The Story of Passover
Published: Apr. 15, 2024
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The Story of Passover

Q: What is Passover (“Pesach”)?

A:  The eight-day Jewish holiday of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, in the Hebrew month of Nissan. Passover (Pesach) commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Passover is observed by avoiding eating leavened bread/products, and highlighted by the “Seder” meals (which occur on the first 2 nights) that include four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.

In Hebrew it is known as Pesach (which means “to pass over”), because G‑d “passed over” the Jewish homes when killing the Egyptian firstborn (which was the tenth of the 10 plagues) on the very first Passover eve.

 

Q: What is the story and history of the holiday of Passover?

A:  As told in the Bible, after many decades of slavery to the Egyptian pharaohs, during which time the Israelites were subjected to backbreaking labor and unbearable horrors, G-d saw the people’s distress and sent Moses (“Moshe”) to Pharaoh with a message which was to free the Jewish people from slavery and servitude. But despite numerous warnings, Pharaoh refused to heed G‑d’s command. G‑d then sent upon Egypt ten devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.

At the stroke of midnight of 15 Nissan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), G‑d visited the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. While doing so, G‑d spared the children of Israel, “passing over” their homes—hence the name of the holiday. Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and he virtually chased his former slaves out of the land. The Israelites left in such a hurry, in fact, that the bread they baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise. Six hundred thousand adult males, plus many more women and children, left Egypt on that day and began the trek to Mount Sinai and their birth as G‑d’s chosen people.

 

Q:  What kind of foods can not be eaten on Passover?

A:  Any food meeting the criteria of being “Chametz” is not allowed to be eaten on Passover.  Chametz means leavened grain—any food or drink that contains even a trace of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt or their derivatives, and which wasn’t guarded from leavening or fermentation. This includes bread, cake, cookies, cereal, pasta, and most alcoholic beverages. Moreover, almost any processed food or drink can be assumed to be chametz unless certified otherwise.  To commemorate the unleavened bread that the Israelites ate when they left Egypt, we don’t eat—or even retain in our possession—any chametz from midday of the day before Passover until the conclusion of the holiday.

Ridding our homes of chametz is an intensive process. It involves a full-out spring-cleaning search-and-destroy mission during the weeks before Passover, and culminates with a ceremonial “search for Chametz” on the night before Passover, and then a “burning of the Chametz” ceremony on the morning before the holiday. Chametz that cannot be disposed of can be sold to a non-Jew (and bought back after the holiday).

Q:  What is “Matzah” and why is it eaten on Passover?

A:  Instead of chametz, we eat “Matzah“—flat unleavened bread. As the Israelites left Egypt in such a hurry, their bread that they had baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise, and hence was “unleavened.”

 

Q: What is the Passover Seder?

A:  The highlight of Passover is the Seder, observed on each of the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a fifteen-step family-oriented tradition and ritual-packed feast.

The focal points of the Seder are:

  • Eating Matzah—flat unleavened bread. As the Israelites left Egypt in such a hurry, their bread that they had baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise, and hence was “unleavened.”
  • Eating bitter herbs (“Marror”)—to commemorate the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites.
  • Drinking 4 cups of wine or grape juice—a royal drink to celebrate their newfound freedom.
  • The reading of the “Haggadah”, a liturgy that describes in detail the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah is the fulfillment of the biblical obligation to recount to our children the story of the Exodus on the night of Passover. It begins with a child asking the traditional “Four Questions.”

 

Q:  How many plagues did G-d cast upon the Egyptians?

A:  There were 10 Plagues. (and it was not until the 10th Plague that “Pharoh” finally let the Jewish people leave Egypt and thus had their slavery come to an end).

  1.  “Dahm”–all of the Egyptian’s water turned into blood
  2.  “Tzfardeya”–infestation of frogs
  3.  “Kinim”–infestation of lice & flies
  4.  “Arov”–wild animals
  5.  “Dever”–Pestilence—Murrain– All of the animals died.
  6.  “Shechin”–Boils
  7.  “Barad”–Hail (was a mixture of fire & ice)
  8.  “Arbeh”–infestation of Locusts
  9.  “Chosheck”–Darkness (it was paralyzing, and the Egyptians could not move)
  10.  “Makkat Bechorot”–Death of the Egyptian Firstborns

This blog was written by Pediatric Associates Emerald Woods office’s Dr. Jacob Seligsohn