Jewish people all over the world are celebrating the first day of Passover today. Tomorrow most Christians will celebrate Easter. For many years I have been asked if Passover is “the Jewish version of Easter.” After all, they normally are celebrated at the same time of year. Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, who is often described as the Lamb of God. Jews were commanded to sacrifice an actual lamb at the very first Passover, while they were still in Egypt. They marked with blood their doorposts and lintels, marking Jewish homes to be “passed over” during the terrible tenth plague soon to come. Many accounts relate the story of the Last Supper, which was reportedly a Passover Seder. Jews continue every year at their own Seders to retell the story of their deliverance by God’s hand from their oppressors in Egypt. There are more similarities, so I can see why the question is asked.

In response, let me just say that there is no meaningful or deliberate connection of Passover to Easter. They both are celebrated in close proximity simply because the observation dates for both holidays are based on the lunar calendar and not the Gregorian calendar used for almost everything else. The first night of Passover normally falls each year on the night of the full moon after the Vernal Equinox. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox. If that’s too confusing, let me just say that there really is no connection. That’s all.

Well, not so fast. Maybe there is a connection after all, tenuous as it may be. Passover is a story of deliverance and redemption, a holiday when Jewish people everywhere celebrate their freedom. Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, who was born to die in order to provide eternal salvation and personal deliverance from evil. We could dig deeper into the meaning of this connection, but I want to examine the themes surrounding Passover.

The most obvious theme of the Passover festival is redemption. In the Exodus story, which Jews are commanded to tell their children every year on Passover, the Jews were redeemed physically from slavery. While Pesach (the Hebrew word for Passover) is “z’man heyruteinu,” the season of our freedom, it is also a festival that speaks of spiritual redemption. Jews were freed from mental as well as physical slavery. It was as a physically and spiritually free people that the Jewish nation prepared to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai shortly after their redemption from Egypt.

The notion of spiritual redemption is in part demonstrated by the fundamental Jewish idea that in every generation every individual is obliged to view him or herself as though he or she had actually personally gone forth from Egypt. In order to leave Egypt, each individual must break out of personal narrowness, becoming free to achieve his full spiritual potential. This collective liberation and effort came about during the Exodus as a result of the effort of each Jew, who first liberated himself from his own spiritual exile.

In practical terms, the lesson here is that each and every person is entrusted by God with a unique mission that he, and only he, is capable of accomplishing. He cannot rely on someone else to fulfill that mission for him, for the other individual is entrusted with his own mission. On the other hand, each person must also realize that he is part of a collective – a nation as a whole. His mission is thus of vital importance not only to himself but to all of the people in the nation.

There is a movement underway in this nation right now that points to this notion of breaking free from personal narrowness to achieve full potential. A group of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida stepped forward after the shootings there last month to tell the world that they are ready to fulfill their unique mission of ending violence and mass shootings of students. There have, unfortunately, been too many recent shootings in public and private schools throughout the United States. The response to the Parkland shootings has been different. The students there seem to have broken out of their personal narrowness in pursuit of achieving a common goal. They refused to stand down and have started a movement that has reached across the globe. Why is it that this response was different from all other responses? Certainly all of the other mass shootings were horrific in their own right, yet the latest reactions seem to have struck a universal chord.

Could it be that so many of those involved felt on some level that this was that special mission entrusted to them by God, a mission that only they were capable of accomplishing? Were they tired of relying upon others to get this particular job done? Did they realize the vital importance not only to themselves but to all of the people?

No one knows what the final result will be, but I have a feeling that this movement is far from finished. Those involved may look back upon this time in their lives and view it as their own season of redemption. They may find that they will be able to celebrate their own redemption, spiritual or otherwise, and achieve collectively far more than any could hope to achieve alone.

To my Jewish friends during Passover, I wish you all a Chag Pesach Sameach, a very happy Passover!

Rabbi Gary Berenson is the rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim and also serves as the executive director of The Maine Jewish Museum in Portland. He can be reached at:

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