Pesach, known as Passover in English, is a major Jewish spring festival, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt over 3,000 years ago. The ritual observance of this holiday centers around a special home service called the seder (meaning "order") and a festive meal; the prohibition of chametz (leaven); and the eating of matzah (an unleavened bread). On the fifteenth day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, Jews gather with family and friends in the evening to read from a book called the hagaddah, meaning "telling," which contains the order of prayers, rituals, readings and songs for the Passover seder. Today, the holiday is a celebration of freedom and family.

 

The first Seder will be, Friday night, March 30, 2018

Our sages instituted that beginning 30 days before Pesach, we should begin studying the laws and lessons pertaining to the Pesach holiday. The laws and customs of Pesach are many. One must be very careful with the foods bought for Pesach that they have a reliable kosher certification.

It may surprise many, but the prohibition of eating "chametz" - leavened foods on Pesach, is stricter than eating pork! It doesn't make the prohibition of pork any lighter, G-d forbid, but it gives us an idea how strict the laws of Pesach are. One must be especially careful with alcoholic beverages, as most are NOT kosher for Pesach, unless it has a valid certification from a reliable source. Beverages made from grains (beer, vodka, scotch, rye, etc.) are NOT kosher for Pesach.

Q. We have a meal every Shabbat and every holiday. Why is the meal we eat Pesach night different than all other meals of a whole year.. that it is called Seder?

A. "Seder" means "order." On Shabbat as well as other holidays the only requirement at the meal is that we recite the Kiddush over wine and then recite the blessing over two Challah. Then we can eat our delicious Shabbat and holiday meal. But on Pesach, there is a "Seder" - "order" of things we have to follow, before we eat the meal and also after. First, Kiddush, then the dipping of the karpas, after the children ask the Four Questions; we drink four cups of wine; we hide the Afikoman; we recite the Hagaddah; we eat the matzah, the maror, the korach (sandwich), and Afikoman etc. The entire time we follow a specific "order." - Hence it is called "Seder."

Q. On Shabbat and holidays, we place two Challah on the table. We recite the Kiddush and then recite the blessing over the Challah. On Pesach we are prohibited from eating Challah, so we replace it with matzah. But for the Seder we place three matzot, instead of two every Shabbat. Why?

A. When we recite the blessing over the Challah or matzah they should be whole. We slice it only after the blessing. But on Pesach, we break the middle matzah at the beginning of the Seder and hide half for the Afikoman. In order to have two whole matzot when we recite the Hamotzi blessing over the matzot later, we need the third matzah which is whole. This is one reason for the third matzah. We also need the third matzah for the matzah and maror sandwich, called Korach, which we eat at the Seder.

Questions & Answers concerning Pesach (Passover):

Q. Eating matzah on Pesach is to remember the Exodus. Were the Jewish people coming out of Egypt the first to be mentioned in the Torah to bake matzah?

A. No. Abraham's nephew, Lot, who lived 400 years before the Exodus, is the first one mentioned in the Torah to bake matzot. It is mentioned that he served the angels who came to his home, when they came to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:3). That story happened on the same day which, 400 years later, became the Passover holiday.

Q. We always wash our hands before eating bread. Yet, at the Seder we wash our hands twice. In addition to washing our hands before making the blessing over the matzah, we also wash our hands before dipping the vegetable into the salt-water. Why?

A. It is also customary to wash our hands when we eat something which we dip into liquid. However, we wash without a blessing over the washing. Thus, before dipping into the salt-water we wash.

Q. How old was Moshe when G-d sent him to command Pharaoh to let the Jewish people free?

A. Moshe was 80 and Aaron was 83.

Q. How many people left Egypt at the time of the Exodus?

A. 600,000 men (over the age of 20). In addition, there were women, children, and a multitude of people from other nations that left with them. A few million people left Egypt at the Exodus.

