Passover, which is also known as Pesach, is one of the most prominent Jewish holidays. It is celebrated even by Jews who are not members of a formal synagogue. Passover starts during Nissan (which is a Jewish month) on the fifteenth day. It is the first of three pivotal Festivals within Judaism (Shavu’ot and Sukkot are the others) that carry great importance among the Jewish people.
The Meaning and History of Passover
Agriculturally Passover is associated with the start of the seasonal harvest within Israel. However, most people, both Jews and non-Jews associate it with the release of the Hebrews from slavery in Ancient Egypt. They were enslaved there for generations and the tale is revealed in Exodus. The word Passover or “Pesach” is a term meant to convey being spared or receiving an exemption. Specifically, it is a reference to God “passing over” the homes of the Jews in Egypt as he executed the firstborn children of the Egyptians.
During Passover Jews are not allowed to eat “chametz,” or any food which is comprised of oats, barley, wheat or rye. Orthodox Jews may also avoid the consumption of peanuts, beans, corn and rice. Any ingredient used in the making of leaven bread is forbidden during this holiday. It is a reference to the fact that when the Hebrews escaped Egypt they did so quickly, and didn’t have time to bake bread. It also symbolizes the removal or pride and arrogance from the soul.
Passover Customs and Practices
The home must be meticulously cleaned in preparation for Passover, with all forms of chametz being removed. The grain which Jews do consume during this celebration is matzah. Matzah is a type of bread which is unleavened. It is cooked using water and flour and is made very rapidly. It is said that the Jews that fled Egypt relied on matzah as a form of sustenance.
The day before Passover starts an event called Fasting for the Firstborn will take place. During this time every firstborn male will be expect to fast moderately, to commemorate the firstborn Hebrew males that did not die during the plague. Passover lasts for 7 days in Israel and 8 days outside it. During the first two days’ work is prohibited but in Israel it is the first and final day where work is not allowed. The days during Passover where work is permissible are referred to as Chol Ha-Mo’ed.
There are times when Passover will begin “Motzaei Shabbat,” which is a Saturday night after Sabbath has been completed. This makes preparation for the event challenging, because many of the tasks which are routinely undertaken in preparation for Passover cannot be done since labor is not allowed during Shabbat.
In this case, the Fasting for the Firstborn will occur on Thursday. The search for and removal of chametz will occur on Thursday evening. Passover is a very important event and is recognized both by Jews and Christians. The key observance during this holiday is the avoidance of leavened grains in any form.