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What Is Passover?

What Is Passover?

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. It commemorates the emancipation 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.

The 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.

Click here for the full Passover story.

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 for the duration of the holiday.

For more on this topic, see Operation Zero Chametz.

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.

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:

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

Visit our Seder Section for guides, insights, tip, and a Global Seder Directory.

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Discussion (118)
April 7, 2014
G_D Bless
G_D Bless & Peace & Love to all my wonderful Jewish Brothers & Sisters.
Dex
Florida
April 4, 2014
the pesach
This is a very important festival. But is it only looking at history? Can I have the importance of this festival today in point form?
Sam
zimbabwe
February 16, 2014
Passover Date
Leviticus 23 lays out the dates of all the convocations, seven of them total. Passover was the first, then the seven days of Unleavened Bread. The days always start on the sunset of the previous day. Thus, the 14th would start on at sunset of the 13th. Evening means Eve, or beginning, first, as Eve the first woman. So, then in Lev. 23, 5, tells us that Passover was ON Nisan 14. Then the days of Unleavened Bread commenced on the 15th, and lasted through the 21, the 7th day being the ending. Lev 23: 6. Also Ezra 6:19 it tells us that the people kept the Passover on the 14th. It does not say it started at sunset, I says 'they kept it that day'.
Therefore, Passover is kept on the 14th of Nisan, just like it started in Exodus 12, when the Israelites came out of Egypt. The blood had to have been placed on the door posts sometime in the early night time after sunset of the 13th, as the death angel passed over about midnight, of the 14th.
Also read, Numbers 28 & 29, And Deu 16
Art Frailey
Marion, Il
February 16, 2014
Re Passover date
The first seder is on the eve of the 15th as Biblically mandated and as established according to the Jewish calendar. The Passover offering was brought on the afternoon of the 14th, but the Seder was held and the holiday of Passover began, on the 15th which is why the Seder is then
Chabad.org Staff
mychabad.org
February 15, 2014
Ani
Hello , May i know why todays Jews celebrate Passover Feast on 15th of Nissan , when in Exodus , God commanded to slaughter the lamb on 14th and to have the passover feast on the very same night (14th).
So if the 14th day starts around 6pm after sundown , then why don't they have the feast on the 14th night like say at 8pm or 9pm ??
Also since no lamb sacrifice is followed today after the destruction of the temple then what is the meat in todays sedar plates ? of which animal ? Thanks
Ani
Asia
December 19, 2013
Is G-d not a title and not his actual name?
Anonymous
October 10, 2013
Jerusalem
Does every Jew travel to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover?
Lorejas
MO, USA
September 17, 2013
Ellie
It is considered disrespectful to write God's name on anything that will be discarded so instead it is written as G-d.
Anonymous
April 1, 2013
Passover
Why did you not spell out GOD anywhere in your text?
Ellie
North Carolina
March 31, 2013
Amen
Lloyd
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