Monday, March 25, 2013

The Spiritual Meaning of Passover

As Passover is approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the spiritual meaning of this Jewish ritual.  For the Jews, Passover is celebrated in remembrance of the day God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, when the angel of death "passed over" their houses, and instead struck the firstborn child of every Egyptian family.  For Christianity, Passover is a ritual that was fulfilled on the day that Jesus was crucified, for  He was crucified on the Passover. Thus Paul writes:

Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:7-8)
It was part of the ritual of Passover to eat unleavened bread. In Christianity, this is recognized as symbolic of good that has been purified from evil.

However, the symbolism does not end there.  Swedenborg interpreted the entire book of Exodus, and he reveals that after Passover, Jesus did something between the time He died and the time He rose from the dead - He descended into hell, and released from captivity many spirits who were caught in an area between  heaven and hell known as the "world of spirits".  Jesus first had to conquer all sin and temptation in His body until it was completely purified, and made Divine.  Afterwards, He was able to reorder heaven and hell, and many souls that were trapped until that day went through a final judgment: the good were delivered into heaven, and the evil spirits which infested those who were awaiting judgment were cast into hell.  This is how the New Church of Christianity considers how Jesus saved humanity - whereas Catholics and Protestants follow a different theology under the theory of "vicarious atonement" - where Jesus had to suffer from God's wrath for us.  Nothing could be further from the truth - for God is love, He never gets angry or wrathful, and it was God Himself who descended to become incarnate and save humanity (evil in itself carries with it its own punishment, that is a law of order). This is the meaning of the event of the Exodus, where the Jews passed through the parting of the Red Sea - representing the lower hell, and eventually came to the land of Canaan, which represents heaven.  Everything in the Bible, even the historical events, has a hidden spiritual meaning to it.

This descent of Jesus into the world of spirits and hell after the crucifixion is described very briefly by the apostle Peter:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:18-19)
The deliverance of these spirits trapped midway between heaven and hell is also described very briefly by Matthew:

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matt. 27:51-53)
By going in the "holy city" means they were delivered into the holy city of heaven (not Jerusalem), and by "appearing to many" means that people saw this happen when their vision was opened to see the events in the spiritual realm. It is such a brief passage in scripture, so brief, that hardly anyone notices this, and few consider what happened in the spiritual realm between the death and resurrection of Jesus. About a couple of centuries later or so, the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus was written to describe Jesus' descent into hell. But other than Swedenborg - who described this event but did not witness it - there is the remarkable account of the visions of Catherine Anne Emmerich, a Catholic nun of the 19th century who witnesses the dramatic judgment upon hell between the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ is partly based on Emmerich's account, and to tell you the truth I was highly disappointed with that movie, which skipped over these major events. I have not seen one single good movie on Jesus...I guess it is a very hard subject to present.


So, what I have said thus far concerning the spiritual meaning of the Passover is well known among Christian churches, although few discuss the events that took place in the spiritual world at that time.  As with everything in the Bible, Swedenborg goes into much more detail in describing the symbolism of the Jewish Passover. Its described in detail in Exodus chapter 12:

On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man's need you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. (Ex. 12:3-5).
So the first question to ask, if the Passover is on the 14th day of the first month, why this commandment to find a lamb on the 10th of the month?  Most will probably say "who cares?"  or, "this ritual is irrelevant, or that day was chosen at random." Not so. Whereas most ignore the details of scripture (many Christians ignore the Old Testament entirely), there is something spiritually significant in every detail. And the only person I know to have discussed these details is Emanuel Swedenborg.  Probably most people never ask these questions as the answer is hard to find, and even asking the question is likely to give one a headache and one will move on...Jews just likely follow these traditions because they grew up in it, and don't even ask any more what they mean, just considering it part of their heritage. 

