Tonight marks the beginning of Passover. Passover begins every year on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, and literally means to pass through, to pass over, to exempt or to spare. G-d “passed over: the houses of the Jews when slaying the firstborn of Egypt. The Torah declares Passover to be 7 days, and is celebrated for 7 days in Israel, but here we celebrate for 8 days. A lot of my information below comes from an email Solomon sent to the Hillel students he advises.
Passover is the "Holiday of Freedom" – spiritual freedom. The Almighty brought us out of Egypt to serve Him and to be free. Our leaving Egypt led us to Mt. Sinai and the acceptance upon ourselves the yoke of Torah. This is the centerpiece of our freedom. It sets the boundaries of right and wrong, it sets forth the means to perfect ourselves and the world we live in, it defines ultimate meaning and satisfaction in life. Only with boundaries does one have the ability to grow and develop. Otherwise, with unlimited license, life is out of control.
There are five mitzvot (commandments) for the Passover Seder, two from the Torah and three from our Sages (wise men). The two mitzvot from the Torah are to eat matza and to tell the story of our exodus from Egypt. The rabbis added the mitzvot of drinking the four cups of wine, eating marror (bitter herbs) and reciting Hallel (Psalms of praise for the Almighty).
All of these commandments are to help us re-experience the Exodus and to feel and strengthen our sense of freedom. The mitzvot are to experience either the affliction or the redemption.
The matza is called "lechem ani" – the bread of the poor man and "lechem oni" – the bread of affliction. In a play on pronunciation, the Sages also called it the bread over which many things are answered. It has the dual symbolism of representing our affliction and our redemption.
During all eight days of Pesach we are forbidden to own or eat chametz (leavened bread – i.e., virtually any flour product not especially produced for Pesach) or have it in our possession Why the emphasis on being chametz-free? Chametz represents arrogance ("puffing up"). The only thing that stands between you and God … is you. To come close to the Almighty, which is the ultimate pleasure in life and the opportunity of every mitzvah and holiday, one must remove his own personal barriers. The external act brings the internal appreciation – we remove chametz from our homes and likewise work on the character trait of humility.
The four cups of wine represent the four different terms for our redemption in the Torah . Wine is the drink of free men!
Bitter herbs is affliction (just look at the faces of those eating horseradish!)
And Hallel is our thanks to the Almighty for our redemption and freedom.
This is just a basic rundown, there is a lot to know about Passover! Solomon was raised in a Sephardic home, which has traditions quite different from other Passover traditions. Though his mother keeps Passover in a very traditional Ashkenazi way, there are other traditions observed which are more Sephardic-mostly what we can eat that others cannot (legumes!). I’m going to explain more on what we are and are not allowed to eat in the next day or so, and hopefully share some of my Passover cooking with you all!
Passover is actually a big pain in the butt of a holiday-there is a ton of cleaning involved, changing out your plates, silverware, food and basically everything in the kitchen, and just a whole lot of work. I’m glad I get to go to Boston next weekend for part of it!
To understand more about Passover and to have fascinating ideas to share at the Seder, go to: Aish.com/Passover. Check out: "All in the Seder"; "It Ain’t Over ’til it’s Passover"; "The ABC’s of Passover"; and "The Passover Primer – An inspiring and thought-provoking compendium of articles."
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