Jewish Word | The Many Meanings of Passover

The Many Meanings of Passover
By | Nov 09, 2011
2009 March-April, Jewish Word

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

Return to Moment’s Passover Resource Guide

2 thoughts on “Jewish Word | The Many Meanings of Passover

  1. Thank you so much for helping to clarify this topic. There is much confusion out there which is caused by sloppy translation of Hebrew words into English.

  2. Davida Brown says:

    I believe the Lord, indeed, showed compassion in sparing the first-born from death in Egypt. But, I also must add that even the Egyptians who applied the blood to their door and followed the other directions were spared! Why? Because they believed the Lord God and followed His word. It works that way today also!! There are many ancient rituals that bear similarities to the Biblical narration. As I reminded my son, who claimed that people groups around the world have “a flood story”, that of course this would be so, because it actually happened worldwide. Also this applies to the shedding of blood from sacrificial offerings, because this took place shortly after Noah and his family miraculously survived the flood. Word traveled then, among the “smaller world population” as it does today, except they didn’t have electronic media as we do. Thank you, professor, for the lesson in etymology, aside from the ancient festivals’ etiology. A reminder: God shed the first animal blood for atonement in Genesis: 3:21. It was the “gan Kippor”: in the garden.

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