Passover of Moses, Passover of Elijah

Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai, but the instructions of his Torah begin in Egypt, not Sinai:

Now Adonai spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying, “This month will mark the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year for you.” Exodus 12:1 – 2

The Israelites receive the first of the commandments while they are still in bondage to Pharaoh. Most of these initial instructions cover the regulations of Passover, which continue to provide the framework for our Seder to this day.

It is no mystery, then, that the reading from the Prophets chosen for the Shabbat before Passover was the final chapter of Malachi (or Mal 3:4–4:6 in Christian Bibles), which includes this instruction: “Remember the Torah of Moses my servant, which I commanded him at Horev for all Israel, both statutes and judgments” (3:22). Moses gives the initial instructions for Passover in Egypt, before “all Israel” arrives at Horev, or Mount Sinai, but he reiterates the instructions at Horev (Exod 23:14–15). We know how to keep Passover because of the “statutes and judgments” that Moses has given us.

Moreover, when we retell the story of our redemption from Egypt, Moses is the central figure. It’s true that the name of Moses hardly appears in the Passover Haggadah. Perhaps, as with the absence of the name of God from the scroll of Esther, Moses so pervades the story that he doesn’t need to be mentioned directly. Passover is the Passover of Moses, and the Lord’s admonition through Malachi to remember the Torah of Moses is especially appropriate in the days leading up to Passover. 

After the command to remember Moses, the Lord introduces another figure in the final verses of Malachi:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord, and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (3:23–24)

Elijah is the harbinger of redemption. Even as we keep the Passover of Moses, we look for Elijah to bring a new Passover. Passover is Z’man Cherutenu, the season of our redemption, when God lifted us out of bondage and helplessness to be his chosen people. It is also the season in which we look ahead to a redemption still to come. The sages say that at this season we were redeemed, and at this season we shall be redeemed (Exodus Rabbah 18:12).

There is the Passover of Moses and the Passover of Elijah, the Passover of remembrance and the Passover of hope, but they are one Passover.

Passover is the central story of the Hebrew Scriptures. All the rest of the stories flow into it or out from it. It is the story that makes Israel a people, and every year we affirm our status as God’s people by retelling the story through the Passover Seder. Remembrance binds us together, but so does hope; Passover past and Passover to come. The Passover of Moses and the Passover of Elijah.

As Messianic Jews we have another, equally central story; the story of Messiah Yeshua, who walked and taught among us, died for our sins, and rose again. Our Jewish identity as followers of Messiah hinges on the claim that this story is not separate, but inextricably intertwined with the other, as the Passover of Elijah is intertwined with the Passover of Moses. Yeshua presents himself in Jerusalem at the time the Passover lambs are being selected. He eats of the Passover as his final meal, dies during Passover, when the lambs are being slain, and rises from the dead about the time the first sheaf of new grain is being presented in the Temple as a symbol of renewed life. Messiah is our Passover, not replacing the old, but renewing and carrying it forward.

The tendency in the religious world has been to completely divorce these two stories. The Haggadah remembers the Passover of Moses, the redemption past, and longs for the Passover of Elijah and redemption to come. But it cannot imagine the present redemption accomplished by Yeshua the Messiah as part of its story. The Church emphasizes the redemption to come (or that has come in Messiah) and downplays Moses and the redemption past. It portrays Israel’s story as a relic, a long-ago redemption that has little bearing upon the present.

Despite this polarization, the Haggadah instructs us to live in the present:

In every generation one must see oneself as though having personally come forth from Egypt, as it is written: “And you shall tell your child on that day, ‘This is done because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth from Egypt’” (Ex. 13:8). It was not our ancestors alone whom the Holy One, blessed be he, redeemed; he redeemed us too, with them, as it is written: “He brought us out from there that he might bring us in and give us the land which he had promised our ancestors” (Deut. 6:23).

Here Moses and Elijah meet. In essence the two stories are one. We taste in the present the redemption for which we hope, as we remember the redemption in the past.

Passover at its heart longs for the messianic day of redemption. The Passover of Moses and the Passover of Elijah are not to be separated; remembrance of the past and hope for the future, the story of Israel and the story of Messiah, are thoroughly intertwined. Yeshua’s death and resurrection only make sense against the backdrop of Passover, and his work of redemption is evident at the original Passover in Egypt. Passover is the messianic festival, incomplete without the Cup of Elijah and the final proclamation, “Next Year in Jerusalem!”




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s