Preparing the Heart and Home for Passover
PREPARING THE HEART FOR PASSOVER
By Monte Judah
As springtime approaches, we prepare to begin a new annual cycle of Biblical feasts, starting with the Passover. On Sunday evening, this April 13, the Lord’s Passover will be observed in the home. We are commanded to remember (memorialize) the Lord’s redemption and how WE were saved out of Egypt. Paul instructs us to remember the Passover in that way, to teach our children that WE are the persons who were delivered.
Yeshua used this same observance to initiate the New Covenant with His disciples; therefore, this feast takes on added significance for those of us who believe in Yeshua the Messiah and keep the commandments of the Lord.
The Lord commands us to prepare for this observance each year in a special way. At the first Passover, the children of Israel prepared by bringing into their homes their yearling lambs on the 10th of Nisan. They observed and inspected the lamb for four days to ensure that it was healthy and fit. Then at twilight of the evening of the 14th, the lambs were slain and roasted over fire for the seder meal.
Today, we do not bring lambs into our houses. Instead, the memorial calls for us to remove leaven from our homes and to prepare our hearts to keep the feast in a “worthy manner.” When it comes to removing the leaven, we find ourselves each year asking, “What is leaven?” Not only are we to remove any foods that contain leaven in them, as I have observed this feast over the years, I have come to understand that there is a spiritual lesson here about removing leaven (old sins) from our lives. Asking ourselves “What is leaven?” also facilitates asking ourselves what behaviors or attitudes do we need to clean out of our lives. As we age and go through the different stages of life, one set of behaviors may be acceptable at a younger age only to become inappropriate (leaven) at an older age. We are commanded to search for leaven every year.
The memorial also commands us to “remember” what the Lord has done. In the case of Egypt, we remember how the LORD delivered Israel from Egypt with a strong arm and many judgments. In the case of Yeshua, we are to remember His death, burial, and resurrection, which took place at the Passover. Both of these remembrances are illustrated in the Passover sequence of the seder and its symbolism.
But, it is the Apostle Paul who, upon teaching us this remembrance, gives a stern warning that if we partake of the Passover service in “an unworthy manner,” we bring sickness and death into our midst.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 1 Corinthians 11:27-30
It is important to keep the commandment of Passover and the other feasts, but the instructions for the Passover also call for it to be performed properly. The penalties for failing to do so are severe. Earlier, Moses set a standard for Passover. The person observing Passover must be circumcised. Passover is not to be observed by unbelievers. It is not an “outreach” program; it is for the “redeemed of the Lord.”
But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. Exodus 12:48
We have come to understand that the spiritual message of circumcision is directly tied to our faith in God and His covenant, that every believer has received the circumcision without hands—the circumcision of the heart. Circumcision is a sign of the covenant.
…and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Messiah; Colossians 2:11
Did you know that the children of Israel did not circumcise their sons in the wilderness and yet they ate the Passover each year? The change came when they entered the land of Israel (the promised land). Circumcision is a sign of the covenant tied to the promised land. We are in a similar situation today as we are scattered in the nations. We keep the Passover, but our circumcision is based on the work of the Holy Spirit—the work of regeneration because of our faith in the Messiah as the Lamb of God. Yet there is day coming when we will be in the kingdom and have new resurrected bodies. We will be physically circumcised before the first Passover there…and there WILL be a Passover in the kingdom. The Messiah spoke of it when He refrained from drinking the last cup with His disciples, saying that He would not drink of it until they were in the kingdom with Him.
So, as we approach Passover this season, how do we prepare our hearts to observe it correctly in a “worthy manner?” I would like to offer some practical advice to do just that.
Prepare yourself by remembering to remember! Can you recount the basic story of Moses and the children of Israel leaving Egypt? Can you recount the basic story of Yeshua and His disciples leading to His arrest, trial, execution, and resurrection?
