Thursday, March 25, 1943
Passover is the oldest holiday in the Jewish calendar – even older than the Sabbath. The Hebrews (they were not yet Israelites) are commanded to commemorate the day of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Numbers 9:2). The name of the holiday comes from the last plague visited on Egypt – the death of every first-born male. To protect their own sons, the Hebrews were commanded by Moses to slaughter a lamb and smear its blood on their doorposts so that the Angel of Death would pass over their homes. For a week, Jews traditionally eat roasted lamb and unleavened bread – the bread that did not have time to rise due to their hasty exit. Only after the Hebrews had crossed the Red Sea and were wandering in the desert did Moses receive the Ten Commandments enjoining observance of the Sabbath. Now here is what is remarkable about all Jewish holidays from then on: every single one includes at least two significant meals. Geographical logistics aside, this fact has reduced family friction to a great extent over the millennia. Let’s call this machatunim math. A married couple with children has at least two families to share the holiday with. Do you alternate years, as many Christian families do for Christmas? Do you go to two (or more) homes the same day? Judaism eliminates that problem since each family can be the locus of a major celebration. Even the one day of Yom Kippur, the highest of the High Holy Days, when Jews fast and pray for forgiveness of their sins, is celebrated with two significant family gatherings. There is the solemn meal before the fast begins and the festive meal to end it, one for each family. My Hebrew School teacher explained it this way: Jewish holidays go from sundown to sunup. As Jews spread out in Israel, to ensure that everyone was celebrating the holiday together at least some of the time, guards set fires on hilltops, starting with one in Jerusalem when the priests determined the holiday should begin. That first one signaled the next which signaled the next, etc. It took at least 24 hours for the last beacon to be lit. Thus, every holiday spread out to encompass at least two evening meals, one that heralded the holiday and one that ended it.
We’ll see how my parents put this fact to good use.