The story of Passover (Pesach)
Passover’s story starts thousands of years ago. According to the Torah narrator, Jacob and his sons, a total of 70 people, arrived in Egypt as a result of famine in the land of Israel. Joseph, the son of Jacob who was Deputy to Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, gave a parcel of land to his family so that they could settle in Egypt and cultivate the land.
After a few centuries, the 70 Jacob family became a few million people and aroused Pharaoh’s fear that they would join the enemies of Egypt during wartime and defeat Egypt.
Pharaoh of that time decided to take action to suppress the Israelites and remove the threat he saw in them. According to Pharaoh’s commandment, the Israelites became slaves and the sons born were thrown into the Nile river.
When Moses was born to Yocheved and Amram, they decided to send him in a small box across the Nile in the hope that he would be found and not killed by the Egyptians, and so it happened. Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, found Moses and gave him his name.
Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s house and became acquainted with his Israelites brothers only in his adulthood. When one day an Egyptian man hit a Hebrew man, Moses killed him and buried his body in the sand.
After being discovered, he had to flee from Egypt and then God chose him to free the Israelites from Egypt. Moses began his mission to Pharaoh together with his brother Aaron. Moses’ requests to release the Israelites from Egypt did not make much of an impression on Pharaoh and only the plagues God cast upon him caught his attention.
Nine plagues received Pharaoh and each time he agreed to release the Israelites from Egypt and immediately afterward returned and regretted his initial consent. Only the last plague changed his mind for enough time that allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt.
The tenth plague took the life of every firstborn son of every family in Egypt. Heavy grief fell on Egypt and Pharaoh had no choice but to surrender and agree to the liberation of the Israelites.
Moshe asked the Israelites to prepare quickly for leaving their homes. During the night, the Israelites baked bread for the road, but due to the shortness of time, the dough didn’t rise but remained thin and hard.
Thus was born one of the most important symbols of Passover, banning chametz (leavened bread) and eating matzah. The Israelites left and it was not long before Pharaoh repented that he agreed to release them and immediately sent his army in their wake.
As they pushed between Pharaoh’s army leaning toward them and the sea before them, God did a miracle, the sea split in two and allowed the Israelites to pass through it. As Pharaoh’s army pursued them into the sea, Pharaoh’s sea and army sank into the sea. The story of the Exodus goes from generation to generation in the Jewish people for thousands of years.
One of the well-known verses of Passover taken from the Haggadah is: “In each generation, a person must see himself as if he was from Egypt”.
That is, every Jew, when he reads the Passover Haggadah, must imagine that he himself was a slave and he was the one who came out of Egypt. The goal, of course, is to bring the Passover Haggadah reader closer to the story and reinforce the experience and memory.
However, this is not just the memory of the Exodus, but another meaning. The Exodus is an exit from a state of slavery to a state of freedom.
The Passover story has a meaning that is not only Jewish but also universal. The meaning of Passover for the Jewish people is enormous. The exodus changed the course of the history of the Jewish people and transformed it from a group of slaves to people.
But the story of going from slavery to freedom has a universal meaning Slavery is not only a physical state but also a mental state. Slavery reduces freedom of choice. Slavery suppresses the power of creativity and extinguishes dreams.
Slavery is the enemy of human nature. Exodus was not only a physical event but also a mental and spiritual event. For the first time after centuries, the Israelites were masters of their destiny.
For the first time after centuries, the Israelites enjoyed physical freedom and mental freedom. And since freedom is the essence of man, Their dignity was restored to them.
But slavery is even more than that, slavery can be an inner mental feeling. Bad habits that we cannot change are also slavery. Bad eating habits, inappropriate treatment of other people, disrespect for our children, laziness, procrastination, and countless other bad traits and habits are all a form of inner mental slavery.
This is slavery because we are enslaved to these habits and unable to change them even when we know they are harmful to us.
The war on liberty, whether it is against an external enslaver or against our enslaved nature, is not a one-time event in human history but part of human beings since the beginning of history.
There were always forces trying to enslave, exploit and trample people and there were always forces trying to fight for freedom.
So it was every generation. Therefore, the meaning of leaving slavery for freedom is not only for the Jewish people but for the entire world.
The Israelites commanded the Passover holiday in the Torah, and like every holiday that is commanded in the Torah, there are also guidelines on how to celebrate it.
According to Jewish tradition, there is the written Torah given to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, after the Exodus, and there is the Oral Torah which was also given on Mount Sinai but was written only after the destruction of the Second Temple, 1-5 centuries AD.
Since the oral Torah is the interpretation of the written Torah, it contains additional imperatives and rules regarding every subject that appears in the Torah.
