This Friday, Pesach, or Passover begins. Jews all over the world celebrate the Exodus with eight days (seven in Israel) of holiday.
This from a simplified version…
As told in the Bible, after many decades of slavery to the Egyptian pharaohs, during which time the Israelites were subjected to backbreaking labor and unbearable horrors, G‑d saw the people’s distress and sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message: “Send forth My people, so that they may serve Me.” But despite numerous warnings, Pharaoh refused to heed G‑d’s command. G‑d then sent upon Egypt ten devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.
At the stroke of midnight of 15 Nissan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), G‑d visited the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. While doing so, G‑d spared the children of Israel, “passing over” their homes, recognisable from the blood of a slain lamb smeared on the lintels – hence the name of the holiday. Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and he virtually chased his former slaves out of the land. The Israelites left in such a hurry, in fact, that the bread they baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise. Six hundred thousand adult males, plus many more women and children, left Egypt on that day and began the trek to Mount Sinai and their birth as G‑d’s chosen people.
Pesach is deeply symbolic. Eating unleavened bread (matzah) commemorates the speed at which they left, bitter herbs a memorial to their slavery, four cups of wine in celebration. In ancient times the Passover observance included the sacrifice of the paschal lamb, which was roasted and eaten at the Seder or feast on the first night of the holiday. This was the case until the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70CE. Within the ceremony is the question put by the youngest child in the family. “Why is this night not like all other nights?” It is suggested that the question refocuses attention on what happened to obey a command that successive generations of Jews teach their children about the miraculous deliverance and that the story can thus never be forgotten.
The symbolism to the Christian community is obvious – Christ as Messiah is the paschal lamb who took upon himself the sin of the world. There is much to be said about this but again, every year at Easter, there is a looking back, a revisiting of history, a reminder, a memorial to an unvarnished past in the context of the present.
Much is made about things like revisionist history these days, where the past in terms, for example, of slavery or the treatment of women is reinterpreted in a modern, “woke” context; it is as if we want to shoehorn the present into a past which no longer fits with a rather distasteful triumphalism. How very foolish of us.
A metaphor follows us here. The last 120 or so years have been meteoric in terms of increase of knowledge; the electron – the powerhouse of the world – having been discovered in 1897. Today, we know so much more about the building blocks and interactions of our Universe called the Standard Model. It’s all here from my science blog; I know at least one person who’ll want to look. This was IT – all nicely packaged, done and dusted. Except for gravity, of course, the thorn in the flesh. The last 124 years have been a breath in our history as a species yet with what hubris we look into the far past and celebrate as yet theoretical discoveries of the future. We send probes to the far reaches of our tiny solar system and use massively expensive colliders to take us further and further towards what Einstein called ‘the secrets of the Old One’. In so doing, we discover, like the layers of an onion, there may be more to come.
The particle physics community trembled with excitement. There might be something new on the horizon – the Beauty Particle, or quark, and, presumably, its antiparticle, optimistically named the Truth Particle, not seen since the creation of the Universe.
And yet, there is so much more that we do not know than what we do. Answers? There are none, except to look back at the past and marvel that we have come this far and accept with humility that greater visions may await us. Indeed, back to the future.