Learn More About Passover "Virtually" with Rabbi Stern!
Click here to go to the blog and view the video introduction from Rabbi.
The Haggadah is the entrée to the Passover experience. It is a complex tour guide, filled with teaching and tradition. For many of us at the seder table, there’s not a lot of time to ramble. Maybe you have younger kids who have no patience. Or worse, you may have adults with no patience and a penchant for complaining when the meal’s not served within 15 minutes of pulling up to the table.
So, my friends, this is a chance to do some online study for Passover, and no one will tell you to hurry up. Each session will focus on a particular section of the Hagaddah. We’ll study various readings and interpretations and look at Passover rituals and foods. Of particular note will be our study of the 4 cups of wine traditions and the wines we use. Come study!
Passover (Pesach) begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. It is the first of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Shavuot and Sukkot). The primary observances of Pesach are related to the Exodus from Egypt after generations of slavery. This story is told in Exodus, Ch. 1-15.
The name "Pesach" comes from the Hebrew root meaning to pass through, to pass over, to exempt or to spare. It refers to the fact that God "passed over" the houses of the Jews when he killed the firstborn of Egypt. In English, the holiday is known as Passover. "Pesach" is also the name of the sacrificial offering (a lamb) that was made in the Temple on this holiday.
Pesach Laws & Customs
Probably the most significant observance related to Pesach involves the removal of chametz (leaven) from our homes. This commemorates the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise. It is also a symbolic way of removing the "puffiness" (arrogance, pride) from our souls.
Chametz includes anything made from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt) that have not been completely cooked within eighteen minutes after coming into contact with water. Some Jews also avoid rice, corn, peanuts, and legumes (beans) as if they were chametz. All of these items are commonly used to make bread, thus use of them was prohibited to avoid any confusion.
Tradition tells us that all chametz, including utensils used to cook chametz, must either be disposed of or sold to a non-Jew (they can be repurchased after the holiday). The process of cleaning the home of all chametz in preparation for Pesach is an enormous task. Traditionalists prepare for several weeks and spend several days scrubbing everything down, going over the edges of their stove and fridge with a toothpick and a Q-Tip, covering all surfaces that come in contact with food with foil or shelf-liner. After the cleaning is completed, the morning before the Seder, a formal search of the house for chametz is undertaken with a candle and a feather, and any remaining chametz is burned.
During Pesach we eat matzah,an unleavened bread, made simply from flour and water and cooked very quickly. This is the bread that the Jews made for their flight from Egypt.
On the first night of Pesach (or the first two nights, for traditional Jews outside Israel), we have a special family meal filled with ritual to remind us of the significance of the holiday. This meal is called a Seder, from a Hebrew root word meaning "order," because there is a specific set of information that must be discussed in a specific order. It is the same root from which we derive the word Siddur (prayer book in Hebrew). The text of the Pesach Seder is in the haggadah, a book that tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt and explains some of the practices and symbols of the holiday.
Many people think of Pesach as a time of deprivation: a time when we cannot eat bread or other leavened foods. This is not the traditional way of viewing the holiday. Pesach is Z'man Cheiruteinu, the Time of Our Freedom, and the joy of that time is evident in the music of the season. There are many joyous songs sung during the seder. For example, Dahyenu (It Would Have Been Enough For Us) one of the most popular tunes of the seder, is a very upbeat song about the many favors that God bestowed upon us when He brought us out of Egypt. The song appears in the Haggadah after the telling of the story of the Exodus, just before the explanation of Pesach, Matzah, and Maror.