Passover occurs on the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight (Lev 23:5; Num 9:3, 5, 11). Twilight is the Hebrew word erev meaning “evening, night, sunset” according to all the main Hebrew lexicons. The root word for erev is arab meaning “to become evening, grow dark or to spend the evening, do at evening.”
The phrase “at twilight” can also mean “between the evenings” (see the marginal notes for Exod 12:6 in the KJV). The addition of the word at (Heb. beyn) adds an additional meaning to the word erev as we shall discuss further below.
Which twilight time did the Israelites keep Passover? The twilight of the thirteenth day going into the fourteenth day, or the twilight of the fourteenth day going into the fifteenth day? Let’s examine the Scriptures for the answer.
YHVH commanded the Israelites to kill the Passover lamb at twilight (Exod 12:6) and then to put its blood on their doorposts (Exod 12:7). After that, they were to roast and eat the lamb in that same evening (Exod 12:8). The word evening in Hebrew is layil meaning “night as opposed to day.” They were to eat the lamb that evening “with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand…in haste” (Exod 12:11). This was the same night that Elohim struck all the firstborn of Egypt, but passed over all the houses of the Israelites that had blood on the doorposts (Exod 12:12–14).
One thing is certain. Passover occurs on the fourteenth day of the first month of the biblical calendar, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread starts on the fifteenth day of the first month (Lev 23:5–6). We will see how do these two biblical holidays relate to each other as we go along.
All the seven biblical holidays including the weekly Sabbath and Passover (Num 9:2, 3) are moedim meaning “appointed times,” when YHVH commanded his people to meet with him to commemorate specific events (Lev 23:2, 4). All these appointed times in a general sense are called holy convocations (Lev 23:4) when YHVH’s people gather together to do what he has commanded (Lev 23:4). Though Passover day falls into this category, it is the only biblical holiday not specifically referred to as a miqra kodesh in the specific instructions given about it. The first and last days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the other hand, are each called a miqra kodesh when YHVH’s people are commanded to gather together. Furthermore, on each of the other biblical holidays except Passover, YHVH commands his people to rest from their customary or servile work (i.e. their secular jobs and work activities). This is not the case with the Passover day.
The Torah only specifically designates Unleavened Bread, Harvest of the Firstfruits or Pentecost and Tabernacles or Ingathering as feasts (Heb. chagim, Lev 23:6, 34; Exod 23:15, 16; Deut 16:10, 13), when it places the Hebrew term chag in their names (i.e. the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Week or the Feast of the Harvest of Firstfruits and the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering. Passover day was the time to prepare the Passover lamb and to finish removing leaven from the one’s home. It was a work day. All the other biblical holidays were sabbaths.
If Passover was not a holy convocation (miqra kodesh) or a rest day, but a simply a divine appointment (moed, Num 9:2, 3), then what were the Israelites to do on Passover day itself? This is the day they killed the Passover lamb itself and finished putting leaven out of their homes in preparation for the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,which began at the end of Passover day (Exod 12:6, 8; Deut 16:2–5). The Passover lamb was to be sacrificed as the sun was going down (Deut 16:6) and as one was about to celebrate the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which begins at the end of the fourteenth day of the first month at sundown. This is the beginning of the fifteenth day of the first month.
The Israelites sacrificed the Passover lamb at twilight (erev) as the sun was going down and then ate it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in preparation to leave Egypt that night, which was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exod 12:11, 17; Deut 16:5–6).
In Exodus 12:15, the Torah calls the night the Israelites ate the Passover lamb a feast (Heb. chag). This is a reference to the Feast (or chag) of Unleavened Bread (Heb. Chag haMatzot).
Exodus 12:14 refers to the meal part of the Passover, which occurred on the night the Israelites left Egypt, which was on the fifteenth day of the first month, or the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, as a feast (Heb. chag). This corresponds with the Torah’s designation of Unleavened Bread as the Feast (chag) of Unleavened Bread (as already noted above). So the Israelites were eating their Passover meal at the beginning of the fifteenth day, which began the seven-day long celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exod 12:15–17).
