Passover or Pesach is a movable Jewish holiday that lasts for seven or eight days. Passover 2020 will start at sundown on April 8 and ends on the evening of April 16. It commemorates the freedom of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.
In the Torah, ”pesach” refers to the concept that God passed over the homes of the Jews when the Egyptians suffered from the 10th plague. The plague killed all the firstborn sons of Egyptian families.
The Jews were able to escape from the latest plague by pouring lamb blood on their doors. It was a sign to tell God to pass over or spare their homes. The modern celebration of the Passover gives thanks to God for gaining freedom.
What is the Passover?
The Passover is the most celebrated holiday in the Jewish calendar. The holiday celebrates spring. It also celebrates birth and rebirth. It commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egyptian bondage to freedom. Likewise, Passover means being responsible for yourself, the community and the rest of the world. But for the younger ones, Passover is time to endure the preparations involved in celebrating the holiday and its many dietary restrictions.
The number of traditional celebrations when commemorating the Passover depends on the location of the Jewish diaspora.
The Passover celebration is not about a traditional commemoration of the important things that happen in the past. For the Jews, they want to make the celebration as something meaningful and personal. Since the olden times, the Jews teach their fellowmen that the Passover is not about recalling the Exodus. It is not only about comparing your life to the journey to escape slavery. Celebrating the Passover is more about personalizing the history of Exodus, by feeling and experiencing the sensations involved in the journey. This is the way for the Jews to move forward individually and as a people.
The Jews have four names for the Passover. Aside from Pesach, the holiday can be called the following:
- Chag Ha-aviv or the Festival of Spring
- Z’man Cheiruteinu or The Time of Liberation
- Chag Ha-matzot or Festival of Unleavened Breads.
Traditional Observances During the Passover
One of the things that stand out during the observation of the Passover is eating unleavened bread. The highlight of the Pesach is the enjoyment of the Seder meals that include eating bitter herbs and matzah and having four cups of wine. They retell the story of the Exodus as well. In Israel, the celebration of the Passover lasts for seven days, while in Jewish communities outside Israel, they celebrate it for eight days.
On the first night of the Passover, the Jews have a ritual dinner or Seder. Jews living outside Israel enjoy another Seder on the second night.
Commemorating the Passover
There are two parts in the commemoration of the Passover, involving the first two days and the last two days of the celebration, which are full holidays. Jews light holiday candles in the evening, and during the days and nights of the Passover, they have holiday meals.
During these four days, they free themselves from the trivialities of every life. Jews enjoy the working holiday, and they are told not to write or drive. They either switch their electrical devices on or off. The first two nights commemorate the Exodus while the last two nights recall the parting of the Red Sea.
The second part is the four days in between, which are called Chol Hamoed. During these days, they are allowed to work.
Jews only eat unleavened bread or matzah during the Passover. Matzah or the flat unleavened bread was the only thing that the Jews ate when they fled from Egypt. They are not allowed to eat chametz or leavened grain, which may be any drink or food that has spelt, oats, rye, barley, or wheat.
Chametz includes different types of alcoholic drinks, pasta, cereal, cookies, cake or bread. The Jews only consume food and beverages that are certified as chametz-free.
The Seders are the highlights of the celebration of the Passover. A Seder menu includes the following:
- Four cups of grape juice or wine
- Vegetables immersed in saltwater
- Bitter herbs such as romaine lettuce and horseradish with charoset (a dip made from wine, pears, apples and nuts)
- Traditional festive meals such as gefilte fish and chicken soup
Preparing for a Seder involves 15 steps
- Kadesh or benediction, including the recitation of the Kiddush. This is done while holding a cup of wine. The four cups of wine symbolize what happened when their ancestors were enslaved in Egypt. While they were slaves, they did not change their names, continued to speak Hebrew, stayed moral, and remained loyal to their fellow Jews.
- Ritual of washing the hands or urchatz
- Eating an appetizer (karpas) with the hands. Typically, a piece of boiled potato or onion is dipped in saltwater.
- Breaking the matzah (yachatz)
- A Maggid reads the Haggadah or the story of the Exodus. They drink the second cup of wine.
- Second washing of the hands before meals or rachtzah, which includes a blessing
7 and 8. Eating the matzah after the recitation of a blessing (Motzi Matzah)
- Eating the bitter herbs or maror
- Making and eating the Hillel Sandwich (Korech)
- Eating the Passover feast (Shulchan Orech) starting with a boiled egg dipped in saltwater
- Eating the hidden dessert (afikoman), a piece of matzah that was initially hidden.
- Blessing after the meal or Berach. They have the third cup of wine at this point.
- They sing songs of praise to God (Hallel) and drink the last cup of wine.
- The Jews believe that they have performed the ritual satisfactorily and recognize its acceptance or Nirtzah.
Passover Message and Celebrations During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Passover is a commemoration of how the Jewish people escaped from slavery in Egypt when God struck Egypt with the 10th plague. This year, the Jews will still be celebrating a smaller version of the holiday, limiting the meals and gatherings to only family members.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Rabbi Noam Marans of the American Jewish Committee gives hope, reciting a part of the Haggadah:
“This year, we are enslaved – next year, we will be free.”
The Rabbi aspires that the world will be victorious against the Covid-19 disease soon.
At the same time, their religious leaders are reiterating the need for physical distancing and using other technologies to celebrate Passover with their families. It’s a small sacrifice for the good of many.
Church leaders and Jewish communities are planning to distribute ”seder-to-go” food packs. They created Orthodox guidelines for observing the holiday.
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