Its always interesting to read what a non-Jew writes about Jewish practice. Today in The Guardian Dr Giles Fraser, the vicar of Putney wrote how Christianity needs to adopt (he says reclaim but he forgets that Passover came first) the message of freedom shown so powerfully by Passover. He also says that Christians are so bound up in anti-Semitism that the forget the Jewishness of Easter. What makes Mr. Fraser’s commentary so very interesting is when you compare it the Parsha and Haftorah we read in shul today (Shabbos Kol Hamod Pesach) and what I learned from my Rabbi today regarding why the Rabbis selected it.
Through out Jewish history Passover has been a dangerous time for the Jews (see A History of the “Blood Libel”) The Passover holiday brought back the libel that Matzo was made from the blood of Christian Children (we all know its really made from cardboard). Easter brought up the lies of killing Jesus.
The Rabbi’s fought back the only way they could—with scripture. Shabbos Passover is from Exodus Parsha Ki Tisa.
Exodus Chapter 33, Verse 19 He [G-d] said: “I will let all My goodness pass before you; I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you, and I will favor when I wish to favor, and I will have compassion when I wish to have compassion.”20 And He said, “You will not be able to see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.”
Exodus Chapter 34, Verse 12. Beware lest you form a covenant with the inhabitant[s] of the land into which you are coming, lest it become a snare in your midst. 14 For you shall not prostrate yourself before another god, because the Lord, Whose Name is “Jealous One,” is a jealous God.
The Rabbis may have chosen this Torah section for those two paragraphs. With the first one they might have been saying that G-d does not take “Human Form” to talk to Man and that Man does not have the capacity to see G-d. “You will not be able to see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” A Passover reminder of a key difference in theology between Jews and Christians.Paragraph number two (this is an addition to my Rabbi’s teaching so if you disagree with it please blame me) may have been a reminder of ONE G-d as opposed to a trinity.
Now take a look at the Haftorah Ezekiel 36:37 – 37:14:
1 The hand of the Lord came upon me. He took me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the valley. It was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many of them spread over the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “O mortal, can these bones live again?” I replied, “O Lord God, only You know.” 4 And He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 Thus said the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live again. 6 I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with flesh, and form skin over you. And I will put breath into you, and you shall live again. And you shall know that I am the Lord!”
Again the the Rabbis may have been trying to juxtapose the two faiths. Its as if the Rabbis were saying…You think one resurrection was is a big deal? G-d has promised to resurrect us all.
Now add in the from the Haggada teachings:
Rabbi Gamliel used to say: Anyone who has not discussed these three things on Passover has not fulfilled his duty, namely: Pesach, the Passover Offering; Matzo, the Unleavened Bread; Marror, the Bitter Herbs.
Why these three things? Because they are three things that Christianity “borrowed” from Judaism. The Pascal Sacrifice=People aren’t sacrificed for our sins, Matzo=represents just what it is bread that was made so fast it didn’t have a chance to rise and Bitter Herbs show that there is sorrow in life, but it only lasts a moment. One of the big differences in the two theology is that Judaism is about Joy, we are commanded to enjoy ourselves (in moderation) in this life and Christian theology is based on suffering (ever see a passion play?).
During medieval times (and even more recent ones) the ultimate act of freedom was to open up the front doors and call out for the presence of the Prophet Elijah. It was a public declaration to the oppressors of the Jews that the moshiach has not yet arrived (in Jewish theology Elijah will announce the coming of the messiah.) That request for Elijah is followed by
Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not know You, upon the governments which do not call upon Your name. For they have devoured Jacob and desolated his home. Pour out Your wrath on them; may Your blazing anger overtake them, destroy them from under the heavens of the Lord.
And that my friends is the ultimate act of freedom and liberty. Standing up amid your oppressors at the time of year they hate you the most and declaring, I fear no man because Hashem is on your side. Its what we did in the year 200 CE and it what we did this past week.
