Biblical Readings for Passover

The selections highlight different aspects of the holiday.

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The Haftarah is taken from the Book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:1-14). The prophet finds himself in a valley of dry bones and, under the vivifying effect of God’s spirit, the bones knit together and become covered with flesh. Ezekiel understands this vision to mean that the people of Israel, having been exiled to Babylon, will again be reborn as a nation.

Both the fact that Passover, recalling past deliverances, looks forward to future redemption and an old tradition that the resurrection of the dead will take place during Passover determined the choice of this passage as the Haftarah for the Intermediate Sabbath of Passover.

The Song of Songs

It is customary to read the biblical book Song of Songs on the Intermediate Sabbath of Passover. Rabbinic tradition interprets the book as a love song, where the “beloved” is taken to mean God and “the bride” to mean the congregation of Israel. This tradition made the Song of Songs especially appropriate to Passover, because it marked, as it were, the beginning of the courtship of Israel and God before, metaphorically speaking, they became finally wedded at Mount Sinai by Israel’s acceptance of the Torah.

Another reason given for the reading of this book on Passover is that it is a song of the spring. To the poet and the singer, spring is synonymous with hope and happiness. A people’s hope lies in its freedom and its attachment to the law of God. This, too, is the lesson of Passover, for which the people of Israel have fought since they left Egyptian servitude, and this is the eternal message it wishes to convey to the whole of the human race.

The Seventh Day

The Torah reading (Exodus 13:17-15:26) describes Israel’s experiences following the exodus. Pharaoh mobilizes the Egyptian army and begins his pursuit of the fleeing Israelites. When Moses and the children of Israel reach the Red Sea, Moses raises his rod, the waters split apart, and the Israelites are miraculously saved. When the Egyptians reach the water, they become bogged down, sink to the bottom, and drown. Moses and the children of Israel sing a magnificent song of thanksgiving.

The Haftarah (Second Samuel 22) connects to the theme of thanksgiving in the Torah reading. In the Haftarah, King David composes his own song of thanksgiving to God for all of his victories and deliverances from the enemy. The Haftarah concludes with this sentence, which is also included at the conclusion of the grace after meals, “A tower of salvation of His king, who shows mercy to His anointed, to David and to his heirs forever” (Second Samuel 22:51).

The Eighth Day

The Torah reading for the eighth day of Passover (Deuteronomy 15:19-16:17) deals with a variety of laws, including those related to tithes, the year of release, the release of slaves, and a comprehensive description of the three pilgrimage festivals.

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Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs is the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He has served as the publications committee chairperson of the Rabbinical Assembly.