A Bissel of This and That

This year, the eight-day festival of Passover, which commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt, will be celebrated from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan or March 27 – April 4, 2021.  Passover (or Pesach) is observed by avoiding leaven (chametz) and highlighted by the Seder meals that include four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter15 herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.

According to this story, after many decades of slavery to the Egyptian pharaohs during which time the Israelites were subjected to backbreaking labor and unbearable horrors, G‑d saw the people’s distress and sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message: “Send forth My people, so that they may serve Me.” But despite numerous warnings, Pharaoh refused to heed G‑d’s command. G‑d then sent upon Egypt ten devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops. At the stroke of midnight of 15 Nissan in the year 2448 from creation, G‑d visited the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. While doing so, G‑d spared the children of Israel, “passing over” their homes—hence the name of the holiday. Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and he virtually chased his former slaves out of the land. The Israelites left in such a hurry, in fact, that the bread they baked as provisions for the journey did not have time to rise. 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.

In order to commemorate the unleavened bread that the Israelites ate when they left Egypt, we are not to eat, or even retain in our possession, any chametz from midday of the day before Passover until the conclusion of the holiday. Chametz refers to leavened grain—any food or drink that contains even a trace of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt or their derivatives, and which was not guarded from leavening or fermentation. This includes bread, cake, cookies, cereal, pasta, and most alcoholic beverages. Ridding our homes of chametz can be an intensive process, and in many homes involves a full-out spring-cleaning search-and-destroy mission during the weeks before Passover, culminating with a ceremonial search for chametz on the night before Passover, and then a burning of the chametz ceremony on the morning before the holiday. During Passover, instead of chametz, we eat matzah, which is flat unleavened bread.

The highlight of Passover is the Seder (order), observed on each of the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a fifteen-step family-oriented tradition and ritual-packed feast. The central points of the Seder include eating matzah, eating bitter herbs to commemorate the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites, drinking four cups of wine or grape juice, and the recitation of the Haggadah, the liturgy that describes in detail the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah is the fulfillment of the biblical obligation to recount to our children the story of the Exodus on the night of Passover. It begins with a child asking the traditional “Four Questions”.

Further information about Passover may be found online at: This site includes Passover Recipes, Stories, History, Covid Passover Resources, and information on ways to celebrate Passover and how to prepare a Seder This site explains all of the customs and rituals of Passover, including a step-by-step summary of the Seder and a list of ritual items used during the Seder. This site includes basic information about Passover.