Let us go through the 12th chapter of Exodus, and examine the spiritual meaning of scripture as revealed in the visions of Swedenborg, line by line.  I cannot cover nearly all the details that Swedenborg covers, as he shows the spiritual meaning by examining numerous other scriptures, so I will summarize the spiritual meaning hidden behind the Passover ritual:
This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.
Periods of time: days, months and years - spiritually mean "states".  There is no time in heaven, there are only changes of state.  It it declared to be the first month as it is the first state of spirituality: the state when a person is liberated from the power of hell, liberated from death.
Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: 
The "congregation of Israel" is not the Jewish people, it is symbolic of the spiritual church. The true church are those people who repent, to deliver themselves from hell.
On the tenth of this month 
And here is where we get into some spiritual numerology. Not modern day speculative new age numerology, I am talking about the symbolism of numbers in scripture.  E. W. Bullinger once wrote a book on this called Number in Scripture, trying to determine the symbolism of the numbers...and largely failed. However I found the book highly interesting, although it was incomplete. Swedenborg is much more comprehensive in his explanation of spiritual numerology, but you have to dig and search for the explanation of each number as its scattered throughout his writings. And the other interesting point: the meaning of a number can at times change according to context. So it is not always that simple.

It is on the symbolism of the number 10 Swedenborg explains something interesting about the human psyche, which in modern times is known as something similar to the "subconsciousness" - an awareness of things, but buried deep in our minds. Swedenborg talks about this at length, and calls it "remains" - an inner recess of the soul where truth is stored up, kept as a means to fight against evil and temptation when it should arise, to regenerate man:
By a month is signified an entire state from its beginning to its end, thus the whole state of liberation, which is signified by the passover in the complex. From these things it is plain that by, In the tenth day of this month, is signified a state of initiation of the interiors. This state, namely, of initiation of the interiors, was from the tenth day of that month until the fourteenth day thereof, within which days the paschal lamb was to be kept up. By the paschal lamb is signified the good of innocence, which is the inmost good, thus that this inmost, with the interiors in which it is, should be meanwhile secluded and withheld from such things as defile. This state is a state of initiation of the interiors, that is, of preparation for receiving the influx of good and truth from the Lord.  (Heavenly Arcana, n. 7831).
To show that this symbolism for the number 10 (and somewhat number 5), Swedenborg shows references from multiple areas of scripture, but that is perhaps something for another blog entry. It is not something that has been explained before, as one must have a knowledge of the inner psychology of the soul. It explains the reason why there are 10 commandments.
Every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household.
A lamb signifies the innocence of the interior person. One's house is one's mind, and the "house of his father" means according to the particular good of the person. Despite the sins one has committed, or one's sinful state, there is an area of the mind that is kept innocent, which was the source of the good of the person.
And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man's need you shall make your count for the lamb.
This means if there is not an immediate good through which innocence can be conjoined, then the nearest immediate good will be used to reform a person. It also means, we should seek communion with others to complement our own good. It is the same with societies in heaven, where angels represent a particular good, and if not complete, they are joined with another society:
Moreover in heaven the case is this. If a society is not complete, as it should be, there are then taken elsewhere from some neighboring society as many as will fill up the form of that good, according to the necessity in each state and its changes; for the form of good varies as the state is changed. But it is further to be known that in the third or inmost heaven, which is next above the heaven where the spiritual are — for these constitute the middle or second heaven — innocence reigns, inasmuch as the Lord, Who is innocence itself, flows in immediately into that heaven (Heavenly Arcana, n. 7836).
The means of reformation and regeneration will be adapted to each person.  This inner state of innocence is what psychologists sometimes call "one's inner child."  What is learned in childhood is used later in spiritual growth in adulthood, so that childlike innocence can be transformed into true spiritual innocence.

