When is Passover (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Jewish populations
Observed on Begins on the 15th of Nisan, the first month in the Jewish calendar, and continues for eight days
Observed by Jews
Pesach, or Passover, commemorates the departure of the nation of Israel from Egypt and the origin of a Jewish state led by Moses (or Moshe) about 3,000 years ago. Pesach signifies both the physical as well as the spiritual freedom earned by the Jews. The tale of the Jews’ mass exodus is told in Chapters 1–15 of the book of Exodus in the Bible. Many of the Pesach customs are provided in Chapters 12–15. Though it is mainly celebrated to remember the exodus of the Jews from Egypt after centuries of slavery, the festival also marks the beginning of the harvest season in Israel.
The name Pesach is derived from the Hebrew peh-samech-chet, which means “to pass over,” “pass through,” “exempt,” or “ spare.” Jews believe that God, while slaying the firstborn children in Egypt during the plague, spared their houses. Jews consider the removal of chametz from their homes as the most important aspect of Pesach. Chametz refers to leaven bread, and this act recalls that, during the exodus, the Jews were in such a hurry to leave Egypt that they did not have time to let their bread rise.
Thus, they ate unleavened or flat bread. It is also symbolic of the removal of egotism and pride, or “puffiness,” from our souls.
Chametz is any food that is made of grains like wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt (a subspecies of common wheat, a hardy wheat grown mostly in Europe for livestock feed) that has not been completely cooked within 18 minutes of being mixed with water, or food that has been allowed to rise or become fermented with yeast. This includes food items like bread, cake, cereals, cookies, pizza, pasta, and beer. Jews believe that any food that contains grain or its derivates can be called chametz.
Jews eat matzo (or matzah) during Passover.
This is an unleavened bread symbolic of the strong faith that enabled them to gain their freedom.
Matzo is the very essence of the exodus, the main ingredient of seder rituals, and an inseparable component of Passover, or the Festival of Matzah, as it is called in the Torah. It is believed that, by eating matzo, one can get rid of the egotism that emanates from eating chametz.
Origins and History
The Jewish people were originally known as Hebrews or Israelites. Generally the term Hebrew refers to someone who has passed to the other side, but in the rabbinic sense it refers to the first Hebrew patriarch Abraham. The term Israelites and the phrase Children of Israel collectively refer to the descendents of Jacob, who was the third Hebrew patriarch and was also known as Israel. The word Jew is derived from the region of Judea, which today lies in southern Israel. Judea, in turn, is derived from the name of the tribe of Judah, named after one of Jacob’s 12 sons.
Pesach celebrates the mass departure and subsequent freedom of the Jews from Egypt almost 3,300 years ago to escape from centuries of bondage. It is said that the Hebrews entered Egypt as a group of tribes and left as one nation. The exodus population has been estimated at 600,000 men above the age of 20; their wives and children constituted the rest of the three million people.
This story was told in the first 15 chapters of the biblical book of Exodus. According to this account, Jacob, with his 70 family members, traveled to Egypt to live a better life and escape a massive famine in Canaan (today’s Palestine). Jacob’s son Joseph also lived in Egypt, where he had won the heart of the pharaoh of Egypt with his wisdom and had been appointed the viceroy of the kingdom.
Over the next 430 years the Hebrews prospered in Egypt, and their strength increased to three million.
Their growing numbers and power became a cause of worry for pharaoh, who thought that the Hebrews might side with his enemies to dethrone him. So he commanded that the Hebrews should work as slaves, engaged in building roads and cities for him. He thought that this hardship would make the Hebrews so exhausted at the end of the day that they would have no time or energy to beget children.
The Israelites were also confined to an area known as Goshen (the fertile land lying east of the Nile Delta and west of the Palestinian border).
When even this step did not help to slow the population growth of the Israelites, pharaoh ordered that all Israeli male babies be killed at birth.
However, the Hebrew midwives Shifra and Puah, who were appointed by pharaoh to kill the male babies, feared the wrath of God and did not follow pharaoh’s orders. Moses, who would become the leader of the Hebrews, was born around the time when this decree was issued. To save her son from being murdered, Moses’ mother Jochebed placed the infant in a basket in the Nile as Moses’ sister Miriam watched from a distance to see who would spot the child. The infant was ultimately found by pharaoh’s daughter, who decided to raise him like any other royal child. She named the child Moses and also unknowingly appointed Jochebed as his nurse. Thus, Moses’ real mother was able to make certain he knew his Hebrew heritage.
Once on a visit to his fellow Israelites, Moses saw a Hebrew slave being mercilessly flogged by his Egyptian master. Infuriated, Moses killed the Egyptian.
However, fearing prosecution from the Egyptian authorities, Moses fled Egypt. He took the desert route and finally reached Midian, an area situated in present-day Saudi Arabia along the eastern shores of the Red Sea. There he met a local priest named Jethro and married his daughter Zipporah. Moses lived in Midian for the next few years as a shepherd.
Sometime later Moses had a vision from God (the incident of the burning bush), who told him that he and his brother Aaron were the chosen ones to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Hesitating initially, Moses and Aaron eventually returned to Egypt.
Finally during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III (1500–1426) in 1476, Moses, under the guidance of God, led his people out of Egypt after God had sent a series of 10 plagues. These plagues were meant to warn pharaoh that if he did not let the Hebrews go then various diseases would kill the Egyptians. But, for the first two plagues the court magicians devised antidotes so the plagues could not harm the Egyptians. This made pharaoh consider himself greater than God. However, his magicians failed to work their magic on the third plague. But the smug pharaoh still did not change his mind about letting the Hebrews go. On being reminded by Moses after each plague about the imminent devastation of the Egyptians, pharaoh would agree to let them go but would again take back his word. It was only after the 10th plague (and losing his own son) that pharaoh finally agreed to let the Hebrews go.
Since the Hebrews left in haste, they had no time to bake their daily bread in the usual way for their trip to Canaan; therefore, they baked unleavened bread called matzo. By the time the Hebrews reached the shores of the Red Sea, pharaoh changed his mind again and sent the Egyptian army to bring them back. When the Hebrews saw pharaoh’s army approaching, they panicked. God then commanded Moses to use his staff to strike the waters, which then parted, making a path for the Hebrews to pass through. When all the Hebrews had left the water, God commanded Moses to touch the sea with his staff again. This done, the waters closed again, drowning the pursuing Egyptian army.
It took the Hebrews 42 days to reach Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. This event is celebrated by the Jews as Shavuot or Feast of Weeks, referring to the timing of the festival, which occurs exactly seven weeks after Passover. The Hebrews wandered for 40 years before they finally reached the land of Canaan, the “Promised Land.”