Q. Did all the Jews who were enslaved in Egypt leave at the time of the Exodus?

A. No. Only one fifth came out, the other four fifths didn't want to leave. G-d punished them and they died during the plague of darkness. Also, 200,000 people of the tribe of Ephraim escaped thirty years before the Exodus and were killed by the people of Gat.

The Passover (Pesach) holiday begins Friday night, March 30. In Israel Pesach is celebrated 7 days. In the Diaspora, it is celebrated 8 days. In Israel only one Seder is performed. In the Diaspora, two Sedarim are performed. The first Seder is Monday night and the second Seder, Tuesday night.

The difference between Israel and the Diaspora, goes back two thousand years. In Israel, where the High Court (Sanhederin) was situated, they knew the exact day when the new month (Rosh Chodesh) began, thus they knew when the holidays begin. In the Diaspora, where the news took long to reach, they didn't know in time when Rosh Chodesh was, so they observed an extra day holiday and performed a second Seder.

The Seder traditions and costums date back thousands of years. The Pesach Seder is our link with our glorious history. Should one of our ancestors drop in on us at the Seder, they would feel very much at home and would participate in our Seder just as they did in theirs in ancient times.

At the beginning of the Seder, after the Kiddush, the one who leads the Seder breaks the middle matzah in two. The larger piece is wrapped in a cloth or napkin and hidden so it can be eaten later at the end of the meal. This piece of matzah is called "Afikoman." The smaller matzah is placed back between the two whole matzot, and is left there during the recitation of the Hagadah.

Q. What is the significance of the three matzot on the Seder Plate?

A. 1) They represent the three categories of the Jewish people; Kohen, Levi and Yisrael. 2) They also represent the three patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Q. Why do we break the middle matzah?

A. The Torah refers to matzah as "Lechem oni" - "bread of poverty." A poor man when he has a loaf of bread will always think about the next meal. He fears that he may not have anything to eat later, so before he eats his meal he usually breaks off a piece and saves it for later. Thus, we leave the smaller piece on the table and recite the story of the Exodus over it - representing the bread of poverty which the Jewish people ate in Egypt.

Q. What is the reason for "wrapping" the Afikoman and "hiding" it?

A. The Torah tells us that at the time of the Exodus Jews were so rushed to leave Egypt that they didn't have time to bake their dough into bread. Instead, they "took their dough before it became leavened and they bound it up in their clothes upon their shoulders." By wrapping the Afikoman, we recall the fact that the dough was "bound in their clothes."

Q. On Shabbat and holidays, after reciting the blessing over the first cup of wine (Kiddush), we can drink as many cups of wine as we want, without reciting another blessing over each cup. Yet, at the Seder we drink four cups of wine and we recite the blessing over wine before each cup. Why?

A. The reason we drink four cups at the Seder is to commemorate the four expressions of redemption which G-d used for the Exodus. Each cup represents a different expression of redemption and thus is a separate mitzvah. Because they are four separate mitzvot, we make a separate blessing before drinking each cup.

Q. At the Seder, when we perform the mitzvah of eating the matzah and drinking the four cups of wine, we are required to sit in a reclining position. What is the reason for this?

A. In ancient times, noblemen would eat in a reclining position. It was a sign of freedom. The average person, especially a servant, did not recline. At the Seder, when we celebrate our freedom from slavery, the rabbis instituted that we demonstrate our freedom by reclining as noblemen when performing the special mitzvot at the Seder.
Q. Why do we recline on the left side, not on the right side?

A. Our sages established that we recline on the left side so that the food should not accidentally enter the upper part of the windpipe, which may cause choking.

Q. Why, when eating the maror (bitter herbs), we do not recline?

A. The maror is to remember the bitter slavery we endured in Egypt. It is not a sign of freedom.

Q. What is the reason for filling the "Cup of Eliyahu (Elijah)" at the Seder?

A. The four cups which we drink at the Seder commemorate our past redemption. The "Cup of Eliyahu" symbolizes our future and ultimate redemption with the coming of Moshiach. According to tradition, Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the prophet) will be the one to inform us of Moshiach's arrival. May it occur speedily in our days!

