Passover and the Passion

Arthur Yavelberg

People sometimes wonder about why the Jewish holiday of Passover often overlaps with the Christian celebration of Easter.  There are many explanations for this—such as both are carryovers from pagan fertility rites having to do with the “rebirth” in spring.  (Hence the use of “eggs” on the Passover seder plate and Easter egg hunts.)  However, there are deeper possibilities. 

Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Biblical Israelites from Egypt.  Since God (not Moses) redeemed these slaves from bondage, it is often called a “Festival of Freedom.”  While that is true, it overlooks that this freedom is essentially temporary.  Once the Israelites escape and the Egyptian army is drowned in the Red Sea, they are brought to Mt. Sinai where they are given God’s Commandments—the well known Ten Commandments and, according to the Orthodox tradition, 613 in all.  In other words, the Israelites have exchanged one ruler for another—the Egyptian Pharaoh who was supposed to be a god is replaced by the God of all Creation. 

This is obviously not a minor point—and it goes beyond the matter of a false god vs the true God.  The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzraim” and it has the same root consonants as the word for “narrow,” “zar.”  The implication is that life amidst “the fleshpots of Egypt” was not only brutal, but also very narrow in its perspective of the universe and the Power within it.  The path of spiritual life is often physically extremely difficult.  There were issues with water and food throughout the journey to Mt. Sinai—not to mention the fact that the journey was through a desert in many senses of the word—but the destination was about the spiritual recognition of the God of the universe.  It is sad, but apparently necessary, that the generation of slaves brought out of Egypt had to die before the Israelites could enter the Promised Land.  They had left the physical constraints behind, but they had brought their slave mentality with them. 

Similarly, while there are many interpretations of the Cross and the Crucifixion, the message of a nuanced freedom is not so different from the Exodus.  The Passion of Jesus is physically gruesome, but ultimately leads to the Resurrection.  Put another way, Easter Sunday symbolizes the release of the Spirit from its earthly bondage, which is why “Good Friday” is “good” as, despite its grotesque torture, it leads to spiritual freedom.  Furthermore, the Gospel (“good news”) is that this freedom is available to all once one can shift focus from the limits of earthly life to the vast perspective of the universal Divine.  That may be the point when Jesus says that “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” (Luke 17:21)  In that context, the Cross can become a symbol of “reaching up”–still attached to the ground, yes, but aspiring to everything the Divine has to offer.   

The kinship of the Jewish Passover and Christian Easter is often lost in the different celebrations associated with the holidays.  However, it is no accident that, on Passover, Jews are forbidden to eat bread, while Jesus teaches that “Man does not live by bread alone.” (Matt. 4:4) Freedom may take different forms at different times in different places, but it always involves a shift from physical encumbrances to spiritual liberation. 


  1. Arthur
    Very interesting comparison. You always write well. Thank you! Happy Passover!

    Marilyn Thomas

  2. Professor Yavelberg,
    You are a deep thinker who is very attuned to various facets of our planet’s major religions. Your particular talent in these writings is your open-minded, unbiased view that you convey in a manner that can be understood by non-religious scholars. This is an excellent piece! I would hope that you find a venue for a weekly column so that your
    messages reach a wider audience on a consistent basis. Keep thinking, and Keep writing!

    1. That’s very kind of you! I guess as long as thoughtful people like you keep reading, I’ll keep writing! 🙂

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