1. This Passover, Jews Will Celebrate 3,331 Years Since the Exodus

The Jewish holiday of Passover celebrates the Exodus of the Jewish People from Egypt, in the year 2448 (1313 BCE). This year is 5779, which means Jews have been celebrating for 3,331 years. Every year, Jews gather around the dinner table—if possible, with family and friends—for a Seder. It’s not hard: you follow the instructions in a small book called the Haggadah, which includes telling the story of the Exodus, drinking four cups of wine, and eating matzah, bitter greens, and a festive meal.

Explore: The Passover Portal

2. The Egyptian Exile Lasted 210 Years

Although Abraham was told, “Your offspring will be strangers in a land not their own for four hundred years,”1 when the Torah tells the story of the Exodus, we are told that the Children of Israel dwelled in Egypt for 430 years.2 Nevertheless, the pedigree of generations provided in Exodus 6:16-20 makes it impossible that they were in Egypt for anywhere near that long. How can that be? Because the oppression was so harsh, G‑d reduced their exile to 210 years.

Nevertheless, the number 400 still applies, since they left Egypt exactly 400 years after the birth of Abraham’s son, Isaac. As does the number 430, since Isaac was born 30 years after Abraham’s prophecy. All those 430 years, they had been sojourners who did not yet possess a land.3

Read: Abraham’s Covenant With G‑d: The Brit Bein HaBetarim

3. The Jewish People Were Slaves in Egypt for 116 Years

The Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians shortly after the last of Jacob’s sons—Levi, who lived for 137 years—died.4 Levi was 43 when his father brought his entire family to Egypt to escape the famine-riddled Canaan. That leaves 116 years of slavery before they were liberated after a total of 210 years in Egypt.

Read: Israel’s Enslavement

4. Moses Was the Hero Who Made it All Happen

Moses was the son of Amram, a prominent Jewish leader. Since Pharaoh had ordered the slaughter of all Jewish infant boys, Moses’ mother set him afloat in a buoyant cradle upon the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter found and adopted him, raising him in the palace.

Many years later, at the age of 80, Moses was instructed by G‑d to approach Pharaoh and demand the immediate release of the Jewish people.

Read: Moses: The Man of G‑d

Read: Moses and the Burning Bush

5. It Took Ten Plagues Before Pharaoh Freed the Israelites

When Moses commanded Pharaoh to “Let my people go,” Pharaoh understandably refused. In fact, he even increased their workload.

Moses warned Pharaoh that if he continued to refuse, G‑d would rain plagues down on him and his people (who were gleefully complicit in his crimes). There were 10 plagues in all:

  • Blood
  • Frogs
  • Insects
  • Wild Beasts
  • Pestilence of Livestock
  • Boils
  • Hail
  • Locusts
  • Darkness
  • Death of the Firstborn Egyptians

Read: The 10 Plagues

6. During the Tenth Plague, Pharaoh Went Searching for Moses

Midrash tells us that the night G‑d began to smite the Egyptian firstborns, Pharaoh woke up frightened, for, in addition to the deaths of his citizens, his own firstborn had died.

The Midrash describes Pharaoh running through the Hebrew section of Egypt calling, “Where does Moses live? Where is Moses?!” When he found him, he said, “Get up and get out of Egypt!”5 virtually begging them to leave the land that had enslaved them for so long.6 This image has inspired a famous children's song entitled, “Pharaoh in Pajamas in the Middle of the Night!”

Watch: The Plague of the Firstborn Explained

7. The Exodus Happened on the 15th day of Nissan in the Year 2448 of the Jewish Calendar (1313 BCE)

Nissan falls out in the springtime. G‑d wanted the Exodus to take place in the most ideal weather for travel: not too hot and not too cold. The Goldilocks zone, if you will.7

Read: Is There an Independent Source That Can Verify the Events Recounted in the Torah?

8. Passover is Celebrated on the 15th of Nissan Every Year

Passover begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan and continues for eight days.8 It usually falls out in early spring (autumn in the southern hemisphere) during April or late March.

Read: Passover

9. In the Diaspora, We Have Two Seders

When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the first day of the Hebrew month was established by the supreme Jewish court (Sanhedrin) based on when the new moon had been sighted.

On the 30th day of the Hebrew month, the supreme Jewish court in Jerusalem would wait to see if anyone came to testify that they had seen the moon. If witnesses arrived and their testimony rang true, that day was considered the first day of the new month. If not, that day was considered day 30, and the next day would be the first of the new month.

