And while we’re at it, why is it called that?
These are great questions!
Passover is the celebration of the Jews’ liberation from Egypt. Passover is celebrated on the 15th day of Nisan and lasts 7 or 8 days, depending on the practice in each home.
The Hebrew word for the holiday is Pesach (pay-sock). The holiday is celebrated with a First Night Seder and a Second Night Seder. Some families also do a Last Night Seder.
At the Seder, we have several foods that symbolize every part of the holiday. We focus on the matzah, or unleavened bread. During the holiday we do not eat foods with leaven for the duration of Pesach.
It’s called Passover, because the Israelites are said to have painted blood on their houses. This was done so that at midnight on the 15th of Nisan, when G-d came to see if Pharaoh had let the Israelites go, G-d would “pass-over” the houses of the Israelites in the last of the 10 plagues and not kill their first born.
When Rabbis tell the story each year, it goes something like this, “After Moses came to Pharaoh, time after time, telling of the plagues to come, Pharaoh would refuse to let the Israelites go. Moses would reply, ‘Let my people GO!’ and Pharaoh would say no. The plagues (1. Water turned to blood 2. Frogs 3. Biting insects 4. wild animals 5. Livestock disease 6. Boils 7. Fiery hail 8. Locusts 9. Darkness) would come and the cycle continued. Until the last night. Moses came again and warned of the final plague, and said ‘Let my people GO!’ Pharaoh still said no. And that night, G-d came. He knew the houses of the Israelites by the blood on their houses and passed over these houses.
Then, because Pharaoh had enslaved the Israelites, G-d struck down the first born of the Egyptian families. This made Pharaoh so angry, that Pharaoh chased his slaves, the Israelites, out of Egypt in the middle of the night for smiting his family,. And that night, nearly 600 men and many more women and children all left Egypt in great haste. Since the Israelites left in haste, no one had time to prepare their food for the journey to Mt. Sinai and their birth as the chosen people.” In order to remember where we have come from, and what we have been through, we commemorate the Israelites’ exodus. And in order to commemorate each part, we focus on the meal.
Remembering the Passover included the sacrifice of a lamb in preparation for the Seder meal. This continued until the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in the first century. This is the event that led to Hanukkah.
The seder meal can be done in a traditional sense or in any other way. My Jewish student group celebrated Passover this last week with a chocolate and candy seder!
For this holiday, we use a seder plate. Some are glass, some are porcelain, some are paper; really anything goes and they come in every color and style under the sun! Check back in a few days to read more about the Passover Seder!
Ultimately, this holiday is about passing down the stories and histories of our traditions and faith to keep them alive.