The Story of Passover
The story of Passover began with the arrival of Jacob and
his family in Egypt to be with son Joseph who had become Viceroy
of all Egypt.
When Joseph and his brothers died and the children of Israel
multiplied in the land of Egypt, King Pharaoh chose to forget all
that Joseph had done for Egypt - transforming it into the
wealthiest country in the world at the time.
He decided to take action against the influence and growing
numbers of the children of Israel.
He summoned his council and they advised him to enslave these
people and oppress them before they grew too powerful.
Pharaoh embarked upon a policy of limiting the personal
freedom of the Hebrews, putting heavy taxes on them and
recruiting their men into forced labor battalions under the
supervision of harsh taskmasters.
The children of Israel were forced to build cities, erect
monuments, construct roads, work in the quarries and hew stones
or burn bricks or dies.
But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the
children multiplied. Finally, when King Pharaoh saw that forcing
the Hebrews to do hard work did not succeed in suppressing their
growing numbers, he decreed that all their newly born male
children be thrown into the Nile River. Only daughters should
be permitted to live.
Jacob's great-grandson, Amram, who married Yocheved, had
a daughter Miriam, later to become a great prophetess, and a son
named Aaron who later became the High Priest. When Yocheved bore
a third child, she placed him in a basket which she hid amongst
the reeds at the edge of the Nile River in order to escape the
king's soldiers who were snatching all the male babies and
casting them into the Nile.
When Pharaoh's daughter came to bathe in the Nile she
discovered the baby and, seeing his unusual radiance, recognized
that this child was someone very special.
She called him Moshe and decided to raise him herself in the
palace. She hired the baby's mother Yocheved to be his nurse, who
also taught him about his rich Jewish heritage.
When the children of Israel could no longer endure their
terrible suffering at the hands of their cruel overlords, their
cries for help coming from the very bottom of their hearts,
pierced the heavens.
G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
and decided to deliver their descendants from bondage.
Moshe was 80 years old and his brother 83 years old when
they entered the palace of King Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked the two
brothers what they wanted.
The message sounded like a command: "The G-d of Israel said,
'Let My people go, that they may serve me.'" Pharaoh refused,
saying that he had never heard of the G-d of the Israelites.
He further accused Moshe and Aaron of a conspiracy against
the government and of interfering with the work of the Hebrew
At Moshe's suggestion, Aaron then performed the miracles G-d
had enabled him to perform, but Pharaoh was not greatly impressed,
for his magicians could do almost as well.
When Pharaoh continued to refuse to liberate the children of
Israel, Moshe and Aaron warned him that G-d would punish both him
and his people. First, the waters of the land of Egypt were to
be turned into blood.
This was followed by the plague of frogs which covered the
The third plague had lice crawling forth from the dust to
cover all of Egypt. Although Pharaoh's advisors pointed out
that this surely was Divine punishment, he hardened his heart and
remained relentless in his determination to keep the children of
Israel in bondage.
The fourth plague consisted of hordes of wild animals roving
all over the country destroying everything in their path. Only the
province of Goshen, where the children of Israel dwelt, was immune
from this as well as from the other plagues.
As with the previous plagues, Pharaoh promised faithfully to
let the Jews go on the condition that they would not go too far.
Moshe prayed to G-d and the wild animals disappeared. But as
soon as they had gone, Pharaoh withdrew his promise and refused
Then G-d sent a fatal pestilence that killed most of the
domestic animals of the Egyptians.
In the sixth plague, boils burst forth upon man and beast
throughout the land of Egypt.
Now Moshe announced to the king that a hailstorm of
unprecedented violence was to sweep the land; no living thing,
no tree, no herb, was to escape its fury; safety was to be found
only in the shelter of the houses.
The next time Moshe and Aaron came before Pharaoh, he
appeared somewhat relenting, and asked them who was to participate
in the worship the Israelites wanted to hold in the desert. When
they told him that everyone without exception, young and old, men
and women, were to go, Pharaoh suggested that only the men should
go and that the women and children, as well as all their
possessions, should remain in Egypt.