Communities outside of Israel were often left uninformed of the court’s decision (no twitter back then!) and considered both the 30th and 31st as possible first days of the month. This influenced the observance of holidays because two separate days could have been the 15th of Nissan, for example.

Nowadays, when the Hebrew calendar is immutable, and we know exactly when the first day of the month is, Jewish law still mandates that communities in the Diaspora celebrate two days of major Jewish holidays for other practical reasons (which you can read about in Why Do We Still Celebrate Holidays for Two Days in the Diaspora?).

The second Passover Seder mirrors the first and is celebrated the following evening. Just like the first day is celebrated twice, so is the seventh (final) day of Passover extended into the eighth day in the Diaspora.

Read: The Last Two Days of Passover In a Nutshell

10. The Jewish Calendar is Adjusted to Make Sure Passover Always Falls During Spring

The fact that Passover is celebrated in the springtime is not arbitrary. According to the Torah, the holiday must be observed during the “month of spring” in Israel.9 This is so important that the Jewish calendar is adjusted to make sure it happens.

Because the lunar cycle (upon which the Hebrew months are based) is 11 days shorter than the solar cycle (which determines the year’s seasons), an extra month is added to the Hebrew calendar seven times in every 19-year cycle, allowing the lunar calendar to match up with the solar one.

The extra month is always a second Adar (the month right before Passover).

Read: Understanding the Jewish Leap Year

11. Passover is Commemorated with Specific Foods

At the Passover Seder, we eat specific foods to remind us of slavery and freedom.

The most important is matzah, an unleavened cracker made of wheat, spelt, or oats,10 eaten to commemorate the fact that the Exodus happened so quickly that the dough on the Israelites’ backs didn’t have enough time to rise. We also eat maror, a bitter herb—traditionally horseradish and romaine lettuce—to remind us of the pain of slavery.

We celebrate our freedom by reclining on pillows as aristocrats did and drinking four cups of wine (or grape juice).

We also eat charoset, a paste made from apples, ground nuts, and wine, to symbolize the clay the Israelites had to mix and form into bricks, as well as a hard-boiled egg to symbolize our mourning after the destruction of the Holy Temple.11

Read: The Passover Seder

12. Many Egyptians Left Egypt With the Israelites

The Torah says, “A mixed multitude (erev rav) went up with them [out of Egypt].”12 The commentators explain that these were converts who were awestruck by G‑d’s miracles and desired to place their lot with the Israelites.

Moses was happy to accept them, but G‑d warned him that they would eventually cause trouble. Moses insisted on allowing them to remain, and unfortunately the “mixed multitude” were responsible for the sin of the Golden Calf.

When telling Moses that the Israelites had created the Calf, G‑d said, “Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly.”13 Why did He call them “your people”? Because it was Moses who insisted on taking the “mixed multitude” out of Egypt against G‑d’s advice, and they were ultimately responsible for its construction.

13. Shabbat Also Commemorates the Exodus

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they were not permitted to cease working for even a moment. Upon their exodus, G‑d commanded them to refrain from working one day a week to remind them of their freedom.

In the Friday night Kiddush, we mention this element of Shabbat. “[The Sabbath] is the first to be called holy and a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt (zecher l’yetziat mitzrayim).”

Read: Kiddush, Wine Before You Dine

14. The Israelites were Commanded to Eat Matzah Before the Exodus Happened

We all know the reason we eat matzah on Passover—because the Israelites did not have enough time to let the dough rise and it baked on their backs as they left Egypt—right?

While that is correct, it is interesting to note that G‑d commanded the Israelites to bake matzah the night before the Exodus to eat with their Paschal offering!

Some commentators explain that G‑d commanded them to do this in anticipation of the forthcoming back-baking episode.14

Others explain that matzah actually commemorates both slavery and redemption. In ancient times, slaves were fed hard crackers (matzah-like) because they take longer to digest and do not have to be administered frequently. In addition, they remind us about the bread baked on the Israelites’ backs.

In Egypt, the sages explain, the Israelites were commanded to eat matzah to commemorate the poor man's bread they were fed by their Egyptian taskmasters. The reason we eat matzah today, however, is to remember the bread baked by the hot desert sun on the way out of Egypt.15

Read: The Difference Between Shmura Matzah and Regular Matzah

15. The Israelites Received Full Restitution Before Leaving

The Israelites did not leave destitute, as slaves are wont to do. They received full restitution for their years of labor before leaving.

