of Joseph, "There arose a new king in Egypt who knew not Joseph"--some commentaries say, chose not to know Joseph--"And he said to his people. 'Behold the Children of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply...'"(Exodus 1:8-10).

Enslavement

The Egyptians' way of dealing with their "Jewish Problem" is to enslave the Jews. They are all forced into backbreaking labor, compelled to build cities of treasure houses for Pharaoh. But still, the Jews continue to multiply, to Pharaoh's eyes, at an ever frightening pace. To put a stop to this, Pharaoh summons the Jewish midwives, Shifra and Puah, and commands them to kill all Jewish newborn males. This, he is certain, will put an end to the propagation of this race. When the midwives defy his order, he commands that they cast all the newborn males into the Nile--his stargazers had predicted that the savior of the Jews would die through water--and Pharaoh hopes his plan will ensure an early death for any potential Jewish leader.

Moses' Birth

Jocheved, the wife of the Levite Amram, gives birth to a son. Because he is born three months early, she is able to conceal him for that amount of time. When she can no longer hide him, she builds a small water-proof cradle and puts her child on the brink of the Nile. The child's sister, Miriam, hides among the brush to watch the child.

Pharaoh's daughter comes to bathe in the river when she sees the floating cradle. When she opens it and sees the weeping baby, she realizes that this is a Jewish child, but her compassion is aroused and she resolves to take the baby home. She names him Moses "he who was drawn from the water."

Miriam approaches the princess and offers to find a wet-nurse for the baby. When Pharaoh's daughter accepts, Miriam brings her Jocheved, whom Pharaoh's daughter hires to nurse and care for the child. When Moses grows older, he is returned to the palace, where Pharaoh's daughter raises him like a son.

Moses Is Appointed Leader

As a young man, Moses leaves the palace and discovers the hardship of his brethren. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and kills the Egyptian. The next day he sees two Jews fighting; when he admonishes them, they reveal his deed of the previous day, and Moses is forced to flee to Midian. There he rescues Jethro's daughters, marries one of them--Zipporah--and becomes a shepherd of his father-in-law's flocks.

In the meantime, the plight of the Children of Israel in Egypt worsens, "and their cry rose up to G‑d."

As Moses is shepherding his flock, he comes upon a burning bush, in which G‑d appears to him and instructs him to go to Pharaoh and demand: "Let My people go, so that they may serve Me." Moses objects, citing a speech defect he acquired while in the palace, and so Moses' brother, Aaron, is appointed to serve as his spokesman. In Egypt, Moses and Aaron assemble the elders of Israel to tell them that the time of their redemption has come. The people believe; but Pharaoh refuses to let them go and even intensifies the suffering of Israel. He increases the burden of labor on his Hebrew slaves, commanding their taskmasters to cease bringing the Israelites straw to make the bricks. Now, they must go to the fields to collect the straw themselves, but maintain the same quota of brick production.

Moses can no longer bear the pain of his brethren; he turns to G‑d saying, "Why have You done evil to this people?" G‑d promises that the redemption is close at hand, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land."

G‑d then reveals Himself to Moses. Employing the "four expressions of redemption," He promises to take out the Children of Israel from Egypt, deliver them from their enslavement, redeem them and acquire them as His own chosen people at Mount Sinai; He will then bring them to the Land He promised to the Patriarchs as their eternal heritage.

The 10 Plagues

Moses and Aaron repeatedly come before Pharaoh to demand in the name of G‑d, "Let My people go, so that they may serve Me in the wilderness." Pharaoh repeatedly refuses. Aaron's staff turns into a snake and swallows the magic sticks of the Egyptian sorcerers.

Pharaoh still refuses to let the Jews go. Moses warns him that G‑d will smite Egypt. Pharaoh remains impervious. G‑d begins to send a series of plagues upon the Egyptians. In the throes of each plague, Pharaoh promises to let the Children of Israel go; but he reneges the moment the affliction is removed.

1) Aaron strikes the Nile, the waters turn to blood;
2) Swarms of frogs overrun the land;
3) Lice infest all men and beasts. Still, Pharaoh remains stubborn;
4) Hordes of wild animals invade the cities,
5) a pestilence kills the domestic animals,
6) painful boils afflict the Egyptians.
7) Fire and ice combine to descend from the skies as a devastating hail. Still, "the heart of Pharaoh was hardened and he would not let the children of Israel go; as G‑d had said to Moses."

The people of Egypt have suffered too much. They beg Pharaoh to let the Jews go. When Moses comes to warn Pharaoh of the eighth plague, Pharaoh says: You say that you want to go serve your G‑d? I'll let the men go, as long as the women and children stay behind. No, says Moses, we must all go, men women and children, cattle and herds. Pharaoh once again refuses.

The next plagues descends upon Egypt.
8) a swarm of locusts devours all the crops and greenery;
9) a thick, palpable darkness envelops the land.

The Israelites are instructed to bring a "Passover offering" to G‑d: a lamb or kid is to be slaughtered and its blood sprinkled on the doorposts and lintel of every Israelite home, so that G‑d should pass over these homes when He comes to kill the Egyptian firstborn. The roasted meat of the offering is to be eaten that night together with matzah (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs.

Then G‑d brings the tenth plague upon Egypt,
10) all the firstborn of Egypt are killed at the stroke of midnight of the 15th of the month of Nissan.

