Pesah in the Bet-HaMiqdash


Pesah was a very happy and intense holiday in the times of the Bet-haMiqdash. Hundreds of thousands of Jews would walk to Yerushalayim from all towns of Israel, ready to make the qorban Pesah (=a lamb which was sacrificed in the afternoon, roasted and consumed at night).

Those who came from outside of Yerushalayim were staying with relatives or acquaintances, or many times, at a stranger’s home. In general all houses in Yerushalayim were open for all who needed a place to stay, and when there was no more room available, a red cloth would be hanging above the door.

People gathered in family groups called “Haburot”  (singular “Habura”). Each Habura, which could consist of 50, 60 and up to 100 people, shared one qorban. The lamb was taken the evening of 14 Nisan to the Bet haMiqdash by one or two representatives from each Habura, and was sacrificed there. Then the animal was roasted in one piece. At night, Nisan 15th, people would have the  Seder, much like we have it today. They read the Haggadah, the Ma Nishtana questions were made, a lot of food was served, including other qorbanot as Hagiga, and all accompanied, of course, by Matsa, and maror. People sat reclined on cushions and pillows, like noblemen and aristocrats. Four cups of wine were served to celebrate our salvation, our redemption, our freedom, and our assignment as God’s chosen people . Finally dinner was served and before midnight, the qorban Pesah was eaten as afiqoman (=last meal, or “dessert”), when people were already full. The roasted lamb was distributed among all members of the Habura. Everyone had to eat from that qorban at least a piece the size of an olive (kazait). After eating the qorban Pesah, the Habura recited the Birkat Hamazon, the blessing to thank HaShem for our food.

Around midnight, everyone went up to the terraces of Yerushalayim, and from there, looking at the Bet haMiqdash, which was lit by a full moon, the entire Jewish people sang together the Hallel, the Psalms of Tehillim recited in gratitude to HaShem for having taken us out of Egypt. The voices of millions of Yehudim singing the Hallel, all at once, filled the city with an unparalleled melody. The Gemara says that those voices were so powerful that people felt that the terraces of the city were shaking.

After the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash, we have the tradition to put on the tray of Pesah, or que’ará, a shank-bone  (among Ashkenazim, a chicken leg) to remember the preparation of the qorban Pesah. At the end of the Seder we also eat an additional portion of Matsa, the Afiqoman, in memory of qorban Pesah, saying: “[We eat this Matsa] in remembrance of the qorban Pesah, which was eaten once one is satisfied”.  And we also recite the Hallel, at the end of the Haggadah, after eating the Afiqomán. We recite the Halel twice: first in the synagogue, in remembrance of the Hallel that was recited by the entire Jewish Nation, and then at home, after Birkat haMazon.

There is a beautiful tradition, that very few people still practice today, which was made in remembrance of that famous Hallel that was recited in the Bet haMiqdash. Do you know when people used to bake the Matsot that were used for the Pesah Seder?  On Nisan 14th, Pesah eve, in the afternoon. Exactly when the qorban Pesah was sacrificed. This is the ideal time for preparing the Matsot, which is the time same the Halot are prepared in a normal Friday.  And while preparing the Matsot on the eve of Pesah, people used to sing the Hallel!  Today, this tradition is virtually lost, except in some Jewish communities in Yemen and Kurdistan.

יהי רצון שנזכה לחגוג את חג הפסח בבנין בית תפארתינו במב”י, אמן