What is Passover (Pesach) and how is it celebrated?
Pesach (Passover). Attend a Seder ("ordered") meal to
retell the Exodus story of Moses leading the Israelites
from Egypt, ca., 1250 BCE. Celebrate deliverance from
slavery to freedom, but remember hard times by eating
matzah (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs.
Over 3,000 years ago, the Israelites were enslaved by
the Egyptians under the rule of Pharaoh Ramses II, a pharaoh
who did not know the heroic acts of Joseph or how he saved
Egypt from famine. According to the Book of Exodus - Moses,
was instructed by God to go to the pharaoh and demand
the freedom of the people.
with his brother Aaron, went to Pharaoh and pleaded with
him to "Let my people go," but his plea was ignored. Moses
warned the Pharaoh that God would send severe punishments
to the people of Egypt if the Israelites were not freed.
Again the Pharaoh ignored Moses' request of freedom. In
response, God unleashed a series of 10 terrible plagues
on the people of Egypt: Blood, frogs, lice (vermin), wild
beasts, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness.
Still, Pharaoh refused to free the Israelites - until
the last plague.
In order to force the Pharaoh to do God's bidding, God
told Moses to tell Pharaoh that God intended to kill the
first-born of both human and beast. To protect themselves,
the Israelites were told to mark their houses with lamb's
blood so that God could identify and "pass over" their
homes. The holiday's name -- Pesach, generally meaning
"passing over" or "protection" in Hebrew, is derived from
the instructions given to Moses by God. The Pharaoh, however,
was unconvinced and refused to free the slaves.
Then the last plague hit. Cries of sorrow rang out throughout Egypt, and finally, Pharaoh
agreed to let the Hebrews go.
When the Pharaoh finally agreed to freedom, the Israelites
left their homes so quickly that there wasn't even time
to bake their breads. So they packed the raw dough to
take with them on their journey. As they fled through
the desert they would quickly bake the dough in the hot
sun into hard crackers called matzot. Today, to commemorate
this event, Jews eat matzah (right) in place of bread
for the entire eight days of Passover.
Though the Israelites were now free, their liberation
was incomplete. The Pharaoh's army chased them through
the desert towards the Red Sea. When the Jews reached
the sea they were trapped, since the sea blocked their
escape. It was then that a miracle occurred. The waves
of the Red Sea parted and the Israelites were able to
cross to the other side. As soon as they all reached the
other side the sea closed trapping the Pharaoh's army
as the waves closed upon them. Then, as the Israelites
watched the waters of the Red Sea sweep away the Pharaoh's
army, they realized they were finally free.
the celebration of Passover, certain dietary restrictions
apply, beyond the laws of kashrut
(kosher). The source of the restrictions can be found
in Exodus 12.15, 19. "For seven days, you shall eat unleavened
bread É for seven days, there shall be no leavened products
in your home for whoever eats chametz shall be
cut off from the congregation." Chametz is the
leavened product that results when wheat, rye, barley,
oats, or spelt (the "five grains") comes into contact
with water for more than eighteen minutes. Therefore,
all breads, patries, cakes, cookies, and dry cereal are
considered pure chametz. In addition to these five
grains, many Jews do not eat rice, corn, beans, peas,
and peanuts on Passover. Since flour can be made of these
grains and baked into bread, it may lead to confusion,
say the rabbis. While matzah is made of wheat, it is carefully
watched when baked so that no water touches the flour
prior to mixing the dough. Then it is mixed and baked
in less than eighteen minutes.
Also See: JOI's
Passover Holiday Page.