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. 
One is reformed by innocence undefiled by evil, a male signifies the truth derived from the innocence (males are forms of truth, females forms of love) - for it is by means of truth that one is reformed. Of the "first year" signifies a full state. Swedenborg explains this in detail:
It must be told what a full state is. A state is called full, when the good is such that there is not anything lacking for the reception of the influx of innocence. The truths of faith conjoined to the good of charity cause good to be such; for spiritual good receives its quality from the truths of faith. This is here meant by the full state which is signified by the son of a year. But the state is not full, when truths have not as yet qualified good, so as to make it capable of receiving the corresponding state of innocence. The state then first becomes a full state when from good truths are regarded; and it is then not yet full, when from truths good is regarded. In this latter state are they who are being regenerated, but in the former are they who are regenerated. The former are in truth leading to good, but the latter are in truth which is from good; or the former are in obedience to truth, but the latter in affection for doing truth (Heavenly Arcana, n. 7839).
You may take it from the sheep or from the goats.
Every animal mentioned in scripture has a spiritual meaning; in this case the sheep or lamb signifies interior innocence, a goat exterior innocence. Swedenborg explains this in more detail:
What is meant by the interior and the exterior good of innocence shall be briefly told. In every good there must be innocence that it may be good; without innocence good is as without its soul. The reason is, that the Lord by innocence flows in, and thereby vivifies the good with those who are being regenerated. The good which innocence vivifies is internal and external; internal good is with those who are called men of the internal church, and external good with those who are men of the external church. Men of the internal church are they who have qualified their good by interior truths, such as are those of the internal sense of the Word; but men of the external church are they who have qualified their good by exterior truths, such as are those of the literal sense of the Word. Men of the internal church are they who from affection for charity do good to their neighbor, but men of the external church are they who do good from obedience. Every man while he is being regenerated, first becomes a man of the external church, but afterward a man of the internal church. They who are of the internal church are in intelligence and wisdom superior to that of those who are of the external church, and are therefore also more interiorly in heaven. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 7840).

Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight.
This means, from the state of preparing one's internal mind (the 10th day) to the state of holiness (the 14th day), as 14 is a multiple of 7, which signifies what is holy. The slaughter of the lamb signifies to prepare to enjoy the internal state of the good of innocence. In the evening or twilight means in a state of ignorance of the truth, for one begins in a state of darkness, of little understanding in spiritual matters. It is the beginning of a new day, beginning with darkness, and ending in full light.
And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it.
"Blood" here means by the truth of the good of innocence. When scripture says "saved by the blood of the lamb", it has nothing to do with the literal blood, it means one is saved by the Divine truth. Note that at the Last Supper Jesus changed the Passover ritual, for He was the lamb, and in place of the lamb one is to have bread, and in place of blood, the wine.  And yes, event the two doorposts an the lintel of the doorway has a spiritual meaning: briefly, blood is put there to signify truth which introduces one to what is good.
Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.
To eat the lamb means the enjoyment of good, at "that night" when evil has been condemned and separated - for one cannot enter into the enjoyment of good while evil and falsity are infesting.  "Roasted with fire" means from spiritual love, "with unleavened bread" means free from all falsity. With "bitter herbs" means with temptation: for one cannot be purified from evil without first going through temptation, and overcoming the temptation.

Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire --- its head with its legs and its entrails.
To eat it raw means without any love: there is no spiritual truth without its corresponding love. Nor boiled with water, means by just through the means of the truth of faith. It must be done out of love, or "roasted with fire." Without love, what one knows of God is not living. To roast it whole, from the head to the legs to its entrails, means that love must be present in one's inner intention, to one's outward actions.
You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire.
"Morning" means elevation into spiritual heaven internally, after one has gone through a period of darkness and sin.  To burn the remains with fire, means that this must be done by undergoing temptations. As fire purifies the meat, so we are purified when going through the fire of temptation.
And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. 
To eat it with a belt on one's waist (or "with girded loins" in older translations) means from interior love, with "sandals on one's feet" means prepared to act even in the lowest externals: which means preparation to remove even the lowest basest sins from one's life. With "staff in your hand" means this must be done by your own power, to be done in haste means with desire to be separated from one's former evil life.
It is the LORD's Passover.
This means, liberation from hell, liberation from one's sins, can only be done by the presence of the Lord. But to be delivered from hell, you first have to know that you are there.  This involves examining one's life, examining one's intentions, one's priorities in life. And when the truth is acknowledged that we are the basest of all sinners, then temptation begins as we resist our former natural desires based on our own love of self.  And this is the meaning of the Lord's Passover: it is the deliverance of your soul so that you may enter the land of heaven.

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