Prepare yourself by reviewing the memorial symbols, including the different cups, the seder platter elements, and the special bread called the Afikoman. The Afikoman is the most important part of the meal. It is the dessert of the seder that is resurrected after the meal. The meaning of Afikoman comes from the very last words Yeshua spoke from the cross, “It is finished (fulfilled).” The Hagaddah (Passover seder service booklet) will lead you through the sequence and explain the meaning of the Passover elements, but are you aware of the 15 different elements of the seder?
Prepare yourself—whether you are to be a guest at the table or a host at the Passover table. Participants should examine themselves for any leaven in their lives. Only by the aid of the Holy Spirit can you truly accomplish this. Simply ask the Lord to show you the leaven for you to remove.
In traditional homes, this process is taught to the children by the following game. Mother strategically places pieces of leaven around the home (simple croutons work). The father takes a flashlight and the children carry a small paper sack, a rubber band, and a feather. The father silently leads the children by pointing the light and takes them to each piece of leaven. Upon seeing the leaven, the children sweep the leaven with the feather into the sack. Once all of the leaven is gathered, the sack is closed and bound with the rubber band. This sack is then cast out of the house with the father and his family at his side stating, “I have kept the commandment of the Lord and removed the leaven from my home.”
What usually happens in this game illustrates other lessons. For example, the children have a tendency to do their own search for leaven apart from the father carrying the light. The father stands patiently in one part of the room shining his light right on the leaven while the children scurry about looking for leaven, never looking for the father’s help. It is kind of humorous to see, but we adults do the same thing. That is why I recommend that you ask the Lord first to show you the leaven in your life rather than you doing your own search.
Passover is probably the most formal meal of the year in many believers’ homes. Special dishes are used, there is a banquet setting, often including guests. A traditional seder with dinner will be an all-evening affair. Observing the Passover properly means that you are to relax and eat it as a person who has been set free, saved, and delivered. Symbolically, we speak of reclining at the meal. This is one of four questions asked by the children at the seder: “Why on this night do we sit and recline, but on all other nights we only sit?” Passover should not be a stressful experience. You are to relax and enjoy the freedom provided by the Lord. This will not save you from cleanup and the dishes, but one should not be thinking of those things during the seder.
The pinnacle of the seder is when the resurrected bread, the Afikoman, and the third cup—the cup of Redemption—is offered. Yeshua specifically referred to these elements as being His body broken for us and His blood (His life) shed for us. Most of us with a Christian background know that this bread and cup come with solemn moments. We remember what Yeshua has done for us personally. Passover is the same, but we are also instructed to remember what God has done for us as a community of believers. Conducting a seder illustrates WHAT Yeshua was fulfilling and why. Many are stunned to see picture of Yeshua’s resurrection so clearly as the Afikoman is brought to the table.
It is essential that we hold this part of the seder in a solemn and reverent way. Being disrespectful at those moments will surely be acting in “an unworthy manner.”
This year on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the day following Passover), we will be treated to an astronomical event. On the night of April 15 at midnight (Central time zone) a lunar eclipse will begin. The full eclipse will begin a little after 2am and remain full until about 3:30 am. The eclipse will be completely finished by about 4:30 am. It will be the first of four lunar eclipses, called blood moons. Many prophecy teachers and students think there will be significance to these four eclipses, occurring this Passover season, next Sukkot, then the following Passover in 2015, followed by the final one at Sukkot 2015. We will have to wait and see what will happen. But what it says to me is that we should take our festivals seriously before the Lord. By that I mean, it should move us to keep the feasts even more diligently. If prophetic events are to unfold, keeping the feast is the path to salvation and deliverance, the promises of God even for us, not just an annual religious ritual.
If Passover or Sukkot are just religious rituals to you, then it is fair to say that your heart is not ready to observe them. Don’t just keep a religious custom. I encourage you to step back and prepare your heart. You will discover as I have that there is much more to the observance and remembrance than meets the eye.
