“And they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at even in the wilderness of Sinai: According to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel.” – Numbers 9:5, Old Testament
Today is the first day of Pesach, or the Jewish feast of the Passover. Pesach is a major Jewish Spring festival, commemorating the Exodus of the captive Jews from Egypt over 3,000 years ago. The ritual observance of this holiday centres around a special home service called the Seder (meaning “order”) and a festive meal. The holiday is characterised by the prohibition of chametz (leaven); and the eating of matzah (an unleavened bread). On the eve of the fifteenth day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, the faithful read from a book called the hagaddah, meaning “telling”, which contains the order of prayers, rituals, readings and songs for the Pesach Seder.
The Pesach Seder is the only ritual meal in the Jewish calendar year for which such an order is prescribed, hence its name. The Seder has a number of scriptural bases. Exodus 12:3-11 describes the meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs, which the Israelites ate just prior to the Exodus. In addition, three separate passages in Exodus (12:26-7, 13:8, 13:14) and one in Deuteronomy (6:20-21) enunciate the duty of the parents to tell the story of the Exodus to their children. The Seder plate contains various symbolic foods referred to in the Seder itself.
In Israel, the first and the seventh days of Pesach are celebrated as full holidays. The five days in between, called the Intermediate Days (Chol Ha-Moed) are celebrated as half holidays. Outside of Israel, Passover is an eight-day holiday. The first two days and the last two days are celebrated as full holidays, and the four Intermediate Days are celebrated as half holidays.
The holiday starts by cleaning the house of all Chametz (leaven) so that it is eliminated from the house. There is a ceremony to search for the Chametz and it is called Bedikat Chametz (the searching out of the leaven) and Biur Chametz (the burning of leaven). The highlight of Passover is the Seder (which means order). The Seder service is held at the dining table in most homes, and during the service the story of the Exodus from Egypt is told. During Passover special passages from the Torah and the Haftarah are recited.
The Seder Plate contains the following foods:
Beitzah: The Roasted Egg is symbolic of the festival sacrifice made in biblical times. It is also a symbol of spring - the season in which Passover is always celebrated.
Chazeret: Lettuce is often used in addition to the maroras a bitter herb. The authorities are divided on the requirement of chazeret, so not all communities use it. Since the commandment (in Numbers 9:11) to eat the paschal lamb “with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” uses the plural (“bitter herbs”) most seder plates have a place for chazeret.
Zeroa: The Shankbone is symbolic of the Paschal lamb offered as the Passover sacrifice in biblical times. Some communities use a chicken neck as a substitute. Vegetarian households may use beetrrot.
Charoset: Apple, nuts, and spices ground together and mixed with wine are symbolic of the mortar used by Hebrew slaves to build Egyptian structures. There are several variations in the recipe for charoset. The Mishna describes a mixture of fruits, nuts, and vinegar.
Karpas: Parsley is dipped into salt water during the Seder. The salt water serves as a reminder of the tears shed during Egyptian slavery. The dipping of a vegetable as an appetizer is said to reflect the influence of Greek culture.
Maror: Bitter Herbs (usually horseradish) symbolize the bitterness of Egyptian slavery. The maror is often dipped in charoset to reduce its sharpness. Maror is used in the seder because of the commandment (in Numbers 9:11) to eat the paschal lamb “with unleavened bread and bitter herbs”.
Happy and Healthy Passover to all my Jewish readers and their families!