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What Is Passover (Pesach)?

What Is Passover (Pesach)?

The holiday’s history and observances

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The eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan (April 10–18, 2017). It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. It is observed by avoiding leaven, and highlighted by the Seder meals that include four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.

In Hebrew it is known as Pesach (which means “to pass over”), because G‑d passed over the Jewish homes when killing the Egyptian firstborn on the very first Passover eve.

The Passover Story in a Nutshell

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

At the stroke of midnight of 15 Nissan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), G‑d visited the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. While doing so, G‑d spared the children of Israel, “passing over” their homes—hence the name of the holiday. Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and he virtually 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. Six hundred thousand adult males, plus many more women and children, left Egypt on that day and began the trek to Mount Sinai and their birth as G‑d’s chosen people.

In ancient times the Passover observance included the sacrifice of the paschal lamb, which was roasted and eaten at the Seder on the first night of the holiday. This was the case until Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the 1st century.

Click here for the full Passover story.

Click here to learn why the Passover lamb is no longer brought.

Passover Observances

Passover 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. We don’t go to work, drive, write, or switch on or off electric devices. We are permitted to cook and to carry outdoors (click here for the details).

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

No Chametz

To commemorate the unleavened bread that the Israelites ate when they left Egypt, we don’t eat—or even retain in our possession—any chametz from midday of the day before Passover until the conclusion of the holiday. 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 chametz unless certified otherwise.

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

For more on this topic, see Operation Zero Chametz.

Click here to sell your chametz online.

Matzah

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

Click here for more on matzah.

It is ideal to use handmade shmurah matzah, which has been zealously guarded against moisture from the moment of the harvest. You can purchase shmurah matzah here.

The Seders

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

The focal points of the Seder are:

A Passover Message

Passover, celebrating the greatest series of miracles ever experienced in history, is a time to reach above nature to the miraculous. But how are miracles achieved? Let’s take our cue from the matzah. Flat and unflavored, it embodies humility. Through ridding ourselves of inflated egos, we are able to tap into the miraculous well of divine energy we all have within our souls.

More useful links

Watch this inspirational video to get you into the freedom-filled Passover spirit:

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patrick lynch toronto March 22, 2017

Very interesting. You are talking about Aaron's tomb ? Reply

John Sebesta Michigan March 22, 2017

I just want to inform you that in the last 30 years, there have been many archaeology digs that have proved the Bible to be very accurate beyond belief. Today due to the finds of the staff of Moses found in his brother's tomb among other finds, Exodus date is 1440bc and the pharaoh was Thutmosis III. Reply

patrick lynch toronto February 6, 2017

When was the four cups of wine introduced to the Passover celebration? Reply

ella uk February 6, 2017

This was very helpful thank you
Reply

neil dad February 6, 2017

good info thanks i love this website Reply

Joshua January 19, 2017

This was really helpful, Thanks Reply

Anonymous Eagle River December 31, 2016

It's spelled G-d as a precaution to not take the Name of the Lord in vain. That's also why you see Lord capitalized in the Old Testament (L-rd). Thus the word "L-rd" replaced God's name. Reply

Anonymous October 10, 2016

thnk u so much it was very helpful.. Reply

Adam Australia August 3, 2016

I once asked a Jew why they were writing G-d and I remember it being something about not putting his name down so that there was no chance of that paper, etc. being throw away, with his name on it. Reply

Anonymous June 30, 2016

Why is God referred as G-d? Why isn't His name spelled out? Reply

Luke Browne Australia June 1, 2016

It was very helpful and I was able to write about the Jewish festival just from this website Reply

Chabad.org Staff May 18, 2016

All Jews observe Passover in some fashion. Reply

Anonymous Vancouver May 17, 2016

Do every Jew observe the Passover early or just the orthodox Jews? Reply

Mike May 5, 2016

Why wouldn't you spell out God? Why the G-D? Reply

Simon London April 29, 2016

was wondering why my local area which is predominantly Jewish was deserted and now I know why and a little bit about the festival.

Enjoy everyone. Reply

CM Seattle, Wa April 28, 2016

But who were the Isralites originally and why were they called Israelis before they became Jews and Chosen people? Reply

Jeana OAK PARK April 26, 2016

As a Christian visitor, this was very informative. Thank you. Reply

Penny Eden, NY April 25, 2016

Thank you so much for sharing! A friend shared some chocolate covered matzah with me today and I had to look it up to see what the celebration was about. What a great reason to celebrate! Happy Passover! Reply

Jeanne Tx April 24, 2016

At work we have a small end cap of Kosher food and then non Jewish will ask. Now I can answer the questions a little bit better. This is so interesting. Reply

Aaron April 23, 2016

God bless everyone. Reply