Passover rules are designed to create a religious, cultural and social framework that will serve the memory of the Exodus in the strongest possible way.
The most important rules of Passover:
Remember that night in Egypt, where the Israelites were forced to flee even before their dough was raised, there was a total ban on chametz on Passover.
Chametz is an all-encompassing name made up of grain (wheat, barley, rye, spelled or oatmeal) and swelling water. It is not just bread but everything that contains grain. Instead of bread, you eat matzos. Examples of Chamets foods which are forbidden on Passover: Pasta, cakes (which contain flour), rolls, beer, pizza.
In order to avoid Chametz’s leftovers in kitchenware, there are clear halakhic rules on how to prepare kitchen utensils. There are kitchen utensils that cannot be prepared (become kosher) for Passover, for example, wooden or pottery pots, so one needs to find a replacement for the Passover days. Glass or metal utensils can become Kosher in a process that includes boiled water or oven.
Before the Passover eve, a Chametz test is performed. The ceremony includes reading religious texts in Aramaic that announce the cancellation of any chametz we may have and did not notice.
Before the short ceremony, the children hide small pieces of bread wrapped in different corners of the house. Turn off the lights at home, and start looking for the chametz using the candle. Put the pieces of paper-wrapped bread in a bag. They will have to use the next day.
Elimination of chametz
On the morning of the eve of the holiday, the ceremony of elimination of chametz is performed. Take the pieces of bread that were collected during the chametz test, and maybe some leftovers that still exist, and burn them. These are usually very small amounts since each family already plans to stay breadless in the morning so as not to throw bread.
Seder night (LEL HA-SEDER) is the opening event of Passover and the peak event of Passover. The meaning of Passover is reflected in the Seder, a very ceremonial festive meal designed to recall all the details of the story of the Exodus.
This is the most family meal of the year. Many sit at the Seder table in very large family ensembles. Seder dinners with 20 – 30 participants are a very common event.
Reading the Passover Haggadah
At the center of the Seder is the reading of the Haggadah. The Passover Haggadah does the story of the Exodus in a didactic way that suits children and adults.
Throughout the scroll, there are stories, poems and chapters of prayer. The Passover Haggadah is the one that dictates the order of the evening. Start the evening with kiddush (religious blessing on wine). Reading few blessings, and then have a long break of a very festive meal.
After the meal, the reading of the Haggadah continues and the entire evening continues for many hours. Many families finish it at midnight and even later.
Jewish prayer has been an integral part of Jewish worship since the destruction of the Temple. Prayer in the synagogue replaced the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the participation in the sacrification ceremonies.
Before the Seder begins, people go to synagogue for the holiday pray. The next morning, there is another holiday prayer that includes special additions for Passover.
Passover lasts seven days. The first day and the last day of Passover are called “Good Days”. A good day is like the Jewish Shabbat where you can’t do any work.
There is only one significant difference, on a good day it is permissible to transfer fire from place to place. That is to say, leaving a light on fire and allowing it to be ignited otherwise it is forbidden to light a fire, only to move the fire from a place to place.
The days between the first day and the last day are holidays. Religious people do not work these days. Many secular people take time off in those days and spend time in the family or on trips.
At Passover, there are many traditions added beyond Jewish law.
On the eve of the holiday, there are traffic jams in many areas in Israel because of many people traveling to their families or friends to celebrate together Lel-Haseder.
The Seder is a great opportunity for great family get-togethers. It is customary for families to share the burden of food preparation so that the burden does not only fall on the host family.
Not eating legumes
In the old days, Europe used to use the same food bags over and over again. It turned out that grain sacks were also used as sacks for transporting legumes, which made the legumes Chametz.
As a result, Jews living in Europe made sure not to eat legumes on Passover. This practice remains to this day and Ashkenazi Jews are careful not to eat legumes during Passover. Jews of North African or Yemeni origin eat legumes.
The song “Ma Nishtana” (What is the difference)”
One of the famous songs of the Haggadah is “Ma Nishtana (what is the difference) this night of all nights”. It is customary that this song sings the smallest child attending a meal. The song consists of four parts and a chorus. The boy/girl sings a part, and the adults sing the chorus with him.
Passover flour (Kimcha De-Pascha)
One of the most recognizable customs of Passover is the distribution of food to families who find it difficult to buy a large amount of food required for the holiday meal.
Many organizations and companies take part in this large enterprise of food procurement, package organization and distribution of food.
Sale of chametz
Jewish law prohibits the existence of chametz or ownership of chametz. Since there are large amounts of chametz in factories, state food stores, food marketing networks and in private homes, it is clear that all chametz cannot be thrown away.
The solution to this is the sale of chametz. The chametz sale is headed by the Chief Rabbinate who sells all the chametz in the country to a non-Jewish Israeli citizen and buys the chametz back at the end of the holiday.
