Exodus 33:12-34:26, Numbers 28:19-25; Special Torah Reading for Shabbat, Chol HaMoed Pesach April 27, 2024

In our tradition, Pesach has four names: Chag HaPesach (the holiday of the sacrifice of the paschal lamb), Chag HaMatzot (the holiday of Matzah), Chag HaCherut (the holiday of freedom) and Chag HaAviv (the holiday of Spring). We engage with all these holy days during Passover. When the Temple stood Chag HaPesach was a separate pilgrimage holiday on the 14th day of Nissan, when the Israelites would come to Jerusalem to perform the Paschal sacrifice (Leviticus 23:5). Chag HaMatzot, was a separate, seven-day holiday when all Israel and today most Jews would remove all levin (chametz) from their homes and eat only matzah to remember the Exodus. Chag HaCherut reminds us of the central theme of Passover, that is that God freed us from Egyptian slavery, that God acted in history, and even if God does not do so today, the Divinely ordained human condition is freedom even if not all people have yet attained it. Chag HaAviv reminds us that Passover is also the celebration of the Spring harvest. We also reinforce our connection to the Land of Israel by ending our prayer for rain and beginning to pray for dew. 

The special readings for Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach (the Sabbath of the intermediate days of the Pesach holiday) pull all these meanings together. The first Torah reading from Exodus speaks of how God acts in the world, when God self-reveals the Divine presence to Moses, just as God intervened to save the Israelites from slavery. The maftir (additional) reading explains the Pesach sacrifice. The haftarah, from Ezekiel 3, is the story of the dry bones, when God brings the dead Israelites back to life and returns them to the Land of Israel, “I am going to open your graves and lift you out of the graves, O My people, and bring you to the land of Israel.” (Ezekiel 3:12) is the promise of a future resurrection and new freedom. Finally, we read Song of Songs, which speaks of the relationship between God and the Jewish people as one of two lovers and alludes to the coming of spring and life reborn.

These four themes and the special readings this Shabbat all remind us that even in difficult times the promise of new life is all around us and that we must maintain our hope and never stop working for freedom, our own and that of all people.