With Passover just days away, we hope you take a moment to read the following letter – written by a Roman 2,000 years ago. This incredible rendition tells us in rare detail about the pilgrimage, the "aliya laregel", to the Second Temple. It is something new and interesting to share at your seder this year!
For those of you fortunate enough to be making your own pilgrimage to Jerusalem this Pesach, we hope you will join us at the very moving and exciting mass Birkat Cohanim, Priestly Benediction, on Chol Hamoed next Sunday (April 16th). For those of you who can't make it this year, we hope you will log on to watch this beautiful event on our webcams (for more information, click here).
To all of our friends in Israel and overseas – we wish you a joyous Passover and join you in praying: Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem!
Greetings from the Past
The pilgrimage to the Holy Temple on Passover eve was an impressive and exceptional experience for all those who participated in it. Many non-Jews who wished to observe this unique national and religious event joined the throngs of Jews who came from all over the ancient world to celebrate the Passover festival.
Here is a rare description, marvelously preserved to the present day, by a Roman procurator that provides us with an additional and moving perspective on the pilgrimage to the Second Temple. This letter, of which portions are quoted, went through many permutations and translations. First it was written in Latin and later translated into Spanish, and then to Hebrew – apparently at that point Biblical expressions and descriptions were added to the original text.
"When the beginning of the month that they call Nissan arrives, runners and messengers under the king's and judges' command go forth to the entire area surrounding Jerusalem and tell all those who have flocks of sheep and some cattle to bring them, so that the pilgrims will have enough for sacrifices and also for food, for there are many people. Then all the shepherds come quickly. They bring the flocks of sheep through the stream near Jerusalem in order to wash away all the dirt. They said this is what Solomon said "like sheep that have come through washing." When they reach the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, they were so many that the grass could not be seen, since all turned white from the wool of the sheep.
When the day of the 14th came (Passover eve), they would go up to a tall tower in the Temple … with three silver trumpets in hand, and sounded them. After the trumpet blast they would announce: People of God, hearken! The hour of sacrificing the Passover offering has arrived." When the people heard the announcement they would put on their festive garments, since from noon on it was a holiday for all the Jews, since it was the time of sacrifice.
In the entrance to the large Temple courtyard twelve Levites would stand outside with silver staves in their hands, and twelve inside with golden staves… and in the place of the sacrifice, rows and rows of Cohanim (priests) stood with silver bowls and gold bowls in their hands. The rows that held silver bowls were entirely of silver, and those that held gold were entirely of gold, and all this was for glory and grandeur.
Each Cohen at the head of the line would receive one bowl and pass it to the next, and so forth until the end of the line, such that each Cohen would receive a full bowl and pass back an empty one. And there was no delay, since they were so swift in this service that the bowls seemed to fly like "arrows in the hand of a hero". Thirty days in advance they would practice this service and correct every error or obstacle.
There were two great tall pillars there and upon them, two Cohanim with silver trumpets in hand, who blew them at the beginning of the sacrifice to tell the Cohanim to say the Hallel song of praise with joy and thanks and to play the musical instruments that they had.
The ovens in which they roasted the sacrifice were at the entrance of their homes, and this, they told me, was to proclaim the faith and joy of the festival. After roasting the sacrifice, they would eat it with songs of praise and rejoicing and their voices could be heard afar. None of the gates of Jerusalem were locked on the night of Passover in honor of the many who went in and out. The Jews said that the multitudes that came to Jerusalem for Passover were double the number of those who left Egypt."
This year as well we will sit at the Seder table, and we carry with us the memory of the Exodus from Egypt. In addition, we also remember the Passover offering in the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation wishes you a festival of spiritual and physical freedom. May the memories of our past be our guide and inspiration for our future.
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