 

Pesach, the holiday in which we celebrate our freedom from the Egyptian bondage, will begin Friday night, March 30.

Jews in Egypt were not only enslaved physically but also spiritually. At that time, they were at their lowest spiritual level. Their Exodus from Egypt, in additon to being a physical liberation was also a freedom from their spiritual condition. They attained even greater spiritual elevation when they received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

With the holiday of Pesach we re-experience the Exodus. Peasch is a time when G-d enables each of us today to free ourselves of our own spiritual limitations which constrict our connection to G-d.

The mitzvah to remember the Exodus applies every day, morning and night, which is why we mention the Exodus in the daily services. Yet, there is more emphasis on remembering it on Passover, especially at the Seder.

Q. Why is remembering the Exodus at the Seder, on the anniversary of the Exodus, more meaningful than remembering it during the rest of the year?

A. The Magid of Dubna gives the following parable: A king traveled with his entourage to visit his subjects. As they were passing through a forest, one of the riders became very thirsty and fainted. No one had any water so the king sent one of the soldiers to the river, a few miles away.

In the meantime, the person's condition became very grave. The king ordered his men to immediately start digging for water. Everyone began digging furiously and before long they hit fresh water and revived him. A while later the soldier returned with fresh water from the river.

A few days later a wayfarer traveled through the forest and passed the same place. The sun was hot and he too became very thirsty and was in great need of water.

Now, if someone would tell him that a few miles further there is a river with fresh water, it may not help him much. Who knows if he could reach the river before he would pass out. However, the well that was dug on this spot will surely help him. All he had to do is bend down and reach for the water.

Explains the Magid of Dubna: During the rest of the year, we are like the one who must walk down the road to the river to get water. It takes greater effort on our part to realize our personal spiritual freedom. But on Pesach, the day when the Exodus actually took place, we are like the man who is standing at the very spot where the well was dug. On Pesach, we re-live the story of the Exodus. It is all within easy reach. All we have to do is realize it and benefit from our spiritual freedom.

 The book from which we read at the Seder is called, "Hagadah." The prayer book from which we pray is called, Siddur." The Torah from which we read in the synagogue is called, "Torah." The Torah in book form from which we study is called, "Chumash." The Book of Psalms is called, "Tehillim."

Q. What is the reason for these various names for these holy books?

A. The reason the book used for the Passover Seder is called, "Hagadah," is that "Hagadah" comes from the Torah expression "V'Higadta," which means you shall "Tell."

The Torah commands "And you shall TELL your son on that day (Passover)." There is a special Mitzvah to tell our children the story of the Exodus and answer their questions about it. Because it is the book from which we fulfill the mitzvah of telling the story of Passover, it is called "Hagadah."

The daily prayer Book is called "Siddur," because "Siddur" means "order." It comes from the same root as "Seder." The prayers are a compilation of various passages from the Torah, the Prophets, Psalms, Mishna etc. The prayer book is called Siddur because all the prayers are found there in their proper order. One needs to only look in the Siddur and find the daily prayers, the Shabbat prayers, the holidays prayers and all other blessings and prayers, without having to look for them in their original sources.

"Tehillim" means "praise." The reason the Book of Psalms is called "Tehillim" is that in there we find 150 chapters which are full of praise to G-d. Most of them authored by King David.

The word, "Torah," comes from the word, "Horaah," which means guidance and teaching. The Torah is our guide because it teaches us between right and wrong. It teaches us the proper way of life.

"Chumash" comes from the word "Chamesh" which is "five." The reason that the book form of the Torah is called, Chumash, is that the Torah is divided into Five Books.

Q. Why is it preferable to use round hand baked matzot for the "Seder Plate?"

A. The Torah refers to the matzah which the Jewish people baked when leaving Egypt as "ugot Matzot" (cakes of matzah). The word "ugah" commonly represents something round. The round hand baked Shmurah matzah are similar to the matzot Jews baked the very first time, while still in Egypt, for their first Seder. The round Shemurah Matzah give our Seder a special connection to the original Seder performed by our ancestors.

