Passover is the story most Jews know and retell: their liberation as slaves from the land of Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. The holiday is marked with all different kinds of rituals, rules and feasts, but what does that mean today, for the 21st-century individual?
Passover.org – the holiday portal of Chabad.org – brings to life the story, characters, traditions and laws, making them relevant through a myriad of formats.
“The festival of Passover,” writes the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in a letter titled “The Story of Divine Providence,” published on the Web site, “calls for early and elaborate preparations to make the Jewish home fitting for the great festival. It is not physical preparedness alone that is required of us, but also spiritual preparedness – for in the life of the Jew the physical and spiritual are closely linked together, especially in the celebration of our Sabbath and festivals.”
The Rebbe explains that on Passover, Jews celebrate the liberation of their people from hundreds of years of Egyptian slavery, and with it, the negation of the ancient Egyptian system and way of life. “Thus we celebrate our physical liberation together with our spiritual freedom. Indeed, there cannot be one without the other.”
The interactive “Passover on a Plate” explains, using text and video, the seder plate, which is the centerpiece of the Passover ceremony and meal. It describes the six items on the seder plate, what they are used for and what each represents. For example, the charoset – that delectable concoction of apples, walnuts and wine – “represents the bricks and mortar of Egyptian enslavement; the human ability to manufacture and improve upon G-d’s creation in building ‘a home for G-d in the physical world.’ ”
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a writer and editor at Chabad.org, explains in a video lecture, “How to Make a Wild and Wonderful Passover Seder”. “You want everyone to do all the five things at the seder: drink four cups of wine, tell the story, learn about and remember the Paschal offering, and eat matzah and the bitter herbs.”
Freeman, who’s been leading seders since he was 19, stresses that they need to be engaging – “they need to come alive, you need to make them fun.”
In fact, try this, says Freeman. On the video, he pulls out a bunch of necklaces and asks: “Does anyone know what this has to with the story of Passover?” He tells everyone to stand up and try to explain what the jewelry has to do with the story, later adding that it shows how the Jews fled with spoils the Egyptians had given them.
He also notes a number of things to make the prep easier: set up the table beforehand, cut up everything in advance, prepare the items for the seder plate, and get the matzah and wine on the table.
In the “Seder Wizard,” which tells of the “body” and “soul” of each of the 15 steps of the seder, “the wrap”, is explained: “Break off two pieces from the bottom matzah … take an olive-size volume of the bitter herb and place it in between those two pieces. Or, some traditionally mix together the horseradish and lettuce.”
Regarding the “soul”: “In the view from within Egypt, this world is a mess of fragments. Plain materialism. Where mitzvahs are a mishmash of dos and don’ts, Jews are a collection of irreconcilable riff-raff, and daily life is a cacophony of hassles and, well, just stuff.”
The article suggests looking at everything as one entity, one sandwich, one goal – combining the matzah of freedom with the bitter herbs of slavery . “When we make ourselves into a temple for the Divine, the bitter, the sweet and the tasteless responsibilities of life wrap together in a single sandwich,” just like at Passover time.
In another section of the site are questions and answers to some of the most intriguing issues surrounding Passover.
Take, for example, the fascinating facts about “The Four Questions?” or “Is Honey Kosher for Passover?”. Regarding the latter, “although 100 percent pure honey does not require kosher certification during the year, I have seen that the Star-K recommends that only honey certified as kosher for Passover be used on Passover. This is because some unscrupulous companies have been found to dilute their honey with corn syrup (which is considered kitniyot and avoided on Passover by AshkenaziJews).”
And if you want to know what kitniyot means, well, find that out on Passover.org in this article.
Also available are convenient “Passover Greeting Cards”, a handy “Passover Calendar”, an educational site “Passover Kids” and lots of scrumptious “Passover Recipes” .