by Rabbi Ari Enkin
Passover is the eight-day holiday that celebrates the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. In Israel, Passover is a seven day holiday. The reason why it is a day longer in the Diaspora is to recall the ancient custom –before calendars were invented – of observing the holidays for an extra day in case an error was made when calculating the lunar months.
Passover begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. There is hardly a Jewish home anywhere in the world that does not conduct some kind of a “Seder” in honor of the holiday. “Seder” literally means “order” – since the entire night follows a “script”, known as the Haggadah (meaning ‘recital’). The Seder is an elaborate dinner that is held on the first night of Passover in which the entire story of the Exodus – from slavery to freedom – is told in detail.
The table is set with the finest tableware and decoration in honor of the event and the festive meal should be among the most elaborate of the year. We are taught that it is a night when the holiness of the original Exodus – when God Himself took the Jewish people out of Egypt – again descends to our world to greet us and to sanctify us, making the Seder night one of the holiest nights of the year.
The rituals of the Seder and the story of the Exodus are recounted in the “Haggadah”. There are fourteen steps in the Seder, each of which must be performed with precision and in the proper sequence:
1. Kadesh – The recitation of the “Kiddush” (holiday sanctification)
2. Urchatz – The first washing of the hands
3. Karpas – The dipping of a vegetable in salt water
4. Yachatz – The breaking of the middle matzah into two pieces
5. Maggid -The telling of the Passover story
6. Rachtza – The second washing of the hands
7. Motzi – Matza – The eating of the matzah
8. Marror – The eating of the marror (bitter herbs)
9. Koreich – The eating of the matzah and marror (bitter herbs) sandwich
10. Shulchan Oreich – The eating of the holiday meal
11. Tzafun – The eating of the afikoman (dessert) matzah
12. Bareich – The grace after meals
13. Hallel – The recitation of Hallel – (Songs of Praise taken from the Psalms)
14. Nirtza – Conclusion, with prayers for “Next Year in Jerusalem!”
There are many rituals that are conducted throughout the Seder. The children play a central role at the Seder, perhaps more so than any other Jewish event of the year. They are encouraged to ask as many questions as possible and to sing all the traditional songs. It is customary to award children for their participation in the Seder as well as to award them for finding the afikoman matza which is hidden at the beginning of the Seder. Most Seders don’t end before midnight, and many people stay awake discussing the Exodus until dawn. In the Diaspora, a second Seder is held on the second night of Passover.
Passover is a time to free ourselves from the “bondage” of every day living and “bond” with our Creator and those whom we love. It’s a time to be close to our family, share our experiences, laugh, cry, sing and dance. A time to discuss, to share – and yes even to disagree and argue a bit – that’s the Jewish way!
Most importantly, Passover is a time to appreciate our freedom, our loved ones and all that is good in our lives. It’s a time to recognize that all of the life’s “little miracles” are from the same God Who took us out of Egypt, delivered the Ten Plagues and and spilt the sea. It’s a time to sit back and think – and appreciate all of the blessing in our lives. And that is true Freedom we experience on Passover!
Wishing you a wonderful Passover holiday!
Rabbi Ari Enkin