[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, April 18, 2019, p. 1.]
By Abraham Skorka*
The identity of the Jewish people is determined by everything that happened to our ancestors in Egypt: their process of liberation by God, their wandering through the desert, and the revelation and bestowal of the Torah at Sinai.
These events are invoked in Judaism’s daily prayers because they enshrine the heart of Israel. The priority of freedom, the dignity of the individual, and the spirituality of Jewish culture is powerfully grounded in the celebration of Passover, in Hebrew called Pesach.
The biblical text itself prescribes that year after year the descendants of the Children of Israel must recreate the dinner their ancestors ate in Egypt on the eve of their liberation. Just as on that night thirty-three hundred years ago, so too today one finds on the Passover table unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Parents pass on to their children this story and its moral lessons about human dignity, which each individual must uphold and sustain.
The text that serves as a guide for the transmission of the story of Pesach, the Haggadah, refers to many other defining moments in the history of the Jewish people. The last of these, to which reference must be made in the Seder, the order of the Passover dinner, is the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto that took place on the eve of Pesach in 1943. This was the first uprising against the Nazis in the cities they occupied.
The past, despite all its dramas and pain, illuminates the present, and the feeling of the liberating presence of the Creator is renewed from long ago.
The Last Supper of Jesus might have been a Passover Seder. That final meal was celebrated in the later church as the Eucharist. Among the early Christians, the deep sense of Pesach and its symbols was very present, as when Paul admonishes Gentiles in Corinth not to sin, saying:
“Cleanse yourselves, therefore, from the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, unleavened as you are; because our Passover, which is Christ, was already sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5: 7-8).
The Christian celebration of Pasqua [Easter in Italian], as with the Jewish Pesach, became the defining core of Christianity. The common denominator between both, beyond the divergences between our traditions, is the shared conviction that God can and will overcome the powers of oppression and death and open paths to freedom and new life.
The Passover message was the beginning of Israel as a people. Pasqua was the beginning of Christianity as the faith of many peoples around the world. The end-point for us both is the realization of the vision of Isaiah (2:4) when God brings about the Age to Come and humans no longer oppress or kill each other and we all experience life, life in abundance.
May these reflections express sincere best wishes to all those who celebrate Pasqua by those who celebrate Pesach.
* Abraham Skorka
Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations
Saint Joseph´s University, Philadelphia, PA