The command for the celebration of the feast of Passover is found in the twelfth chapter of Exodus. Here, the festival receives its name: It is the Lord’s passover (pesach)” (v. 11). We are given the reason for this name in verse 23: “For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians, and when He sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over (pasach) the door, and will not permit the destroyer to come into your houses and smite you.” The word occurs again in verse 27: “it is a sacrifice of the Lord’s passover (pesach), who passed over (pasach) the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt…” Since Exodus 12:43 calls it “the ordinance of passover (pesach),” it is inferred that this should be an annual celebration, even unto this present day (Jewish people, however, cannot sacrifice the Passover lamb, since sacrifices are forbidden outside of the Temple in Jerusalem [Deuteronomy 12:11, 26-27]).

In rabbinical lectionaries* and midrashim,** we find a second meaning for the word pesach. The rabbis claim that the word can also be derived from another Hebrew root which means “to flutter like a bird for the protection of its young.” This sense of the word is found in Isaiah 31:5, “As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem, defending also He will deliver it, and passing over (pasoach) He will preserve it.” The King James Version of the Bible translates pasoach as “passing over,” and the rabbinical expositors gave it the meaning of “fluttering over Jerusalem as a bird does for its young out of pity for its brood” (see Deuteronomy 32:11 and Matthew 23:37).

These translations call to mind a story told by a visiting pastor. His congregation’s approach to evangelism was to reach out to the communities of their own neighborhoods. However, when they came to a Jewish home or neighborhood, they would usually pass over it. They simply skipped over that household, or the entire neighborhood. We thank God that this aspect of the parish approach is slowly disappearing, as believers realize how vital to God’s plan is the evangelization of all people—Jewish people as well.

But many Jewish people are still passed over. When we consider the second sense of the word pesach, it would seem that some do not show pity and compassion “like a bird fluttering over its young,” for the bird flutters to protect and to bring salvation to its brood. True compassion is to bring the message to the Jewish people that “even Messiah, our passover, is sacrificed for us;” (I Corinthians 5:7) for, “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) May this Passover season bring salvation to many of God’s chosen people.

*Rabbinical lectionaries: books or lists of lessons of the rabbis for a particular day
**Midrashim: homiletical interpretations of scripture

Ed: Rachmiel Frydland, a Jewish scholar and believer in Jesus, went home to be with the Lord several years ago. We were privileged to have Rachmiel on our staff during the latter part of his ministry.