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What is Passover?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

Library » Holidays » Passover » About | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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A. Passover (in Hebrew: Pesach - pronounced PAY-sach) is the Biblical holiday that commemorates the Hebrews’ rapid departure from ancient Egypt. The Jews had just endured over 200 years of exile, including several decades of torturous slave labor, and now G-d was going to fulfill His promise to Abraham—the promise to redeem the Jews and do justice to their slave-masters. Right before the Exodus, G-d commands the Jews to sacrifice one lamb per family and mark the Jewish doorposts with its blood. This would be a sign for G-d to "pass over" the Jewish homes as He slew the Egyptian firstborn—the last of ten supernatural attacks on the Egyptians. This is the origin of the name "Passover."1

B. Passover is a Spring holiday; it starts on the 15th of Nissan (usually sometime in April) and lasts for eight days (in Israel, seven days). The first two and last two days (in Israel, only the first and last day) are major holidays, i.e. on these days it is forbidden to work, drive, turn on or off a light, etc. The middle days are Chol Hamoed. See also When is Passover.

C. We observe Passover much the same way the Jews did on the original Passover during the exodus from Egypt. Ever since its inception the Passover mandate was to purge the home of any grain-based leavened item before Passover, to eat Matzah and bitter herbs on Passover, and (when we have a Holy Temple in Jerusalem) to bring a lamb as a Passover offering. The lamb is not done today due to the Temple’s absence - may it be rebuilt speedily in our days, but everything else is: the mad, meticulous scrubbing and cleaning of every nook and cranny, the Seders with the Matzah and bitter herbs, as well as four cups of wine, on the first two nights (in Israel only on the first night), and the Shabbat-like services on the first and last days. See also How is Passover celebrated?

D. The lesson of Pesach is that you have unlimited potential. In Hebrew, Egypt is Mitzrayim—etymologically related to meitzarim, or borders. The moral of the Exodus story is that we all can escape our personal Egypts. And the seek-and-destroy-any-leavened-particle part of Passover teaches us to eradicate our puffed-up, inflated, doughy egos and be simple, flat, unleavened Matzot. The holiday of Pesach contains innumerable lessons, laws and customs. Browse our knowledge base for more information about this beautiful holiday; and if you are finished and still want more, go to Passover.net.

Footnotes

  • 1. See Exodus chapters 11 and 12

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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Matzah
(pl. Matzot). Unleavened bread which is eaten on Passover, especially at the Passover Seder (feast), commemorating the Matzah which the Jews ate upon leaving Egypt. It consists of only flour and water and resembles a wheat cracker.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Nissan
The first month of the Jewish calendar. This month, which falls out in early spring, is known for the holiday of Passover which starts on the 15th of Nissan.
Matzot
(Pl.: Matzot) Unleavened bread which is eaten on Passover, especially at the Passover Seder (feast), commemorating the Matzah which the Jews ate upon leaving Egypt. It consists of only flour and water and resembles a wheat cracker.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Chol Hamoed
(lit. "mundane [days] of the festival"), the intermediate days of the Festivals of Passover and Sukkot. On these days many of the holiday work restrictions are lifted.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
Pesach
Passover. A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.