by Edel Aron
Chag Sameach (happy holidays) everyone! Easter just ended, and many millions of people around the world got in touch with their faith and families to celebrate Holy Week last week. There are a few points in the year where Christianity and Judaism run parallel and so I’m here to talk about the other important spring holiday happening right now: Passover, which started last Monday night and will end Tuesday. According to the Gospels, Jesus’ Last Supper was actually a Passover supper and the holidays frequently overlap. Feel free to listen to this song as you read the rest of this post to set the mood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SP5EfwBWgg0
Passover or Pesach in a nutshell is the week-long celebration of thousands of Israelites led by Moses/Moshe escaping from slavery in Egypt and starting on their journey to Canaan (roughly modern day Israel, Lebanon and parts of Jordan and Syria). The name refers to God or the Angel of Death “passing over” the homes of Jewish people during the 10th plague; the killing of the firstborn children of the Egyptians to finally convince Pharoah to let the slaves go. The entire story can be found in Exodus, one of the books of the Torah and the Old Testament in the Bible, and includes how the Red Sea was crossed, the desert was wandered (commemorated by the holiday Sukkot) and the 10 Commandments were received from Mount Sinai (Shavuot/Pentecost). The most important days are the first two and the last two and many people will take time off of work for them. The four in between are collectively called Chol Hamoed.
It is the most widely observed Jewish holiday as it brings together both the spirit of our people and the everlasting hope for freedom for all (which inspired the song above), to the point that there are even people from other faiths who celebrate it. The emphasis Judaism tends to place on tradition and symbolism is especially felt around this time of the year as we reflect on the past and the path to the future and the responsibility which comes with that journey. As written by some rabbis in the Talmud, the point of the holiday isn’t truly to retell the Exodus story, but to feel it and have a personal connection with history in order to be able to move forward.
Logistically, Passover comes with a lot of prep work. There is a 15-step ritual dinner and service known as the Seder (SAY-der) which typically happens at home on the first night. Friends and family are invited over (if you’re ever invited to a Seder, you should go) and a book called the Haggadah which contains the story, rituals and prayers is read from. During this, the youngest child present will read the 4 Questions which explain some of the traditions being followed i.e. “Why is this night different from all other nights?”. We have the kids’ version at home, but it serves just as well.
The Passover feast centers around something known as the Seder (SAY-der) plate, which contains specifically chosen foods with deep symbolism for the holiday. Our plate down below has handy place names for us. These are the typical components:
- Matzah (the large dry cracker-like square) = there was no time to let bread rise when Pharoah agreed to let the Jews leave, which is why traditionally no leavened bread or other products can be eaten during the holiday
- Maror (bitter herbs, usually horseradish) = bitterness of slavery
- Charoset (sweet paste traditionally made from apples or other fruit and nuts) = mortar that was used during the forced building of Egyptian structures
- Karpas (leafy green vegetables like lettuce) = labor of the enslaved builders; the veggies are usually dipped into the salt water
- Zeroah (shank bone) = sacrificial lamb killed the night before the exodus
- Beitzah = egg (hard-boiled), traditional temple offering and symbol of spring
- Salt water = tears
- Four cups of wine = celebrates freedom
There are many other components like cleaning the home of all chametz, which is the forbidden leavened products and hiding the Afikomen, which a piece of matzah broken in half, for children to find. Overall, Passover is a simultaneously joyous and solemn holiday with many centuries of meaning behind it which brings together friends and families and inspires many who observe it, even in the smallest of ways.