 More Questions & Answers about the Pesach Seder

Q. On Shabbat and holidays we eat the meal right after reciting the Kiddush. Yet, at the Seder after the Kiddush we recite the Hagadah before the meal. Why don't we eat immediately after the Kiddush and then recite the Hagadah?

A. The rabbis instituted this order to make sure that the participants stay awake for the entire Seder. If we would eat the meal first, there is a good chance that people will become drowsy and not perform the Seder properly.

Q. Why is it customary for the children to hide the Afikoman at the beginning of the Seder?

A. We encourage the children to hide the Afikoman in order to keep them awake throughout the Seder. The excitement of receiving a reward for returning the Afikoman will keep them from falling asleep.

Q. Why is it important to eat the Afikoman before midnight?

A. The matzah eaten for the Afikoman represents the Passover sacrifice at the time of the Temple. The meat of the sacrifice had to be eaten before midnight.

Q. Why do we eat the Afikoman matzah after the meal?

A. As mentioned before, the Afikoman represents the Pesach sacrifice which was brought in the time of the Temple. It had to be eaten at the end of the meal, in order that the taste of the Pesach meat will remain in the person's mouth. This is symbolic of the fact that the experience and message of the Seder should stay will us long after we have finished the Seder.

Q. What is the significance of the hard boiled egg on the Seder plate?

A. One reason is that the egg is a sign of mourning. It is the first meal that a mourner eats after a funeral. At the Passover Seder the egg reminds us that, although we are celebrating our freedom, we still mourn the loss of our Beth Hamikdash (Holy Temple). This is especially significant in light of the fact that the first Seder night always falls out on the same night of the week as Tisha B'Av (9th of Av) - the day of the destruction of the Holy Temples.

On the lighter side: Q. What's the difference between the Biblical Moshe and General Moshe Dayan?

A. The Biblical Moshe took Jews out of Egypt. Moshe Dayan brought them into Egypt. (Six Day War).

The holiday of Pesach is associated with the number four. Four questions are asked. The Hagadah speaks of Four sons and we drink Four cups of wine at the Seder.

Q. Why is the Seder connected with the number four?

A. When G-d told Moshe to go liberate the Jewish people from Egypt, He used four expressions of redemption. The four cups of wine at the Seder correspond to the four expressions of redemption mentioned in Exodus (6:6-7):

G-d said to Moshe, "Therefore, say to the children of Israel: 'I am the L-rd, and I will bring you out ("V'hotzeti") from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you ("V'hitzalti") from their bondage, and I will redeem you ("V'ga'alti") with an outstretched arm and with great judgment. And I will take you ("V'lakachti") to Me for a people and I will be to you a G-d."

Q. Why were cups of wine chosen to commemorate our redemption?

A. In Scriptures, wine is associated with happiness, salvation and redemption. Thus, we celebrate our redemption and salvation through four cups of wine.

Q. What is the reason for filling the "Cup of Eliyahu (Elijah)" at the Seder?

A. The four cups which we drink at the Seder commemorate our past redemption. The "Cup of Eliyahu" symbolizes our future and ultimate redemption with the coming of Moshiach. According to tradition, Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the prophet) will be the one to inform us of Moshiach's arrival. Thus, this cup is called, "Cup of Eliyahu." May it occur speedily in our days!

Q. Why do we open the door for Eliyahu (Elijah the Prophet)?

A. As mentioned, The "Cup of Eliyahu" symbolizes our prayer for the ultimate redemption with the coming of Moshiach. Opening the door teaches us that it is not enough to desire Moshiach, but we have to actively do something to hasten the coming of Moshiach and to let him in.

Another reason for opening the door is that the Torah calls the night of the Seder "Leil Shimurim" - "The night of guarding". On this night, G-d takes special care to guard the people of Israel. Opening the door expresses our belief that we are not afraid, for G-d is watching over us.