From Pesach to Passover

William Tyndale wanted both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament accessible to everyone in the English-speaking world

passover painting521 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
passover painting521
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
I grew up during the era of the birth of video arcade games and the famous TV series Knight Rider.
Starring David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight along with his artificially intelligent and nearly indestructible car, KITT, this dynamic duo team fought crime each week. The best part of the show was Knight pressing the turbo-boost button and watching the car fly into the air.
As a child, when the Passover holiday would approach, I would automatically think of the angel of death in the video game approaching the households in Egypt. When facing a door with the blood from the paschal lamb, the angel would turbo-boost over the house to go onto the next home.
I always took for granted that Pesach meant Passover; God passed over the houses of Hebrews marked with lamb’s blood so that only Egyptian firstborns would be killed. However, the Aramaic translation of “Pesach” in Exodus 12:13 is “vyechos,” which means compassion.
How did Pesach become Passover? The English translation of Pesach to Passover is sometimes attributed to a 16th century Christian, William Tyndale.
He wanted both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament accessible to everyone in the English-speaking world and in 1530, he published the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into English.
Tyndale noticed that two ancient Hebrew words in a verb or noun format were pronounced the same. He translated both as “Passover,” thus giving English speakers one explanation for two biblical terms. Was he right? The first Book of Kings (18:21) states: “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’” But the people said nothing.
The word waver has the root word of “pesach.” In the context of this verse, the Israelites are being accused of jumping back and forth from God to Baal and vice versa. If we are to apply this translation back to Exodus 12:13, then the proper translation would be to “jump or pass over.” This possible translation is reinforced by looking at Isaiah 35:6 – “Then shall the lame man will leap [root word pesach] as a deer.”
Pesach takes on a different meaning in Isaiah 31:5: protection or rescue.
Applying this translation during the plague of the firstborn, God at that time placed himself in such a situation as to protect the house of the Israelite against the destroying angel. This is consistent with the context of what actually occurred that night.
If we pay attention to Exodus 12:23, we have two characters; God and the Destroyer. The Almighty ensures those who have heeded His commandment to put the paschal blood on the doorpost the Destroyer will not enter to smite you.
Pesach is used in Samuel II 4:4 and Kings I 18:21 to mean “limp.”
The holiday of Pesach today is a combination of two distinct holidays; one is a family festival mentioned in Exodus 14:43-46 and the other is the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:5-6 and Numbers 28:16-17).
In Kings II 23:22-23, the Jews reconciled the two modes of observing Pesach of Exodus 12 and Deuteronomy 16, with the explanation that older form was for the Exodus whereas the newer form was prescribed for the future.
Central to the observance of Pesach today is to believe that God has redeemed me from Egypt. Without feeling this emotion, we have not fulfilled our biblical duty for this holiday.
All of the symbolism, ritual and liturgy are to focus my attention on the pivotal point of redemption.
It is true that God in His infinite mercy protected the Israelites during the plague of the firstborn. Whether that form of safeguard took place like a mother bird protecting her young or a turbo-boost in passing over houses, the physical redemption that took place is part one of the biblical story.
Slavery can take many forms. The obvious is physical persecution and oppression. But there are more subtle forms as well. One can be externally free, yet be enslaved to temptations within. Envy, hatred, selfishness and other temptations can literally cripple (pesach) a person. Just like God can take a nation from slavery to freedom, if we put ourselves into His hands, the Lord can help us in our personal journey in improving our character.
It is sometimes easier to take the Jew out of Egypt than to take Egypt out of the Jew. The key is Pesach.