Today, April 6, 2012, is the first night of Pesach, the Jewish holiday known in English as “Passover.” I wrote “first night” rather than “first day” because Jewish holidays begin at sundown. The first full day of Pesach is tomorrow, Saturday, April 7. Although most people familiar with this holiday know it for the feast known as the Seder, the holiday is actually much more than this one day. It is a three-part holiday composed of two days where orthodox Jews do no work, The next four days allow for limited work, and then there are two more work-free days.
This was a big celebration.
According to the classic book, The Jewish Festivals by Hayyim Schauss, the amazing thing about Jewish festivals is that they took what were clearly earlier festivals and attached them to Jewish concepts, turning them into truly Jewish celebrations. Passover is not described in the Jewish bible. The holiday at this time of the year seems to have been an astronomically-based New Year celebration (the current Rosh Hashanah or New Year is not in the Bible, either), originally called Chag Hamatzoht (Festival of Unleavened Bread). The combining of this festival, probably from Pagan sources, with the story of the Jewish Exodus, was done after the composition of the Jewish Bible was complete. Be that as it may, today it is entirely Jewish in nature, celebrating the freedom of Jewish slaves from Egypt and the following exodus leading to settling in the “promised land.”
But is that all there is to this story?
Most of us know the story of the Exodus. The Jews had migrated into Egypt and were eventually taken into slavery. Moses, though raised as an Egyptian prince, discovers he’s actually a Jew (oi vey!) and leads the slaves out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and then on a 40-year desert trek to the land of milk and honey, a land so wonderful it’s been at war for the following 3,000 years. But that’s another story.
So is the story of the Exodus true? I’d have to say that, objectively, it just doesn’t make much sense. First, there’s no record of the Egyptians have Jewish slaves. Second, as you may remember, the Jews packed up all their belongings, including animals, and while Moses is getting the ten commandments, they melt all of their gold into an idol shaped like a golden calf. Have you ever heard of slaves having lots of possessions to pack up? How about slaves having enough gold to make an idol? Third, what were Moses and God talking about for 40 days and nights when all Moses got out of it was ten rules? And fourth, why would they trounce around the desert for 40 years?
So I don’t buy it. However, just because the story is objectively questionable doesn’t mean that it’s not meaningful; just because it’s not real doesn’t mean it’s also not truth.
Red Reed Sea
To begin to understand the spiritual truth that is this myth we look at the story of the Red Sea. In Hebrew, the story describes crossing the Yam Suph. This is usually described as the Red Sea. But this is a translation error. Yam Suph actually translates as “Reed Sea.”
Why is this important? Because in Egyptian myth, there is a sea of reeds separating the physical world from the spiritual world.
The Exodus, then, is not just about the Jews leaving slavery to find freedom. Rather, it’s about each of us discarding the unneeded things holding us to the physical world—possessions such as gold and gems—and moving from the physical to the spiritual. It’s not about what the Jews did, it’s about what we—you and I—are doing today and in the future.
The Land of Milk and Honey is a metaphor for reaching high levels of spiritual attainment. In Hebrew, the number 40 is represented by the letter Mehm, which means water. This is the divine water of spiritual wisdom that can wash over you. It relates to amrita, the ancient Tantric secret fluid that flows when a person reaches enlightenment and supposedly provides immortality. (This is probably the source of the better-known ambrosia, the food of the Greek gods that also brought immortality.) Amrita is said to have the consistency of oil, something like, well, something like honey diluted with milk.
The story of the Exodus is more than a supposed documentary of thousands of years ago. It is about your spiritual growth. It is about you passing over from a mundane and physical plane oriented life into one that is filled with spirituality and divine grace. So today, or rather, tonight, whether you’re Jewish or not, you might think about your personal spiritual evolution. Will you need 40 years to pass through the Sea of Reeds and wander until you find your spiritual path? What did you do in the previous year to move forward spiritually? What will you do in the coming year to become more spiritual?
Perhaps you should consider spending some time putting things in order (the word Seder means “order”) for your spiritual path in the coming year.