PERFECTING PASSOVER THE CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS OF PASSOVER CONSIST OF 15 MAIN STEPS. HEREWITH, A GUIDE TO FOLLOWING THOSE MEANINGFUL STEPS TO COMMEMORATE THE BIRTH OF THE JEWISH NATION.
By Chani Rosenblum | Photographs by Andrea Iacoboni, Daniela Gabay and Joannie Benzaquen
The eight days of passover begin on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nissan (this year, that corresponds toMarch 29th, in the evening). It commemorates the birth of the Jewish nation as it was emancipated fromslavery in ancient Egypt. And by following the rituals of Passover, we have the ability to experience and even acquire the true freedomthat our ancestors gained over 3,000 years ago. After 210 years of slavery to the Egyptian Pharaohs, during which time the Israelites were subjected to backbreaking labor and unbearable horrors, finally G d sentMoses to Pharaoh with amessage: “Letmy people go.” But there is a purpose to this “great escape,”Moses concludes, by clarifying the purpose of our leaving Egypt—“So that theymay serveme.” But despite warnings and devastating plagues, which took place over the course of almost 10months, Pharaoh refused.
At exactlymidnight of Nissan 15 of the year 2448 fromcreation (1313 BCE), G d visited the last of the 10 plagues, killing all the Egyptian firstborn. G d spared the Children of Israel, “passing over” their homaes; Pharaoh’s resistance was finally broken. Six hundred thousand adultmales, plus the women, the elderly and the children, left Egypt in such a hurry that the bread did not have a chance to rise. They journeyed to Mount Sinai and received theirmission statement: the Torah, still relevant and applicable today.
The first two days and last two days are full-fledged holidays. Both nights after lighting and saying the blessings over the candles, prayers are recited. The first two nights we celebrate the seder, both afternoon lunches are introduced with kidush andMatzah followed by delicious holidaymeals.
Likewise, the last two days, the dinners and lunches are introduced with the kidush andMatzah. These days we don’t go to work, drive, write or switch on or off electric devices.We are permitted to cook (froma preexisting flame) and to carry outdoors. Themiddle four days are called Chol Hamoed, semi-festive “intermediate days,” whenmost forms of work are permitted.
It is prohibited to eat or own any chametz fromthe day before Passover until the end of the holiday. Chametz includes any food or drink that contains even a trace of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt or their derivatives, which weren’t guarded fromleavening or fermentation. This includes bread, cake, cookies, cereal, pasta, andmost alcoholic beverages. Processed food or drink is assumed to be chametz unless certified otherwise. Ridding our homes of chametz involves a full in-depth cleaning of the house in the weeks prior to Passover, which ends with a search for the chametz ceremony on the night before Passover (this year onMarch 28th at night), and then a burning of the chametz ceremony the nextmorning. In order to keep chametz in our possession, we sign a power of sale to a rabbi who in turn sells it to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday.
The highlights of Passover are the two Seders, observed on the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a 15-step ceremony, which can seemritualistic but in reality is extremely profound, withmany deep lessons for us all. The Seder stimulates all five senses and involves all family and guests.
The Hagadah, the book around which the Seder revolves, describes the story of the Exodus andmuchmore. Through its reading we fulfill themitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus on the night of Passover; it is full of meaning and lessons. The focal points of the Seder are: eatingMatzah, to remember our rush in leaving; consuming bitter herbs, which commemorate the bitter slavery; and drinking four cups of wine or grape juice, a royal drink to celebrate our newfound freedom.
The night of Pesach is a very special night and very different fromall other nights of the year, as is so eloquently expressed in thema nishtana song. It is steeped in holiness and rich inmitzvoth, customs and traditions. Every detail is crucial, as the dot in a web page address.
The word Sedermeans “order,” for we follow the 15 steps throughout the evening. It is commendable to learn the deep interpretations, as a preparation to the evening, in order to share with family and friends.We begin by reciting the 15 steps; as a reminder of our ability to go out of our personal exiles towards redemption, it also keeps the children attentive as to the proceedings and alert to know which is the correct order.
Kadesh, Urchatz, Karpas, Yachatz,Maggid, Rochtza,Motzi,Matzah, Maror, Korech, Shulchan Orech, Tzafun, Barech (or Berach), Hallel, Nirtzah. At the Seder, every person is encouraged to see himself as if he were going out of Egypt and out of his personal limitations, whatever theymay be. Each step helps us in this process, as we recognize that the same elements can be positive or negative, as we define themalong the way.