Passover 01

Facts About Passover

In every generation, each of us should feel as though we ourselves had gone forth from Egypt, as it is written: ‘And you shall explain to your child on that day, it is because of what the Eternal One did for me when I, myself, went forth from Egypt’.

The Mishnah

Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan.  It is the first of the three major pilgrimage festivals, when the Jewish people went to worship in Jerusalem, with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Shavu’ot and Sukkot) and is known as the holiday of freedom.

The primary observances of Passover are related to the Exodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery (Ex 1-15).  On the first night of Passover (the first two nights for traditional Jews outside Israel), there is a special family meal filled with ritual.  This meal is called a seder, from a Hebrew root word meaning ‘order’, (the Jewish prayer book, ‘siddur’, comes from the same root).  The table is set with the finest china and silverware to reflect the importance of the meal.  During this meal, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special text called the Haggadah (narration).  On the table will be a Seder plate, a special plate containing five foods that remind us of the struggle of the Israelites in their quest and journey to freedom.  These five food are Charoset, parsley (dipped in salt water), roasted eggs, shank bone and bitter herbs.

There is a Rabbinic requirement that four cups of wine are to be drunk during the seder meal.  The Mishnah (the Jewish commentary on the Talmud - which interprets how the Old Testament laws should be kept) says that even the poorest man in Israel has an obligation to drink.  Each cup is connected to a different part of the seder: the first cup is for Kiddush, the second cup is connected with the recounting of the Exodus, the drinking of the third cup concludes Birkat Hamazon (literally ‘Blessing on Nourishment’ - a grace recited after a meal containing bread) and the fourth cup is associated with Hallel, (Psalms 113-118) from the Hebrew ‘praise’ (as in Halleluyah).

After the Hallel, the fourth glass of wine is drunk, and participants recite a prayer that ends in ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’  This is followed by several lyric prayers that expound upon God's mercy and kindness, and give thanks for the survival of the Jewish people through a history of exile and hardship. 

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