Introduction to Pesahim


Tractate Pesahim can basically be broken down into three sections.  The first four chapters deal with laws concerning the removal of leaven (chametz).  However, there are many digressions in these chapters, and the fourth chapter really goes on to discuss many different subjects.  The next five chapters deal with the passover sacrifice.  The final chapter contains instructions for the seder (although this word is not used until the post-Talmudic period.)  Due to the continued importance of the seder to Jews of all generations, I will give a separate introduction when we begin to learn the tenth chapter of our tractate.

The Passover holiday was obviously a central pilgrimage festival when the Temple still stood, although in reality more Jews may have come to Jerusalem during Sukkot than during Passover.  What is unique though about Pesach is the combination of a home and Temple holiday. While the paschal lamb was slaughtered in the Temple, it was not consumed by the priests but rather by groups of Jews called “havurot”—fellowship groups.  This lamb, shared by all, was a symbol of redemption from Egypt, of God’s protection in the past and a continued sign of God’s providence.  Throughout history, the lamb and the entire story of the Exodus continued to capture the imagination of Jews and many other groups (Christians, Americans etc.) in their attempt to connect history to the future.  Furthermore, the story of the Exodus has been the model for people hoping for their freedom for three thousand years.  It was the model for those who founded the United States of America, and 100 years later by black slaves fighting for their freedom.  It is a timeless message, one whose impact has not been dulled and never will as long as there are enslaved and oppressed people anywhere in the world.