Happy Passover – What is Passover?
Passover is the most sacred and observed holiday in Judaism, or in Hebrew, Pesach, commemorates the Israelites leaving enslavement in ancient Egypt. Pesach is a week long celebration and festival celebrated in the early spring celebrated in the early spring from the 15th to 22nd of the Hebrew month Nissan. In some countries Passover is not recognized as a federal holiday in countries including Austrailia, Canada, the UK, and the US. Though many Jewish businesses and organizations may close or limit their hours to accommodate for Passover. Others will take their annual leave at this time in order to celebrate.
During Passover there are common greetings that would be heard throughout the week. One of the could be Chag Sameach (KHAHG sah-MEHY-ahkh) or translated from Hebrew, joyous holiday. This greeting is appropriate for Sukkot, Shavu’ot, and Pesach. Another greeting is Gut Yontiff (GUT YAHN-tiff). When it is translated from Yiddish it means good holiday and it can be used for any holiday, but not every festival.
Since Passover is the celebration of the freedom of the Jewish people from Egypt, it is best to know the whole story. This is based off of the Hebrew Bible.
The first time the Jews settled in ancient Egypt was when Joseph, the son of Jacob, came to Egypt. Joseph moved his family to Egypt due to a severe famine in their homeland, Canaan. Initially, the Egyptians and Israelites lived in harmony in Goshen. As the Israelites numbers grew the Egyptians began to worry and saw them as a threat. When Joseph and his brothers died the pharaoh of Egypt ordered the enslavement of all Israelites. The first order the pharaoh gave was to drown the firstborn son of the Isrealites in the Nile. The Israelites began to smear lamb’s blood on the door frame in hopes that an angel would recognize them and “pass over” each Jewish household that was marked with lamb’s blood. It wasn’t until Moses came that the Jews could be free. Moses showed the pharaoh of Egypt that God was powerful and showed the pharaoh what God could do. In fear of further punishment the Egyptians convinced the pharaoh to release the Israelites. The pharaoh agreed and let the Israelites go and Moses lead them out of Egypt. The Israelites and Moses crossed the sea after God parted it and they safely crossed. The Israelites were finally free and for 40 years they traveled through the Sinai desert before reaching back to their home Canaan, later to be known as the Land of Israel.
To celebrate and remember the story of getting free from enslavement one of the most important rituals done during Passover is the seder to remember the past. Seder is a Jewish ritual and ceremonial dinner that occurs on the first two nights of Passover. Seder is the ceremony that goes along with Haggadah. Haggadah retells the story of Exodus and includes practices and symbols of Passover.
So what happens during seder? Seder is a fifteen stage ceremony.
- Kaddesh (Sanctification): A glass of wine is blessed in honor of the beginning Passover. After the first glass is drunk a second glass is poured.
- Urechatz (Washing): Everyone at the table washes their hands without a blessing to prepare for the next stage.
- Karpas (Vegetables): Typically it is parsley and it is dipped into salt water and eaten. The parsley signifies the origins of the Jewish people and the salt water is the tears the Jewish people shed because they were now slaves.
- Yachatz (Breaking): There are three matzahs on a plate in the center of the table. One of them is taken from the pile and broken. One part is put back to the pile while the other is set aside for a later part of seder, afikomen.
- Maggid (The Story): This is the stage where it is time to retell the story of Exodus and the youngest person at the table begins by asking one of the Four Questions. The Four Questions are meant to encourage people to participate in seder, The Four Questions are known as Mah Nishtanah.
- Rachtzah (Washing): This is the second to wash hands except this time the water is blessed. This is in preparation to eat matzah.
- Motzi (Blessing over grain products): The ha-motzi, a general blessing, is recited over the matzah to bless it.
- Matzah (Blessing over matzah): A second blessing is recited over the matzah, but rather than a general blessing this is a blessing specific to the matzah. After the matzah is blessed it is blessed.
- Maror (Bitter herbs): Typically raw horseradish, there is a blessing that is recited over it and the herb is eaten after it is blessed.The intent of the bitterness is to represent the bitterness that came from being enslaved. Also at this stage charoset is eaten. Charoset is a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine to symbolize the mortar and bricks the Jews laid while in slavery.
- Korekh (The sandwich): In honor of Rabbi Hillel, Jewish people eat maror on a piece of matzah along with some charoset.
- Sculchan Orekh (Dinner): This is meant to be a festive meal. Generally there are no traditions or requirements as to what is be eaten during the meal. Some Jews may serve gefilte fish and matzah ball soup at the beginning then go onto the main course of chicken, turkey, or beef.
- Tzafun (Afikomen): Going back to the piece of matzah that was broken and put back, this is now eaten as “dessert” because it is the last piece of food to be eaten after the meal. Every family has different ways to serve and consume the afikomen. Some families decide to hide it to have children look for it or vice versa. Whichever way a family chooses the intent is to keep the children’s attention throughout seder by having them wait in anticipation for afikomen.
- Barekh (Grace after meals): a third cup of wine is poured and grace is recited, or birkat ha-mazon. It is similar to the grace said on Shabbat. After grace, the third cup of wine is blessed and drunk. One more glass of wine is poured except this one is put off to the side for the prophet Elijah. A door is opened for Elijah.
- Hallel (Praises): Multiple psalms are recited and a blessing is put on the last cup of wine and that is also drunk.
- Nirtzah (Closing): There is a simple statement that is said at the end of seder to mark is has been completed and a wish that next Passover be celebrated in Jerusalem. After all of this there are various hymns and stories told.
Prior to the start of Passover and seder the house is cleansed. Families clean their homes and rid the house of anything that came in contact with leavened foods, including spoons and other cookware. All leavened foods are removed from the home, includes anything that contains wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, or yeast.
Some foods during Passover that are not allowed to be eaten, or non-kosher foods, and rules to be followed.
- Certain meats are off limits including any products that contain pork, shellfish, lobster, shrimp, crab, rabbit, and seafood without fins or scales is forbidden and cannot be consumed.
- No meat are to be combined with dairy.
- Fish and eggs are neutral and can be served with dairy or another meat.
- Chametz, or any food product or recipe that contains wheat, oats, rye, barley, and spelt. These become non-kosher when the grains have been in contact with water or moisture for longer than 18 minutes. Anything that leads to rising and that includes yeast and sourdough.
- Avoid eating lamb because of the paschal sacrifice and the symbolic lamb shank bone.
Other foods are allowed to be eaten and these foods are considered to be kosher.
- Any form of matzo.
- Fruit and vegetables, but not including the ones that are in included in kitniyot.
- Meats that are fine to eat are beef, chicken, turkey, duck, goose, and fish with scales.
- Since eggs are neutral you can eat eggs and the egg whites.
- Nuts, nut flours, and pure nut butters with no additives.
- Any dairy product as long as there is no additives like corn syrup.
- Herbs and spices
- Broth from kosher meats and vegetable-based broths
- Any food that is packaged with a seal that says it is kosher.