One final word—make sure you set a place for Elijah at your seder. We are expecting him very soon!
PREPARING THE HOME FOR PASSOVER
By Lin Judah
Preparing your home ahead of time involves cleaning. This is where the term "spring cleaning" comes from as we thoroughly clean our homes. Since we want to remove the leaven from our homes, don't forget cleaning under couch cushions, ovens, the kitchen drawers, removing your toaster, and getting that vacuum cleaner bag out of the house—all places that harbor crumbs.
In the month and weeks leading up to Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, you will want to stop or limit buying products containing any leavening agents and start using up what is already in your pantry and fridge.
Of course, removing the leaven has a more spiritual meaning than just removing food items. Each year we need to reflect on and repent of the sin in our lives. Removing the leaven is likened to revealing the sins. Each year there are certainly the mandatory items to remove. We need to remove yeast, baking powder, other leavening agents, and our pantry and refrigerator items that contain those items. However, each of us must go through our hearts and pantries with fresh eyes each year, and we need to remove that which we and our spouses feel needs to be removed for this year. I must say that we have been keeping the Feast of Unleavened Bread for almost 30 years, and each year seems to be different. You cannot tell anyone what to remove from their homes. Read labels. You will be surprised at how many pantry items contain yeast. We do remove wheat and grain products. Corn, rice, and legumes are usually removed by the Ashkenazim, whereas the Sephardim will use and consume those items.
There are several options of what to do with the leaven you remove from your house, such as throwing it away, giving it to a food bank or neighbor, or for some it even means packing it up in bins or boxes and taking to a shed or garage. The observant Jews have been known to sell their leaven to a gentile for $1 and then buy it back after the Feast.
Shop ahead of time for Passover foods as they become available at your local markets. You may have to shop in a larger nearby city. You will want to purchase your matzah (unless you are talented in the kitchen and have learned to make your own). I usually purchase matzah ball soup mixes as they save time in the kitchen. We love to pick up a few cans of the macaroons at this time of year as well. You will want to keep these items OUT of your pantry in a separate area until such time as you clean out your leaven and clean and organize your pantry.
Preparing for your Passover seder will take some planning on your part. The date is set for you and you will determine the time you wish your guests to arrive (keep in mind this is usually a 3-hour event). You will also be setting your menu. Determine how many guests you can accommodate comfortably in your home. Do not have any unbelievers at your table. This is not the time to witness to your next door neighbor.
SEDER PLATE ELEMENTS
There are elements in the seder that are needed on the table and on the ceremonial seder plate. On the leader’s ceremonial plate there needs to be a lamb shank bone, a horseradish root, horseradish for consumption, parsley, charoset, and a roasted egg. A few of these items are traditional and not required. Feel free to research further on your own.
The shank bone can be obtained from your local butcher earlier when you purchased a leg of lamb for your main course or from a butcher should you serve another type of meat. You can clean it well by boiling, then roast it over a grill fire. Do not let it char as it will break. Once you have prepared your bone you can actually keep it year after year wrapped in your freezer.
The horseradish root can be purchased at most stores. Just clean it and cut a 3-5 inch piece for your ceremonial plate.
Horseradish that has been made fresh, or commercially prepared, can be used for actual consumption. If you purchase it, then find one with the least number of added ingredients.
Parsley can just be cleaned and a few nice large sprigs placed on the plate.
Charoset is a sweet apple-nut mixture that you will make ahead of time. It is made with peeled, shredded or chopped apples, chopped nuts (pecan, walnut, or almonds, but check for nut allergies with your guests), honey or sugar, cinnamon, and wine or grape juice. Some have really spiced this recipe up with other spices and/or raisins. You can't go wrong. Just mix and adjust to your taste.
