Dear Friends of The Fellowship,
Spring, a time of new beginnings, is also one of the holiest times of the year for our two great faiths. For Christians, this is a week to prepare for the solemnity of Good Friday and anticipate the joy of Easter. For Jews, it is a time to prepare for observance of one of the most important holidays of the Jewish year – Passover – which begins Friday, April 6th at sundown.
Passover recalls the biblical Exodus, when Moses led the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land — Israel. It was a sign of God’s favor toward His chosen people, and marked the birth of the Jewish people as a nation. The dramatic biblical account of the Jews’ deliverance (contained in the book of Exodus 12-15:21) is familiar, but always compelling. Today I urge you to re-read this story from which flow some of the most profound affirmations of both the Jewish and Christian faiths.
The primary observance for Jews on Passover is the Seder meal, a ritual reenactment of the Exodus. (The Hebrew word Seder actually means “order” and refers to the order of ceremonies at the meal). The Bible says that on Passover we are to tell the story of God’s redemption of our ancestors from Egyptian bondage. The Seder is the way in which we fulfill this obligation. In fact, more than simply retelling the story, we are to feel as if we ourselves experienced the pain of slavery and joy of liberation. In the words recited at the Seder, “In each generation a person must feel as if he himself just came out of Egypt.”
During Passover Jews observe a number of dietary restrictions. Matzah, unleavened, cracker-like bread, is the only form of bread that may be eaten throughout the holiday. Jews are told that leaven may not even be in their possession, to fulfill the biblical command, “For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses” (Exodus 12:19). Thus, the days just prior to Passover are a flurry of activity, as we clean the house and search for leavened products in every nook and cranny. In fact, the common practice of doing spring cleaning in all likelihood stems from this custom!
Though it may seem that these restrictions detract from the holiday, the laws and customs of Passover actually enhance it. This is a time for Jewish families and friends to come together, bound by fellowship and devotion to God. In particular, on the first two evenings of Passover, when the Seder is conducted, that atmosphere is one of feasting, prayer, joy, and hospitality.
My friends, as we approach this holy time, I want to thank all of you, Jews and Christians alike, for your faithful support of The Fellowship’s work. The Jewish people have enemies today, just as they did in the days of the Exodus. But the Passover story reminds them that God is still with them through all their trials and challenges – and how comforting it is to know that today the Jewish people also have friends like you who will stand with them through thick and thin! Thus, even as I thank God for the incredible success He has bestowed upon our ministry, I also thank Him for you. Whether you are Jewish or Christian, my prayer is that your holidays will be filled with joy – the joy the Psalmist spoke of when he said, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence” (Psalm 16:11).
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Chairman, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews® of Australia