Abraham had been promised that his offspring would leave the land of their oppressors "with great wealth." The Torah tells us that the Israelites were instructed by Moses to visit their neighbors before they left and request their gold, silver, gems, and expensive garments. The Talmud describes Egypt at that time as a silo emptied of its grain or a fisherman’s net devoid of fish.

Midrash relates that the Israelites went so far as to tell their former owners where in their houses they kept their valuables. How did they know? During the plague of darkness, the Israelites—who were able to see—were told by Moses to search the Egyptians’ homes for precious items.

If one considers the amount of labor the Israelites performed during their century-long exile, the gold they exacted from the Egyptians can at the very least be considered basic reparations.16

16. We Are Commanded to Remember the Exodus Every Day

Because of its fundamental nature in Jewish history, there is a Biblical obligation to mention the Exodus every day and every night.17 Traditionally, this commandment is fulfilled with the recitation of the third paragraph of the twice-daily Shema (vayomer).18

Watch: Daily Mitzvah: Recounting the Story of the Exodus

17. The Exodus Represents Our Daily Struggle to be Freed from Personal Restraints

The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is etymologically related to the word meitzar which means “limitation.” Jewish mystical thought explains that just as we recall the historical Exodus, we ought to leave our own proverbial Egypts.

There is no Nirvana; rather, every day we can and should become more connected to our souls by performing mitzvot and learning Torah. After all, it is our bodies and natural animalistic tendencies that tie down our neshamot (souls). By performing G‑d’s commandments and overcoming our natural negative inclinations, we liberate our spirits from these shackles.

This is why the verse states, “Like the days you left Egypt.”19 Even though the Exodus happened once, yesterday’s Exodus is today’s limitation from which we must free ourselves.20

Read: The Exodus: An Experience of the Present As Well As the Past

18. Benjamin Franklin Wanted to Use a Scene from the Exodus on The Great Seal of the United States

We are familiar with the current seal of the United States featured on the one-dollar bill. When the founding fathers were considering what to display on the seal, Benjamin Franklin suggested they put “Moses standing on the shore, and extending his hand over the sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh...” Thomas Jefferson suggested a depiction of the Children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.21

19. The Exodus has Featured Prominently in American Culture

Seeing that the United States was founded as a response to religious persecution, it would make sense that such a prominent Biblical story would play a part in its culture.

For example, the early pilgrims who settled America saw themselves reenacting the Exodus, as expressed in many of their recorded sermons.

During the Civil War, African Americans and white northerners used Exodus imagery to describe their journey to liberation. Harriet Tubman, the best-known “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, was known simply as “Moses.” Her code to warn escapees to stay in hiding was to sing, “Moses, go down in Egypt ‘till ol’ Pharaoh let me go.”22 The Contrabands—escaped slaves who fought for the Union—made that song their anthem, starting with the words, “When Israel was in Egypt's land…”

In his famous speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Martin Luther King compared the prejudiced American society to Pharaoh, and the oppressed blacks to the Children of Israel.23

Paradoxically, those in power exploited the Exodus narrative to justify their positions, casting themselves as arbiters of freedom and the other as “Pharaoh.”24

The 1957 film “The Ten Commandments” by Cecil B. Demille remains the seventh-highest grossing film of all time (when adjusting for inflation) and is based on the story of the Exodus.

20. When Moshiach Comes, We Will Not Rush

Scripture, in its description of the Final Redemption, tells us, “For you will not depart in haste (bechipazon) nor will you leave in flight.”25 The final march from the Diaspora to the Holy Land will be slow and deliberate. This is in stark contrast to the Exodus from Egypt where the verse, employing the same adverb, states, “For you departed from the land of Egypt in haste (bechipazon).”26 Why the difference?

Jewish mystical thought explains that when the Israelites were leaving Egypt, the forces of evil were still strong, so they had to flee. When Moshiach comes, the negative spirits will have been completely wiped out, allowing us to tread slowly.

In our Divine service, we ought to subdue our less savory aspects, and serve G‑d by performing another mitzvah instead, allowing the soul to soar freely.27

Read: What is the Jewish Belief about Moshiach (Messiah)?