The roasted egg represents the dark, hard heart of Pharaoh. We make it look pretty ugly. First take a hard-boiled egg, then put it on that grill and get it dark and charred a little. Cracks are good, just not demolished. We suggest keeping a close eye on it. This can be roasted at the same time as your shank bone. Or, you can light a match and scorch the shell of the egg all around until it is covered with soot.
Plan a simple menu. I usually serve matzah ball soup, lamb shish kebob, roasted rosemary potatoes, grilled mixed vegetables, then a fresh fruit salad, and macaroons to end the meal. Prior to the soup, your guests will be able to snack on a nut and raisin cup at their seat and then a hard-boiled egg as we break for dinner. You will also want to have plenty of matzah available at the table. You can serve a dinner wine, offer iced tea, or just plenty of ice water to go along with the dinner.
The matzah ball soup base can be started early in the day, especially if you used chicken and make your own stock. If using a box mix, then plan to start it about 1 1/2 hours prior to start time. It is still nice to add chopped onion, celery, and carrots to the broth in either case. Matzah ball mixes require eggs and oil and need to be made 20 minutes before dropping into your boiling broth. This is a simple, fun activity for a few guests to help with when they arrive at least 30 minutes early. You can then reduce the heat to a low simmer and left at that point until needed at the dinner. Make plenty of broth and at least one matzah ball for each guest.
Our lamb shish kebob is prepared at least the night before so it has about 24 hours to marinate. It gets skewered a few hours before the seder. The rosemary potatoes are a great item to allow someone else to bring and can be placed in the oven to keep warm. The vegetables are prepared the night before and are ready to grill in a grill basket. I always let another guest bring a fresh fruit salad. I ask them to NOT add nuts or whipped cream—just plain fresh fruit cut up. Other guests can bring hard boiled eggs, cans of macaroons, or bottles of wine or grape juice. You will want to let your guests participate; they WILL ask what they can bring. Those bringing main food dishes will need to know the number of guests attending and arrive early. At a minimum, you will want to take care of the soup and the meat dish.
Other suggested menus can include beef brisket, turkey, or chicken, and other vegetable dishes. It is best NOT to serve any rice.
SETTING THE TABLE
Set the table as early in the day as possible. Usually this means furniture needs to be moved and additional tables and chairs brought in. You will want to have a menorah on your head table for the mother of the home to light the holiday candles. You will also want to have candles placed in the center of your guest tables. You can have a few tapers, or one in front of each woman in attendance or one for each family group represented. Make sure you do not forget a book of matches at each candle base. I like to add decorative ribbon around my candles. I also place greenery on the tables and add fresh flowers tucked in just before my guests arrive. It is lovely to have a fresh arrangement on your table.
Each table setting will include a name place card, wine/juice glass, filled water glass, nut/raisin cup, napkin and flatware, a small plate or dinner plate, and a Haggadah. If you have small children in attendance, you might want to include some coloring pages, crayons, a small puzzle, or other small toys to keep them occupied. You can find some appropriate Passover activities online.
I always assign my dinner guests a place at the table. It is important to place parents with small children on ends where they can have easy access to being excused from the table as needed. Placing a name place card assures your guests that they are truly a part of your planning and of the table. Make sure you get the names of ALL of your guests (first names are just fine). I make up folded 3x5 cards and either write with markers or use the computer. You can be creative!
Fresh raw almonds and raisins are a great pre-dinner snack to have on your table for each guest. You can get little cups or use mini muffin paper liners. I will give small children mostly all raisins.
You might want to supply 2 guest napkins at each seat since extra napkins are usually not on the table. I use paper napkins and try to find a decorative one that helps with the theme of my table for the year. Blue and white are typical for your seder table, however, any color theme works. I have used green and purple in the past with lovely results. I know of a seder that was done with a lovely black and white theme as well. You can match your decor to your dishes, to your table cloths, to a colorful napkin, or to flowers you find. I have used plastic table covers for many years as well as paper or plastic plates. I always use real glassware and real flatware. If you are doing a seder for a very large number of people, you can use plasticware for both the glasses and flatware.
