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Find out here! What is the Meaning of Passover?

What is Passover?

Passover, or Pesach, is a Jewish festival that celebrates the freeing of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt. Stories tell that thousands of years ago the Israelites living in Egypt became slaves of the Egyptians. Many people believe that Moses was told to go to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to demand their freedom. When Pharaoh refused, God sent down 10 plagues – punishments – to force him to change his mind.  The last plague gives us the name ‘Passover.’ All the firstborn sons in Egypt were to die but the Israelites were spared because Moses had told them to mark their door posts so that the angel of death would ‘pass over’ them. Sadly, the Pharaoh’s son of Egypt’s died and in his anguish Pharaoh ordered Moses and the Israelites to leave Egypt.

When is Passover?

This year (2024) Passover begins at sundown on Monday, April 22nd and ends, for Jews in Israel, on the evening of Monday, April 29th. For those spread across the globe Passover ends on the evening of Tuesday April 30th. 

What is the Passover Seder?

The Seder is a special family meal held the first and sometimes the second night of Passover. The story of Passover is told before the meal through songs and prayers from a book called the Haggadah. 

This special event takes place after the Passover evening synagogue service on the first two nights of Passover (or just the first night in Israel). The meal is supposed to take place with everyone reclining; in Egypt the slaves ate hurriedly whilst the rich and free were able to recline on cushions. During Pesach, all are free and rich and poor are supposed to be indistinguishable, therefore all are allowed to recline. As this can be an uncomfortable way to eat many people simply place a pillow on each chair or have only the Seder leader recline. Usually, the chief celebrant wears a white robe called a Kittel.

During the meal, the door is also left open for the prophet Elijah, as it is believed he will come to announce the coming of the Messiah.

What is the Seder Plate?

The main focus of the Seder is the Seder plate which contains a lot of symbolism; roasted shankbone, symbolizing the Pesach sacrifice in the Temple – vegetarians often substitute a roasted beet for the lamb, a roasted egg symbolizing either the spring season or mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem, maror (bitter herbs) to represent the bitter experience of the Hebrew slaves, haroset (a mixture of apples, nuts, raisins, spices, wine) symbolizing the mortar the Hebrew slaves used to build for the Egyptians, and karpas (parsley, celery, or another green vegetable) symbolizing the green of spring. The karpas is dipped in salt water or vinegar in order to taste both the hope of new birth and the tears that the Israelite slaves shed over their circumstance. The table must also have three pieces of matzah, sometimes held in a special pouch.

Matzah is an unleavened bread made with only flour and water. Unleavened means that it is flat. This reminds the Jews of the bread the Israelites took with them when they fled Egypt for freedom. They were in such a hurry to leave they did not have time to let it rise.

Frequently, guests are asked to bring something with them which represents liberation. They might bring family heirlooms that remind them of their family’s immigration story, newspaper stories about current liberation struggles, or other symbolic objects. These items are placed the Seder plate and, at an appropriate time the guests will explain its significance. Some Jews place an olive on the Seder plate to signal hope for eventual peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The number four: Four Cups, Four Questions, Four Sons

The number four is very significant during the Seder: four cups of wine are drunk, four types of sons are discussed, the four names for the Passover holiday, four blessings, four types of food on the Seder plate. Finally there is the Arba Kushiyot, or four questions. These questions, usually recited by the youngest person at the table, are meant to highlight the main differences between this meal and all other meals of the year. They include queries about why people recline, dip food, and why they eat certain types of food.

What other things do you know about Passover?

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