Passover, the Incomplete Festival

Most Jews don't understand that the Exodus we celebrate at Passover is only a prelude to the main event at Mt. Sinai.

BY: David Klinghoffer


Continued from page 3

How wonderful it would be if the Christian interest in Passover became an occasion for understanding the holiday's true meaning-a meaning, however, that stands in tension with one of the main teachings of Christianity. The teaching I have in mind holds that through Jesus' death the Jews were somehow freed from the "curse" (as the apostle Paul put it) of the eternal Torah. Passover, in recalling us to the beginning of the process whereby the Jews entered into the Torah covenant, refutes the Christian notion that Torah no longer describes the kind of relationship with the Jews that God wants.

Why should Christians find it "wonderful" to consider an alternative to their own notion that for all people, including Jews, adherence to religious law (as in Judaism) is a lame substitute for a religion of faith (like Christianity)? First of all, Judaism


a religion of faith, albeit one where faith takes concrete expression in the form of the commandments.

But you might still ask what could be so pleasing for a Christian about giving up the idea that faith-entirely and in all cases trumps adherence to law. After all, that idea was at the heart of the apostle Paul's brilliant marketing strategy, and it still pulls in converts two millennia later.

The answer is that for almost 2,000 years, the Christian soul has been haunted by the Jewish problem: what to make of the fact that the Christian savior's own people, who presumably knew him best, rejected him. Didn't the Jews' rejection cast doubt on the Christian assertion that Jesus was the Jewish messiah? Refusal to accept the reasoning behind the Jewish rejection of Jesus has led Christians to devise various tortured theories explaining the mystery of the continuing existence of Judaism and of the Jews, and to the projection of Christian perplexity in the form of anti-Jewish violence in the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc. Christianity is still in need of a scripturally based reconciliation with the special role of Jews in the world, a role defined by Jewish law.

As early as the New Testament's letter to the Hebrews, Christians were quoting the prophet Jeremiah's famous but enigmatic statement that God would "establish a new covenant [brit chadashah] with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Hebrews 8:8 citing Jeremiah 31:31)-as if this pointed to a new law for the Jews (in the form of Christianity) destined to replace that of Sinai.

It pointed to no such thing. In Hebrew, a covenant (brit) designates only the commitment to the content of the agreement between parties, not to the content itself. In other words, the establishment of a new brit only signals that the Jews, in the messianic era, will recommit themselves to the ancient, eternal Sinai covenant. This is why the Torah (Deuteronomy 28:69) speaks of God having established two distinct covenants with the Jews during the 40 years after the exodus from Egypt: one at Sinai, the other in the plains of Moab, where Moses, before he died, recapitulated the teachings the Jews had received from God at Sinai. The content of each covenant was exactly the same. They differed only in the fact that the Jews in each case made a new commitment to observe the same body of law.

The relationship between God and the Jews, with its unique grammar of moral, legal, and philosophical teachings, is eternal and unchanging: This thought, I believe, could set Christian hearts at ease. Yes, there are solid scriptural grounds-notably the linking of the biblical festivals of Passover and Shavuot even for a Christian to believe that the Jewish covenant with God goes on.

Jews could help to spread the word among our Christian neighbors, giving them comfort, correcting the misunderstanding, if only we ourselves understood.

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Related Topics: Faiths, Judaism