Each guest will have a Haggadah under which I will put a small plate for using some of the elements of the seder. Some others may use a dinner plate in this spot. You can certainly do this if your dishes are a key element of your table decor.
Within an arm's reach of guests should be a small bowl of salt water that will be used for dipping the parsley. (This is made in advance as well and best to use warm water so the salt dissolves. You should be able to test with your finger and taste the saltiness). Baskets of matzah and carafes with grape juice and Passover wine should be placed on your tables. You can use the actual wine bottles, but at least put the grape juice in a nice pitcher. Have some pitchers of water nearby as well to refill water glasses as needed. I use carafes for both my wine and grape juice options and I place a ribbon around the grape juice to signify the difference.
If your seder has only 4-6 guests you can all partake of the elements from the Leader’s seder plate. Should you have 8-24 guests you may want to use a community seder plate that contains enough charoset, horseradish, parsley sprigs, and 1/2 of hardboiled egg for about every 6-8 people. Individual seder plates are a great option for a seder of over 24 guests. These would be small plates with each of the needed elements.
You will also have a place at your table for Elijah. This place needs to have a wine cup with a saucer under it as a minimum.
DINNER IS SERVED
At the break for dinner you will want to put out a few salt and pepper shakers and butter or margarine. This allows the guests to partake in buttered matzos and to salt their eggs. Keep in mind to check if any of your guests adhere to meat and dairy separation. If so, serve margarine, not butter. No other dairy is involved in this dinner.
If having grilled meat or vegetables you will want to prepare the grill prior to the guests arriving. You will want to cook that grilled meat fresh during the dinner break. This is actually a more relaxed time of the evening, and guests are free to move about.
I prefer to serve the soup to each guest (getting a few of the women to assist). At the time the soup is being served, the meat and vegetables are being put on the grill. A hot bowl of soup is taken to the ones in charge of the grill or saved until they come in so they can eat it very hot. Each guest can bring their dinner plate to the buffet line if it was part of the table decor. I prefer to keep the dinner plates in the kitchen where the buffet of the main dinner will be set up. At this time, the potatoes are brought out and placed with other hot foods in chafing dishes that have been prepared ahead of time. If you have a small number of guests, then just time the food coming out of the oven with what is being brought in from the grill and serve immediately. Save the fruit salad to follow the main course and pass it around the table along with a platter or two of macaroons.
After the dinner is complete, you and a few helpers can remove most items from the table. All that is needed still would be the water glasses, an EMPTY wine glass, the carafes of wine and juice (refill as needed), the baskets with a few matzah, and the Haggadahs. The leader will have his needed items as well, and make sure that cup is still there for Elijah.
The woman of the house who is going to light the holiday candles should be sure to have a head covering at her seat ahead of time and the matches by the candles. You will want to have gotten dressed a few hours before your guests are due to arrive. You will want to come to the table in a calm, relaxed, and happy manner, indicating that all is ready to begin, and your mood will set the mood for your guests.
A hand-washing basin with a small towel should be placed where the leader can reach it, as well as a Unity bag (a special three-pocketed bag holding three pieces of matzah) and Afikomen bag or linen napkin. The leader will also need his flatware nearby to be added to his place setting when it's time for the dinner break. The leader will bring the ceremonial seder plate to the table after you (the hostess) have been seated, so you should have it in a ready location for him.
A pillow (the “stone”) laying on a corner chair or small table should be ready for the 'burial' of the Afikomen. You should also have 'rewards' for the child or children who find it. These are additional parts of the seder you will find in the Haggadah.
Learn from your experiences and keep lists, menu ideas, and tips handy for use year after year. I always keep my guest lists from year to year as a wonderful remembrance of those who joined us for our home seder.
These are just suggestions of what has worked for our household over the years. You can personalize your seder based off of your own experiences or personal research. Blessings to you.