The Exodus

The death of the firstborn finally breaks Pharaoh's resistance and he literally begs the Children of Israel to leave his land. Following G‑d's command, they hastily depart; so hastily that there is no time for their dough to rise, and the only provisions they take along are unleavened. Before they go, they ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold, silver and garments, emerging from Egypt a wealthy nation.

The Children of Israel are commanded to observe the anniversary of the Exodus each year by removing all leaven from their possession for seven days, eating matzah, and telling the story of their redemption to their children.

Soon after allowing the Children of Israel to depart from Egypt, Pharaoh chases after them to force their return, and the Israelites find themselves trapped between Pharaoh's armies and the sea. G‑d tells Moses to raise his staff over the water; the sea splits to allow the Israelites to pass through, and then closes over the pursuing Egyptians. Moses and the Children of Israel sing a song of praise and gratitude to G‑d.

Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous April 11, 2017

Good description Reply

david blitz April 3, 2015

perfect description of the Passover story Reply

Elizabeth Robinson Fairfax, California April 7, 2011

Yes, we do learn from suffering...but Gd is not a vengeful Gd who angrily punishes His people. Over the years I have learned that almost all of the suffering inflicted on His chosen people was a result of their choices and actions. Their own actions led to many of their trials. Much of their and our own suffering is brought on by our choice to not follow Gd's teachings. Most of the time rather than directly punishing us He lets natural consequences follow. Reply

Anonymous jerusalem, Israel April 5, 2009

It has always been very difficult for me to imagine such a vengeful Gd that first creates such suffering for his "chosen" people and then punishing so harshly the others.....

why ? why so much suffering ? like Moses asked? Gd is all powerful so why not make beautiful miracles instead of all that pain and hardship???

Could it be because we humans know only learning out of pain ??? Reply

Malkie Janowski Chabad.org March 16, 2015

G-d actually commanded the Jews to eat the Passover sacrifice with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, ie: matzah, unrelated to their leaving the next morning, and they did so. The next morning, however, the nation was in such a rush that there was no time to bake bread properly, and therefore, it was baked as matzah and not allowed to rise. Reply

Robert manalapan March 11, 2015

The roasted meat of the offering is to be eaten that night together with matzah (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs.

I thought that unleaved bread was due to the rush to leave Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman April 1, 2010

Nowhere does it say that they only took their coat and unleavened bread. They had to bake enough bread for a long journey very fast, so there was no time to let it rise--especially when they had these orders from Moses to go to the Egyptians and ask for their stuff. The reason they had to do this was in order to fulfill the promise to Abraham, that his children would leave Egypt with great wealth. It was also fair pay for their hard labor while there. Reply

Tzvi Freeman March 31, 2010

I thought of a couple of answers, and threw them all out. This article, however, may help us somewhat: Does G-d Really Need to Punish the Wicked? Reply

Anonymous mytown, USA March 31, 2010

I'm confused. They have no time to grab more than their coat and the un-risen bread, but they have time to get gold from their neighbors? That makes NO sense... Plus it says they took their critters. So time for critters and plunder, yes. Time for personal goods, no? Reply

Jeffrey Brown White Plains, NY March 29, 2010

I understand that there may have been complicity by some - but probably not all. I am more concerned about the concept that if G-d bekieves that terrorism is a good strategy to accomplish a political goal, why not us? Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman March 29, 2010

Interesting point. I suppose the question is concerning G-d's justice. It seems, however, that others have beaten us to the issue. Rashi quotes the Pesikhta Rabba: "Why were the sons of the slave women smitten? Because they too were enslaving them [the Jews] and were happy about their misfortune." Reply

Jeffrey Brown White Plains, NY March 28, 2010

At first glance,it appears as if G-d is using a manual of terrorism to accomlish His goal of freeing the Irsraelites. Instead of attacking the Pharo and his armies directly, he tries destabalize the Egyptian government by terrorizing the civilian population by attacking the food and water supply, the power source (darkness), using biological warfare (boils), psychological warfare (lightening with hail, insect swarms), and finally kills first born civilians regardless of complicity. The strategy works. Am I missing something? Reply

Tomasi. El Gorah, Sinai March 19, 2012

It was the stubbornness of the Pharaoh in not allowing the Israelites to leave in spite of a very humble request by Moses.
A simple yes is all that was needed from Pharaoh when he should have realised that it was not a person's request but from G-d.
An important lesson also to be learned from this story is that respect of people is important in spite of positons and authority. Reply

LeRoy Billy Poteau, usa March 17, 2012

Passover is much more than an evet of the past and present observing of the same. It involves a promise made, a promise kept. Sometimes we can't "see the forest for the trees" leaving us to all kinds of opinions and speculations. Our finite minds alone cannot begin to comprehend the significance of Passoverl However, taking Scripture on the whole, we get a glimpse of it's meaning and significance for us. Reply

Richard Singer Livingston, NJ via jnet.org April 23, 2011

This will make a great addition to our Seder Haggadah I have already added probable reasons for what the plaques were to represent to the Egyptians. I thought though that Moses speech problem was from the hot coal. Anyone? Reply

Gideon Marange March 6, 2013

Well written, very nice. Reply

Anonymous NYC, U.S March 26, 2011

nicely explained and well written. helped a lot for my project. Reply

coby ojai, C.A April 12, 2009

amazing I didnt know that! :D Reply

Anonymous coral springs, usa April 2, 2009

Well structured and explained, nice picture. Reply

debbie hendryx leliegh acreas, fla. April 11, 2008

very informative Reply

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