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Passover or Pesach

Passover or Pesach

Nisan 15-21 or 22, March/April

Second only in significance to the High Holy Days, Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. It is celebrated for seven days in Israel and eight days in most diaspora communities.

The name “Passover” is taken from the book of Exodus itself. The 10th and final plague on the Egyptians was the death of the firstborn, where God “passed over” the homes of the Israelites and killed only the Egyptian firstborn. This event finally convinced Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.

There are several core meanings to Passover today:

  • Liberation from slavery.
  • Faith in God.
  • A belief in the prophet Elijah as a symbol of this faith and in redemption soon to come.

Jews are commanded to do three things in observance of Passover:

  1. Remember and tell the story of the Exodus (Exodus/Shemot 13:3)

The seder (Hebrew for “order”) is a carefully constructed, festive meal with symbolic rituals and foods on a seder plate. The Haggadah (from the Hebrew “to tell”) is a book that includes a retelling of the Exodus story. Family and friends gather together for home celebrations.

  1. Eat matzah on the first night (Exodus/Shemot 12:18)

Matzah is a flat bread that contains only flour and water and no leavening. It is baked quickly to further avoid any rise. Most families continue to eat matzah throughout Passover.

  1. Do not own or eat chametz (Exodus/Shemot 12:15)

Chametz is what we normally call “bread.” It is also a combination of flour and water, but includes yeast and is allowed to rise before and during baking.

The seder plate typically includes:

  1. karpas, a vegetable (such as parsley) that symbolizes spring and rebirth
  2. haroset, an apple-and-nut mixture with spices that symbolizes the mortar slaves made for bricks in Egypt; it also covers up the taste of the bitter herbs
  3. maror and hazeret, bitter herbs such as romaine lettuce or horseradish
  4. beitzah, a roasted egg that is a symbol of the festival sacrifice
  5. zeroa, a roasted shank bone symbolizing the Passover sacrifice

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