How do Jewish people celebrate Passover? While many people have heard of the Passover celebration, they often don't understand the true meaning behind the tradition.
Why Is Passover Celebrated?
During the reign of the Pharaoh Ramses II in Egypt, the Jewish people were slaves. This was during Moses' time on earth, and God chose Moses to speak to Pharaoh and demand that he release the Hebrews from slavery. The Bible relates the story of Pharaoh's refusal and the subsequent plagues on the Egyptians that followed each time Pharaoh again refused to let the Hebrew people go free. The final plague brought death to the first born in each Egyptian household. God told Moses that he would kill the firstborn of every household. However, the Angel of Death would pass over any Hebrew home that was marked with lamb's blood, and the firstborn child would be spared. God also declared that future generations must keep a feast in commemoration of this period of time. As the story continues, Pharaoh's first born son was killed, and it was this loss that finally convinced Pharaoh to release the Hebrews from slavery. This is the origin of Passover.
How Do Jewish People Celebrate Passover Each Year?
The eight day celebration of Passover begins on the evening of the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar, referred to as Nisan, which usually occurs in March or April. The two specific commandments associated with Passover involve food and storytelling, although many other traditions are associated with this celebration as well.
One of the most important foods associated with Passover is matzo. Since Jewish people are forbidden to eat any leavened foods, matzo, which is an unleavened bread, is a staple of Passover meals. This bread is eaten in commemoration of the bread the Israelites ate during the Exodus (the time during which they left Egypt after their release from slavery). The significance of the unleavened bread directly relates to the fact that the Israelites had to leave Egypt so quickly that they couldn't wait for the bread to rise. Other foods eaten during the Passover also symbolize the Jewish people's experiences while in slavery.
In addition to the tradition of eating matzo, the Jewish people also tell the story of the exodus of the Israelites out of slavery. This storytelling generally takes place at the Passover Seder, which is a communal ritual celebrated on the first two nights of Passover. Family and friends get together during this time and retell this compelling story that is part of their history.
The Passover Seder plate holds great significance during the Passover feast. The six dishes on the plate have symbolic meaning. They include the following:
- Maror: Bitter herbs which signify the suffering of the Jewish people
- Karpas: A vegetable dipped in salt water which represents the Israelites' tears during slavery
- Chazeret: Another bitter vegetable used in the same manner as the Maror
- Charoset: A mixture of apples, nuts, spices and wine which represents the bricks and mortar that the slaves used
- Zeroa: A shank bone which symbolizes the sacrificial biblical lamb
- Beitzah: A roasted egg which represents sacrifice during biblical times
During the Seder, a place is set which should include a wine goblet, for Elijah the prophet. Place a pitcher with a bowl and towel in a prominent area to be used in a hand washing ceremony. You can add Passover appropriate table decorations, place settings, candles, art and party favors if you wish.
Since Passover is such an important Jewish celebration, many customs are recognized during the preparation, including the following:
- Start with a thoroughly cleaned house.
- Remove all forbidden leavened foods.
- Place any crumbs from the leavened foods into a garbage bag and include a feather or palm branch.
- Repeat the quote, "All leaven I have not seen or removed or that I don't know about is hereby null and void and ownerless as the dust of the earth." (More information about this quote can be found at Happy Passover.com.)
- Now, burn the garbage bag full of crumbs.
- Firstborn males should fast on the day before Passover.
- Do not eat any leavened foods (chametz) during the entire period of Passover.
- Do not work on the first or last day of Passover.
Finally, hold or attend a Seder. This is typically done on the first or second night of Passover.
Experience Is the Best Teacher
Now you have an answer to the question, "How do Jewish people celebrate Passover?" If you ever have the chance to attend a Seder, don't pass it up. It's the best way to experience the full impact of this very important Jewish tradition.