Moshe and Aaron could not accept his offer and Pharaoh became
angry and ordered them to leave his palace. Before leaving, Moshe
warned him of new and untold suffering. But Pharaoh remained
adamant, even though his advisors counseled against further
As soon as Moshe left the palace, he raised his arms toward
heaven and an east wind brought swarms of locusts into Egypt,
covering the sun and devouring everything green that had escaped
the hail and previous plagues.
Then followed the ninth plague. For several days all of
Egypt was enveloped in a thick and impenetrable veil of darkness,
which extinguished all lights kindled. The Egyptians were gripped
with fear and remained glued to their places wherever they stood
or sat. Only in Goshen, where the children of Israel dwelt, there
Finally at midnight on the 15th of Nissan all firstborn in
the land of Egypt began dying, from the firstborn of King Pharaoh
unto the firstborn of the cattle, exactly as Moshe had warned.
There was a loud and bitter wail, for in each house a loved
one lay fatally stricken. Then Pharaoh called for Moshe and Aaron
during that very night and said to them: "Arise, go out from
among my people, both you and the children of Israel; and go,
serve G-d as you have said, and go, and bless me also." At last
the pride of the stubborn king was broken and he realized that
there indeed was a G-d.
Meanwhile, the Jews had been preparing for their hasty
departure. With beating hearts, they had assembled in groups to
eat the roasted paschal lamb, together with the unleavened cakes
The sun had already risen above the horizon when, at the
word of command, the whole nation of the Hebrews poured forth
from the land of Egypt.
Thus the children of Israel were liberated from the yoke of
their oppressors on the 15th day of Nissan, in the year 2448
after the creation of the world.
There were 603,550 men between 20 and 60 -- military age --
who, with their wives and children and flocks, crossed the
border of Egypt as a free nation. Many Egyptians and other non-
Israelites joined the triumphant children of Israel, hoping to
share their glorious future. The children of Israel did not leave
In addition to their own possessions, the terrified Egyptians
had bestowed upon them valuables of gold, silver and clothing in
an effort to hasten their departure. Thus, G-d fulfilled in every
detail His promise to Abraham that his descendants would leave
their exile with great riches.
Leading the Jewish people on their journey during the day
was a pillar of cloud, and at night there was a pillar of fire,
giving them light. These Divine messengers not only guided the
children of Israel on their way, but also cleared the way before
them, making it both easy and safe.
After three days, Pharaoh received word of the progress of
the children of Israel. The unexpected direction of their march
made him think that they were lost in the desert. Pharaoh now
regretted that he had permitted them to leave. He mobilized his
army and personally took the lead of his choicest cavalry and
war-chariots, in hot pursuit of his former slaves. He reached
them near the banks of the Red Sea and pressed them close to the
water, in an effort to cut off their escape.
Moshe led the Israelites onwards until they came to the very
borders of the Red Sea. The pillar of cloud now changed its
position, retreating from the front to the rear of the Hebrews,
floating between the two armies.
Then G-d spoke to Moshe: "Lift up your rod, stretch out
your hand over the sea and divide it; and the children shall go
into the midst of the sea on dry ground." Moshe did as G-d
ordered and a strong east wind rose and blew all night and the
waters of the Red Sea were divided and gathered into a wall on
either side, leaving a dry passage in the midst. The Israelites
marched at once along the dry path which extended from shore to
shore and reached the opposite side in safety.
The Egyptians continued their pursuit, but Moshe stretched
forth his staff and the waters resumed their usual course,
closing over the whole army of Pharaoh.
Thus, G-d saved the children of Israel from the Egyptians
and Israel saw His great power; they recognized G-d and believed
in Him and in His servant Moshe -- the first redeemer of Israel.
This is the story of Passover -- or Pesach -- which recounts
the birth of the Jewish people as a nation -- a nation called by
G-d "a beloved treasure" -- whose ultimate goal is to be a "light
unto the nations."
This will become evident in the immediate future when
Moshiach -- the final redeemer -- gathers us together from
throughout the world and brings us to the promised land of Israel,
"and all the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the
waters cover the sea."