Jewish Word | The Many Meanings of Passover

Looking at the Hebrew letters for pesach hints at another possibility. Several scholars have observed that these letters also form a different word, piseach, “to limp,” and point to Deuteronomy, which forbids using a lame animal for the pesach sacrifice. Is this a coincidence? Or does this use of identical letters in the context of the pesach sacrifice link “limping” to Passover? Joseph Radinsky, rabbi emeritus of the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston, Texas, explains the convergence: “When we look at the world we see G-d limping,” because of the terrible events recalled at the Seder. Radinsky thinks that the Almighty’s reply is: “Yes, you’re right; it does look as if I’m limping, because I left you a job to do; you’re supposed to do mitzvah….G-d’s name has to be redeemed.” The negative connotation of limping can thus motivate mankind to do the opposite—walk upright to perform good deeds.

Another interpretation based on the Kabbalah starts with reading the Hebrew pesach as two words, peh and sach, which can be translated as “the mouth speaks.” Haggadah means to tell or narrate; telling a story transforms internal ideas into reality. The Haggadah tells how “the Jewish people went from a nation in potential to actuality,” says Max Weiman, rabbi and creator of the website God provided that passing over, a “supernatural jump,” to make that possible. The essence of Passover’s meaning is thus to achieve “spiritual growth” by using what Weiman calls God’s “jumper cables.” —Joan Alpert

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