Friday, April 06, 2007


The Jewish Passover (Pesach) and the Christian Easter are interconnected, although due to the different calendar system they don’t always fall during the same time period. The Last Supper is generally thought to have been a Passover Seder, although some scholars place it a night before. Nevertheless, this year we are celebrating both festivals during the same week. Every Christian ought to either experience the Seder, an increasingly common practice, or at least study all the meaningful symbolism behind it. We had quite a few of our non-Jewish friends over and had the most wonderful Seder ever, enjoyed by all of those present. It was a pleasure seeing our two young daughters splitting the duties of a ceremonial leader: there is a difference when something is forced upon our children or when they want to discover it on their own as part of their heritage.

Typical to the Jewish people, there is a variety of interpretations of the words and symbolism, and even the restrictions on foods allowed differ greatly between the two main groups, the Sephardim and Ashkenazim. In addition to that, even some truly orthodox groups in Israel differ from the mainstream. No wonder Israel has such a large number of political parties, as interestingly do the Finns.

The ten plagues inflicted upon the Pharaoh and his Egyptians, in order to let the Hebrews leave with their families and possessions, are also subject to many interpretations. Usually they are listed as Blood, Frogs, Lice, Beasts, Blight, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness and Striking of the First-Born. Some of these sound very benign in today’s world and we have to find a more fitting meaning for the present time. The river of blood could be a senseless war where the blood of innocent victims flows like a river. Today’s Iraq would well be an example of that. Frogs or amphibians can have an easily understood meaning as the enclosed picture exhibits. Lice, in some translations fleas or gnats, are symbolic to anything parasitic, such as people. Blight in this context refers to disease and death of cattle; mad cow? Boils could be an indication of an incurable disease, perhaps a pox during ancient times and AIDS today. Hail with fire can be an indication of an environmental disasters, caused by global warming. An attack by swarms of locusts still cause a complete loss of crops, and even leaves from trees are eaten by these insects, yet it is easy to see as symbol for famine, all too common with our overpopulated world. Darkness today would mean terribly polluted skies that plague much of the heavily populated areas of Asia, not to mention the Los Angeles smog. It could also be a warning about a nuclear winter or a large meteorite hitting the Earth. The final terrifying plague could, at least in my mind, be a promise of a new fatal disease that could overwhelm the world. In ancient times the firstborn child had special privileges and was considered more important than other children, thus the wording. In today’s world all children are equally important and such a horrifying disease would not choose its victims as selectively as the Haggadah story tells.

But of course the main idea behind the Passover story is freedom from slavery, which for each of us can have a different meaning. We can be suffering in a hostile workplace, a bad relationship, poverty or sickness. The story teaches us not to give up hope, even when odds seem against us. We have to watch out for the Pharaoh or Laban the Aramean, supposedly even more evil. They may well be hiding among us, pretending to be one of the Hebrews.

Today is Good Friday, a dark day for Christians (Finns call it Long Friday). Like the Jews found freedom, Christians did also, although in a slightly different manner, just two days later, on Easter. But this quest to be free from slavery is not the property of those religions, it is universal and applies to all people. Let us hope we don’t have to go through our ten plagues before we and our leaders see the truth. We have suffered enough.