So the Israelites sacrificed the Passover lamb at twilight of the fourteenth, cooked it, and then ate it on the fifteenth day of the first month (the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread), which is the same night they made the exodus out of Egypt (Exod 12:31–39). This night was to be commemorated throughout Israel’s generations, and the story of the exodus was to be told on that night down from generation to generation (Exod 12:26). It was called “a night of solemn of observance” or “a night to be observed” (Exod 12:42).
When was the lamb sacrificed? In between the evenings or at twilight (erev) or as the sun was going down and the day is becoming dark (erev), the Torah tells us and as already noted. It takes about an hour to slaughter a lamb and prepare it for cooking. Once the large fire suitable for roasting an entire lamb on a spit is built and allowed to die down to hot coals (about three hours), it takes another two hours to cook the lamb rotisserie-style as the Torah commands (Exod 12:9). The process of building the fire, letting it die down to hot coals would be occurring in the afternoon of the fourteenth, while the lamb would be slaughtered at twilight and put on the rotisserie afterwards. Therefore, the Israelites would have been eating the roasted lamb later in evening of the fifteenth day once it was cooked.
There is some confusion about when Yeshua kept the Passover or the Lord’s Supper. The gospel accounts refer to it as Passover, and Yeshua himself calls it such. Therefore, in the minds of Yeshua and the apostolic writers, it was Passover. However, the Torah specifies that Passover is to be kept at the end of the fourteenth day of the first month of the biblical calendar going into the fifteenth. This would have been impossible for Yeshua to do, since he was hanging on the cross at the end of the fourteenth day as the fulfillment of the Passover lamb, and he then went into the grave as the sun was setting going into the fifteenth day. Therefore, Yeshua kept an early Passover—still on the fourteenth day, but at the beginning of the day, not at the end of the day. At that time, he instituted the Lord’s supper communion ritual and the foot washing ceremony.
In Exodus 12:6 we read,
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 [see “between the evenings,” KJV marginal notes; “betwixt the evenings,” J.P. Green; “between the two evenings,” Bullinger’s The Companion Bible; and The NIV Study Bible].
The phrase “in/between the evenings” (Heb. beyn h’arbim) can have several meanings. Understanding this will help to explain why the Gospel writers call the meal that Yeshua had with his disciples “the Passover.”
So what is the meaning of twilight (Heb. erev) with the addition of the English word between or the Hebrew word beyn?, The Jews of Yeshua’s time interpret the word erev in relationship to when to observe Passover ass being the time from high noon when the sun is at its zenith when it starts to descend toward the horizon until approximately 6 PM when it disappears behind the horizon (The Life Time of Jesus, by Alfred Edersheim, p. 813; Hendrickson, 2002). From 12 noon onward, however, is not the literal meaning of the Hebrew word phrase “between the evenings” however, since two evenings are implied. Between the evenings (or beyn h’arbim [arbim is the plural of erev]) means “between the evening of the thirteenth day of the first month going into the fourteenth day of the first month and the fourteenth day going into the fifteenth day.” That is to say, the entire daylight portion of the fourteenth day or Passover day could be the period between the two evenings. With this understanding, it is not difficult to see how Yeshua and his disciples keeping the Passover or Lord’s Supper at the beginning of the fourteenth day is still called “the Passover” in the Gospels, even though the majority of the Jews traditionally ate the Passover meal at the end of the fourteenth going into the fifteenth.
Some believers prefer to celebrate Passover when Yeshua did it—at the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month instead of at the end of the day. This is acceptable, since Yeshua did it. It is also acceptable to do it at the end of the fourteenth going into the fifteenth when the Israelites did it and as the Torah commands.
The purpose of the Passover was to tell the younger generation the Passover story (Exod 12:26–27). This is why we celebrate it when the Torah commands. We also believe that if Yeshua hadn’t been hanging on the cross at the end of Passover day, he would have been celebrating the Passover at the time the Torah instructed the Israelites to do so.
For more details on this subject, we invite you to print and read Natan’s article, “When Do We Celebrate the Passover—at the Beginning or the End of Aviv 14?” at http://www.hoshanarabbah.org/teaching.html#feast.