פסח

PASSOVER

The eight-day festival of פֶּסַח (Pesach) is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. And, by following the rituals of Passover, we have the ability to relive and experience the true freedom that our ancestors gained.

Story

After many decades of slavery to the Egyptian pharaohs, during which time the Israelites were subjected to backbreaking labor and unbearable horrors, God saw the people’s distress and sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message: “Let My people go, so that they may serve Me.” But despite numerous warnings, Pharaoh refused to listen to God’s command. So God sent ten devastating plagues upon Egypt, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.

At the stroke of midnight on the 15th day of Nissan in the year 1313 BCE, God brought the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. While doing so, God spared the Children of Israel, “passing over” their homes—hence the name of the holiday. Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and he practically chased his former slaves out of the land. The Israelites left in such a hurry, in fact, that the bread they baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise. According to the Torah almost two million men, women and children left Egypt on that day, and began the trek to Mount Sinai and their birth as God’s chosen people.

Season

The eight-day festival of פֶּסַח (Pesach) is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. 

פֶּסַח (Pesach) is divided into two parts:

  • The first two days and last two days (the latter commemorating the splitting of the Red Sea) are full-fledged holidays. Holiday candles are lit at night, and kiddush and sumptuous holiday meals are enjoyed on both nights and days. Many people don't go to work, drive, write or switch on or off electronic devices. 

  • The middle four days are called chol hamoed, semi-festive “intermediate days,” when most forms of work are permitted.

 
Key Words

Passover - פֶּסַח
vegetable - כַּרְפַּס
bitter herb - מָרוֹר

unleavened bread- מַצָּה
leavened bread - חָמֵץ
recline - מְסוּבִּין

Prayers

There are lots and lots of special blessings and prayers for פֶּסַח (Pesach). Here are some of the biggies. After lighting the candles we say:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר  קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל יוֹם טוֹב.

Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav,

v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Yom Tov.

Blessed are You, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through the commandments and commands us to kindle the festival lights.


Before drinking each cup of wine we say:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּֽפֶן.

Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, borei p'ri hagafen.

Blessed are You, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

When you hear the שוֹפָר (shofar) for the first time you add this special blessing:

On the first two nights of פֶּסַח (Pesach) we add this special blessing after קִידוּשׁ (kiddush) for the first cup of wine:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם ֿ שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, she'he'che'yanu v'ki'yemanu

v'higianu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are you, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and helped us to reach this moment.

Before we eat the כַּרְפַּס (karpas - vegetable) we say:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה.

Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, borei p’ri ha-adama.

We praise You ADONAI, God, Ruler of Everything, Creator of the fruits of the earth.​

During the מגיד (maggid) section of the סדר (seder) we share one of the most famous Passover prayers - מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה (the four questions). Here is the text of the four questions. You can listen on the video below.

מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת?

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִים חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה; 
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלּוֹ מַצָּה.
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלּוֹ מַצָּה.

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִים שְׁאָר יְרָקוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִים שְׁאָר יְרָקוֹת; 
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מָרוֹר, מָרוֹר.
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מָרוֹר, מָרוֹר.

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אֵין אָנוּ מַטְבִּילִין אַפִלּוּ פַּעַם אַחַת אַפִלּוּ פַּעַם אַחַת;
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה שְׁתֵּי פְּעָמִים.
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה שְׁתֵּי פְּעָמִים.

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין בֵּין יוֹשְׁבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִּין בֵּין יוֹשְׁבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִּין;
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלָּנוּ מְסֻבִּין.
הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלָּנוּ מְסֻבִּין.

Before we eat the מַצָּה (matzah) we say two blessings:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ.

Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz.

Blessed are You, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe, 

who brings forth bread from the earth.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתַָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מַצָּה.

Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu

al achilat matza.

Praised are You, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe who makes us holy through the commandments and commands us to eat matzah.

Before we eat the מָרוֹר (maror - bitter herbs) we say two blessings:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתַָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מָרוֹר.

Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu

al achilat maror.

Blessed are You, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe who makes us holy through the commandments and commands us to eat maror (bitter herbs).

Rituals

To commemorate the unleavened bread that the Israelites ate when they left Egypt, we don't eat—or even retain in our possession—any חָמֵץ (chametz) from midday of the day before Passover until the conclusion of the holiday.  חָמֵץ(chametz) means leavened grain—any food or drink that contains even a trace of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt or their derivatives, and which wasn't guarded from leavening or fermentation. This includes bread, cake, cookies, cereal, pasta and most alcoholic beverages. Moreover, almost any processed food or drink can be assumed to be חָמֵץ (chametz) unless certified otherwise.

Ridding our homes of חָמֵץ (chametz) is an intensive process. It involves a full-out spring-cleaning search-and-destroy mission during the weeks before  פֶּסַח (Pesach), and culminates with a ceremonial search for חָמֵץ (chametz) on the night before Passover, and then a burning of the חָמֵץ (chametz) ceremony on the morning before the holiday. חָמֵץ(Chametz) that cannot be disposed of can be sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday.

 

Matza

Instead of חָמֵץ (chametz), we eat מַצָּה (matzah)—flat unleavened bread. It is a mitzvah to partake of מַצָּה (matzah) on the two סֵדֶר (Seder) nights (see below for more on this), and during the rest of the holiday it is optional.

 

The Seder

The highlight of פֶּסַח (Pesach) is the סֵדֶר (Seder), observed on each of the first two nights of the holiday. The סֵדֶר (Seder) is a fifteen-step family-oriented tradition and ritual-packed feast.

The focal points of the סֵדֶר (Seder) are:

  • Eating מַצָּה (matzah)

  • Eating מָרוֹר (maror - bitter herbs)—to commemorate the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites.

  • Drinking four cups of wine or grape juice—a royal drink to celebrate our newfound freedom.

  • Reading the הַגָּדָה‎ (Haggadah), a liturgy that describes in detail the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The הַגָּדָה‎ (Haggadah) is the fulfillment of the biblical obligation to recount to our children the story of the Exodus on the night of Passover.

© 2016 by Rabbi David Paskin

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