Christianity badly needs to reclaim the message of liberty so powerfully announced by Passover Giles Fraser
Saturday April 7, 2007
The Guardian Jesus wasn’t a Christian. He was a Jew. The word Christian wasn’t known until years after his death. Which means that in order to appreciate Easter in its own terms, we must think of it as Jewish. The whole purpose for which Jesus went up to Jerusalem was to celebrate the festival of Passover. The last supper was a Passover meal. And it’s the symbolism of that meal that Christians must return to in order to understand the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even in Jesus’s time, the celebration of Passover was well over a thousand years old. Families gather together to rehearse the story of the liberation of the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt. Bitter herbs are dipped in saltwater to remind them of the tears of slavery. Lamb is roasted in remembrance of that first Passover night when lamb’s blood was daubed on the door frame of Jewish homes to ward off a terrible plague of death that would sweep through the darkness, destroying all first-born children. Freedom is toasted with wine. Moses saves his people from oppression and slavery under Ramses II. This is the archetypal salvation story in the Bible. “Are you saved?” ask evangelicals, as if the question’s meaning is obvious. “God save the Queen” we sing. Yes, but save her from what? In fact, theologians have given multiple answers. Saved from death, from sin, from the devil, from meaninglessness, from error, from guilt, from hell, from God’s wrath – the list is endless. For Jews the answer is clear: saved from captivity. Nietzsche argued that Christianity gets going by first inventing a religious-type problem – like hell – and then offering itself as the solution; that it’s a fictional/metaphysical deliverance from a fictional/metaphysical affliction. In other words: a racket. This may be true of some versions of Christianity – particularly the nasty evangelical salvation story known as penal substitution. But Judaism is not like this at all. There is nothing worryingly abstract about slavery or exploitation or oppression. In crying out for freedom, Jews (unlike many Christians) do not get tied up in arcane metaphysical knots. Which is why the story of Passover is a salvation narrative with real bite. Let me rewind. Jesus goes up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This is Roman-occupied Jerusalem. In such a context the Passover celebration is political dynamite. The Romans are inevitably read as Egyptians. God will lead his people out of occupation. Salvation means regime change. Little wonder the Romans were quick to silence anyone causing religious trouble and especially someone they believed was claiming the title King of the Jews. Jesus was crushed by empire. Christians have been so blinded by generations of anti-semitism that they’ve failed to recognise the Jewishness of Easter. Jesus is the new Moses who will lead his people from captivity. Of course, Jews also want to discourage the idea that Easter has a Jewish significance precisely because Christianity is seen as a perversion of Jewish theology. All too often, Christianity has hijacked the Hebrew scriptures and twisted their meaning. The idea that Christians might have hermeneutic designs on their beloved Passover feels like one more insult in a succession of historic insults. Yet, insult or not, the heart of all Catholic Christianity is the Eucharist, the commemoration of the last supper. As the Passover host, Jesus takes unleavened bread and breaks it. He offers wine. He calls his followers to do the same in remembrance of Him. During the Eucharist, Christians recreate a stylised Passover meal with unleavened bread and wine. It’s the means by which we relive and retell the story of Easter. We may not have a use for roast lamb. Instead, Jesus is the lamb of God. Not much of this is readily apparent on a Sunday morning. Which is a pity, because the message of freedom so powerfully announced by the celebration of Passover is one that contemporary Christianity badly needs to reclaim. For freedom is the lost virtue of the Christian church. Sure, it’s easy for Christians to join in the celebrations of Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade. It’s easy enough to be a radical 200 years after the event. But on many of the issues of the day, the church stands against human freedom. For evangelicals particularly, freedom means licence. From the freedom of the market to the freedom of gay people to marry and adopt children: for too many Christians, freedom is sin. That’s why the church has always been obsessed with control. Yet what’s promised through Easter is that condition described by St Paul as “the glorious liberty of the children of God”. Sure enough, this is not a commitment to outright libertarianism – for the freedom of some can be the bondage of others. Even so, a church that fails to proclaim human freedom is one that has lost sight of the good news of Easter. · Dr Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney and a lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford.
Dr. Fraser wrote a fine essay but he doesn’t really understand Pesach. It is true that we celebrate our release from the shackles of Pharaoh but that is just the starting point of the holiday, we look at the oppression going on today be it our own people facing terror in Israel or Christians being murdered in Darfur. And we celebrate our liberty to open our doors and shout out that we serve HaShem with our whole hearts and our whole souls.