The festival of Passover commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. At the same time it serves as metaphor for the freedom of every individual from his own personal Mitzrayim (constraints) in order to transcend the self. By following the special traditions of Passover, we have the ability to not only relive and experience the miraculous Exodus from bondage that our ancestors experienced, but for at least one night, to taste a true sense of freedom in the midst of our own spiritual journeys.
After many years of slavery and backbreaking labor, while enduring terrible cruelty at the hands of their Egyptian masters, G-d sent the prophet Moses to Pharaoh with a message: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” Despite numerous warnings, Pharaoh refused to acknowledge G-d or listen to His command to free the Israelites, and so G-d released upon Egypt a series of plagues.
At midnight of the 15th of Nissan in the year 2448 (1313 BCE), G-d sent the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all of their firstborn. At the same time, He “passed over” the homes of the Israelites, sparing them, and hence, lending the name of the holiday. Finally, Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and the Jewish people were sent out of Egypt. 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.”
MATZAH AND CHAMETZ
According to Jewish tradition, when the Jewish people left Egypt, they left in such a hurry, that the bread they baked as provisions for the journey did not have time to rise. To commemorate this fact, we eat matzah, unleavened bread, over the course of the entire holiday. At the same time, 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 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.
The highlight of Passover is the Seder, a once a year, family-oriented ceremony where the events of the day are re-told. The main focal points of the Seder are the:
• Matzah: The “bread of affliction,” and primary symbol of the Exodus.
• Bitter herbs: These represent the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites.
• Four cups of wine (or grape juice): Each cup represents one of four expressions of redemption in describing the journey from Egypt to Israel and our birth as a nation: “I will take you out…” “I will save you…” “I will redeem you…” “I will take you as a nation…”
• The Haggadah: This is the guidebook for the evening which describes in detail the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Reciting the Haggadah is the fulfillment of the Biblical obligation to recount to our children the story of the Exodus on the night of Passover.