Shlomo ben Ezra's Passover Adventure!
Shlomo ben Ezra
You are about to read the extraordinary story of an extraordinary boy, named Shlomo Ben Ezra. Shlomo lived in a quiet Galilee village called Tsippori, nearly 2,000 years ago, in the year 60CE! In that year, Shlomo, along with his Saba and Savta, (grandparents), Ima and Aba, (mother and father), and his sister Miriam, made the pilgrimage from Tsippori to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, in order to celebrate the Passover festival - the festival of freedom!
This in itself was not so unique, as hundreds of thousands of Jewish families from Israel and from other lands participated each year in the three pilgrimage festivals of the Hebrew calendar: Pesach, (Passover), Shavuot, and Sukkot, (Tabernacles), and filled Jerusalem in order to be a part of the holiday celebration at the Holy Temple. What makes Shlomo's story remarkable, is that he wrote down all that he saw and experienced in a journal. Miraculously, Shlomo's journal survived for nearly 2,000 years, and during the ongoing excavations of the town of Tzippori his journal, including the drawings he made of what he saw, was discovered! We have scanned and uploaded Shlomo's words and artwork for all to enjoy and to gain insight into how the pilgrimage festival of Passover was celebrated in Temple times.
What you are about to read and see is the story of how the festival of Passover was intended to be celebrated, according to the words of Torah, as G-d spoke them to Moshe, and as handed down by our sages from generation to generation. Now let's let Shlomo take it from here...
Collecting the Half-Shekel
Preparations for Passover really began for us on Rosh Chodesh Adar, (the first day of the month of Adar), six whole weeks before the Seder night! The heads of our small town of Tsippori set up a table in the central market. Every household is required to contribute one half-shekel to the Holy Temple In Jerusalem. When the collection has been completed, our town leaders will appoint someone to bring the money to Jerusalem, where it will be handed over to the Temple treasurers. The money will be used throughout the coming year for the purchase of animals for the communal offerings.
On the Road
The day after we celebrated Purim, we began cleaning our house, and packing our bags for the long journey. We left before Rosh Chodesh - the new month of Nisan - the month of Passover! was exciting to see so many people traveling to Jerusalem.
Marking a Grave
It was important for travellers to Jerusalem to avoid walking over unmarked graves, as that would impart ritual impurity. People must be ritually pure before they can bring their Passover offering to the Holy Temple. Workers were sent out from the Holy Temple to mark the graves with whitewash. One such worker signaled us to stop, while the second was marking the grave.
Greeting Old Friends and New
We met many friends and family along the way. Even perfect strangers soon became friends, as we all marched toward Jerusalem to celebrate our exodus from Egypt together. There was so much singing and comradery that my new friends and I kept imagining that we were part of the generation that really left Egypt, crossed the Sea of Reeds, and marched into the desert. When we came across a well, we would stop to rest and have a drink.
Resting by a Well
When we came across a well, we would stop to rest and have a drink.
Repairing the Roads & Wells
A month before Passover, workers had been sent out to make repairs in the roads, and making certain that wells for drinking from, and ritual baths, were ready, and could be used by pilgrims like ourselves.
Watering Livestock on Shabbat
We traveled for two straight days, and now it was Shabbat. Thanks to preparations we made with fellow pilgrims, we were able to water our animals from nearby wells. This was in accordance with special rules made by our sages, to make our Shabbat stay easier.
After four days of traveling, we arrived at Modi'in. Because of its central location, and nearness to Jerusalem, almost everyone traveling to Jerusalem seems to pass through Modi'in. I've never seen so many people before in my life! It is especially exciting to know that Modi'in is the town where Mattitiyahu the priest, and his five sons, began the revolt against the Greek tyrants - four hundred years ago!
Purchasing New Dishes
Modi'in is also everyone's favorite place for buying new and pure clay pots and dishes for the Passover festival. Since so many kohanim (priests) live in Modi'in, our sages have expressed great confidence in the purity of the earthen ware made there.
The Mount of Olives
It was a full day's journey from Modi'in to Jerusalem. We approached Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, where I got my first glimpse of the Holy Temple. We came this way intentionally, to see the preparation of the ashes of the red heifer. We would all need to be sprinkled by the ashes and water in order to become ritually pure.
Preparing the Red Heifer
A bridge of arches was built extending from the Shushan Gate on the eastern wall of the Temple Mount all the way up to the Mount of Olives. The red heifer was brought up this bridge to the place where it would be slaughtered and burned.
Preparing the Ashes
The kohen (priest) was waiting to perform the ceremony. After the red heifer was slaughtered and burned, the ashes were gathered up and brought back to the Holy Temple, where they would be mixed with water and hyssop. This mixture was then used by the priests to purify anyone who had become impure through contact with a dead body.
Everyone in my family had to stand before the kohanim (priests), and be sprinkled with water that had been mixed with ashes from the red heifer. Now that we were purified, we could present our Passover offering at the Holy Temple.