Telling the story of the Exodus is a mitzvah that appears in the Torah in the book of Exodus. However, we do not know how the story of the Exodus was performed during or before the First Temple period.
There was no uniform wording for the story of the Exodus, so we can only imagine that every family did it in its own way.
On the second temple days, they celebrated the Passover holiday in Jerusalem, as part of the family and the group that made the pilgrimage. The basis for the holiday and the gathering frame of the group and family was the Passover sacrifice, which was slaughtered in the temple but eaten in homes while singing praises.
There were certain verses that were said on the Seder, but each interpreted these verses as they wished. There is evidence that in the Hasmonean era, the skeleton of the Haggadah was already created and was already a partial Haggadah text that was acceptable to everyone.
The text of the Passover Haggadah, as we know it today, was presumably set at the beginning of the fourth century AD and it was still not the full text that is said today.
The Haggadah is made up of content that appears in the Torah, the Bible and the Talmud according to the following structure:
Ma Nishtana (what is the difference?)
A festive meal
Ancient stories (Midrash) about the Exodus and Tearing of the Red Sea
In the ninth century or so, the Haggadah was written, and since then, there have been no significant changes in the wording and scope of the Haggadah, and only during the Middle Ages were various poems and songs added to the Haggadah.
The Passover Haggadah was preserved in a very large number of more or less ancient manuscripts, some of which are also painted; And from the time of the invention of print, there is no book in Jewish literature that has received more editions.
Passover in Israel
Passover is one of the most significant holidays in Israel. It began a month after Purim, a very beautiful time in Israel, late winter and early spring.
The weather is usually very comfortable, everything is flowering and green. Preparations for Passover in Israel begin two weeks before the holiday. Schools go on vacation a week and a half before Seder.
During the week – two weeks before the holiday many people are busy cleaning the house for the holiday. Because of the prohibition of chametz, Pesach became “the holiday of cleanliness.” Many make sure to clean the house thoroughly, cabinets, libraries, carpets, sofas, kitchenware and more.
There are many businesses that offer cleaning services for Passover. However, the preparations include not only cleanliness but also cooking. As I described earlier, Seder meals are usually made in large family ensembles and therefore require a large amount of cooking.
A large amount of cooking requires a lot of shopping and this is also one of the most prominent features of the pre-Seder period, a large increase in the amount of shopping each family prepares for the holiday.
Apart from Family Seder, there are mass events that include hundreds and thousands of participants, mainly in the military for soldiers and abroad for Israeli travelers. During Passover, many people go on trips in Israel. Nature and tourism sites are filled to the brim.
The Seder plate is placed in the center of the Seder table. The plate is designed to help the memory of the Exodus, just like reading the Passover Haggadah. On the plate are placed six foods and each of these foods is meant to mention something else:
Maror is a bitter herb. It’s usually vegetable lettuce that has a slightly bitter taste. The bitter taste is meant to remind us of the difficulties of slavery in Egypt.
A regular meal usually starts with eating some main course rather than eating vegetables. Eating herbs is designed to change the order of eating to inspire the children to ask why the differences in eating order. It’s customary to eat the herbs after dipping it in brine.
Haroset is a sweet date spread designed to resemble the clay used by the Israelites during the hard work. Two pieces of matzah are chopped between them and put on a little scum and eat
Zeroah is a portion of chicken intended to commemorate the sacrifice the Israelites made on Passover when the Temple was in existence. It’s not common to eat that part.
The egg is meant to be one of the sacrifices that were customary during the Temple, but is also a symbol of mourning in Judaism, and therefore it also marks the mourning for the destruction of the first and second Temple.
Horseradish is a spicy root and is another type of Maror. It is common to eat it between two matzos.
It is usually customary to greet before and during the holiday.
Happy holiday (CHAG SAMEAHC – חג שמח)- this is a generic blessing for every Jewish holiday.
Kosher and Happy Holidays (CHAG KASHER VE-SAMEACH – חג כשר ושמח) – This blessing is related to the ban of chametz on Passover. A house without chametz is a kosher house. Therefore, we wish a kosher and happy Passover holiday, ie, Passover without chametz.
Happy Passover (PESACH SAMEACH – פסח שמח)- Greeting for Passover.
MO’A’DIM LE-SIMCHA (time for happiness – מועדים לשמחה) – this blessing is said during the holidays. This blessing is more used by the religious public.
Like every holiday, Passover also has its songs. The most typical songs are songs taken from the Passover Haggadah. Apart from songs taken from the Haggadah, there are many other songs composed by Jewish Israeli poets. Most of the songs are children’s songs that bloom before Passover.