The Jews around the world are still in the middle of that weeklong celebration that has come to be known as Pesach, or Passover—both in the common language and in the liturgy. However, there is some confusion regarding the Passover and its biblical meaning, and today I would like to address this confusion. This might shed some light on the Gospel accounts as well.
THE BIBLICAL FEASTS
In Mark 14:1 we read:
After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Here we see something that is clearly stated in the Torah: even though “since the destruction of the second Temple, when the offering of the paschal lamb was no more possible, the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread became confounded in the minds of the Jews, and the terms are used by the Rabbis interchangeably, but originally and in the Divine plan they were distinct, though in the most intimate possible relation with one another.” Let’s examine these verses from Leviticus 23:
5 On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover. 6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.
Thus, we see that the Torah refers to Passover on the 14th of Nisan, and to the “Festival of Unleavened Bread” on the 15th of Nisan. The Feast of the Unleavened Bread begins on the evening, when 14th of Nisan becomes 15th of Nisan (Jewish days begin at nightfall, as you may know). What is the “Passover” on the 14th, then? It is the Passover offering, which was slaughtered on the 14th and eaten that night—the 15th—together with matzah, at the onset of the Festival of Matzahs.
THE SHEAF OF FIRST-FRUITS
There is more, however. Let us continue our reading of Leviticus 23. Next in order to the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, we have in this chapter the presentation of the “Sheaf of First-fruits”
He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord.
The meaning of the words “the day after Shabbat” has been the subject of a centuries- long controversy: whether Shabbat here means a weekly Shabbat or the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread; whether the first-fruits are celebrated on the first day of the week (Yom Rishon, Sunday) or on the second day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. But in any case, these verses should help us better understand the Gospel accounts regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. According to the Gospels, on the first day of the week (Yom Rishon, Sunday) Jesus was resurrected. If Sunday is a given, then, to make it simple, we will just count three nights back and arrive at Thursday, and then everything else falls into place. It was on Wednesday Nisan 13 that the disciples prepared this special meal that we call the Last Supper and that was, in fact, seudah maphsehket – the last meal before the Fast of the Firstborn. Jesus and the disciples ate this meal on Wednesday night, at the beginning of the Passover, as the day changed to Nisan 14. Jesus was then arrested at night, tried and convicted early on the Thursday morning, and then crucified during the day – and all this happened during Passover day, Nisan 14, Thursday. Thus, on Thursday, Nisan 14, the day of the Passover sacrifice, Jesus died on the cross. On Sunday, Nisan 17 – the celebration of the First Fruits – Jesus rose from the death.
DID JESUS EAT MATZAH?
Thus, we find three different festivals during that weeklong celebration that we call Passover today. Do we find all three of them in the last chapters of the Gospels? Jesus died on the day of Passover; Jesus rose from the death on the day of First Fruits; but did he miss the Feast of Unleavened Bread then, if he died before the Feast began?
Last year, we spoke a lot about the Emmaus story from the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel. We spent some time discussing the meal the disciples had with Jesus after they had “constrained him and he went in to stay with them”. We read:
Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him.
Sharing meals has always been a very important part of Jewish community life. At the beginning of the meal, the traditional blessing is always said as the bread is broken: “Barukh attah ‘Adonai ‘elohenu Melekh ha-olam ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz” – “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth”. In the Babylonian Talmud, we read: “The host should break bread” (Berakoth 46). In Jewish tradition, the host – the head of the household – is the one who always says the blessing and breaks the bread. Strangers who are invited to the meal usually wait for directions from their host and quietly receive what is set before them. However, that is not what we see here!
We have already spoken about this meal and about the strange peculiarity that marked this guest’s behavior. Clearly this was not a regular guest! Instead of waiting for his host’s direction, this stranger is taking the host’s place: He is saying the blessing and breaking the bread! We can imagine that this behavior must have caught the attention of everyone in the house. If you are interested to read more about this meal it and to find out what exactly this unusual authority meant, I can refer you to my article on this blog: “Key Number Four: Blessing the Bread”.
But we also have to remember that it was still the Passover week. In any Jewish house, there could be only Matzah on the table during this week. The Blessing on Matzah would have been added to the regular blessing: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe who makes us holy through Your commandments, and commands us to eat Matzah.” While in Emmaus, Jesus took part in a regular Jewish meal of Chol Ha-Moed (Passover week) – and this means that, even after his resurrection, Jesus still observed the Biblical Feast of Unleavened Bread.
 David Baron, Types, Psalms and Prophecies, Israel, 2000, p.22
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