PESacH 101

Pesach פסחone of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays. It commemorates God's liberation of the Jews from Egyptian slavery and the Jews' becoming a nation through the Exodus and the giving of the Torah.  

We do not eat bread or other leavened baked goods, pasta, etc., only unleavened bread or matzah on Passover. The whole house is emptied of the last crumb of leavened (chametz) in remembrance of God's leading us out of Egypt, the land of slavery, but our ancestors did not have enough time to raise their bread, so they baked the dough without rising it, and so they went on their way. The holiday is seven days in Israel and eight days outside Israel, with the first and last days in Israel and the first and last two days outside Israel being a whole holiday, the intermediate days being half-holidays. On the first (two) evenings, we sit down to a Seder Eve, one of the highlights of the Jewish year: we drink four glasses of wine, eat matzah (and other symbolic foods), and read the Haggadah.  Celebration customs vary around the world, but the essence is the same: not only do we commemorate God's leading us out of slavery, but we also relive it as if we had marched out of Egypt and passed it on to the future generations.


Pesach, the festival of the Exodus from Egypt, begins on the 15th of the month of Nissan and lasts for seven days until the 21st of Nissan, eight days in the diaspora. The name Passover comes from the story of the Exodus.

The tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, broke Pharaoh. The angel of God avoided the houses of the Jews and struck only the firstborn children of the Egyptians. That night, Pharaoh finally released the children of Israel.

On this night, ever since, we gather to remember these events and reflect on what it means to be free and liberated.

The central meaning of Pesach is liberation. That is why we call it: the time of our freedom—Zman Herutenu.

Pesach is also the feast of unleavened bread: Chag HaMatzah.

The matzah is a reminder of the night when the children of Israel ate the sacrificial lamb in fear and anticipation. Around them, the Egyptians mourned the death of their firstborn with their wailing. Suddenly the word came from Moses to hurry. They had no time to eat the bread, so they took this unleavened bread, the matzah, with them for food.

We also call it the festival of spring. The Jewish calendar is set so that certain holidays always come at the same time. So it became that the holiday of freedom is also the holiday of spring. And this is no accident. After the darkness of winter, when everything is covered in snow, spring brings new birth, when everything is covered in green and full of life.

Likewise, the people, groaning under the yoke of slavery, break out of Egypt under the shadow of the threat of destruction, embark on a journey of new life towards a Canaan flowing with milk and honey.

Spring and Pesach likewise bring rebirth and hope.

Pesach reminds us year after year that we must not lose hope no matter how dire our situation.

Pesach brings the possibility of renewal, proclaiming that such change is part of human nature, just as trees blossoming is part of nature.


As a symbol of freedom, the matzah triggers in us the memory of a story that began with slavery and ended with freedom; it reminds us of God's role in the story of the Exodus, of the simple faith that lived in the Jews who were willing to leave the home they knew and go out into the desert. They saw the redemptive power of God and trusted in his promise. This redemptive power was the basis of the covenant between Israel and the Eternal.

Before the Exodus, this relationship existed only between God and individuals. For example, between God and Abraham. Pesach is also the beginning of the relationship between the Eternal and the Jews as a people.

God honours the covenant by fulfilling his promise to bring us out of Egypt and then promises, "I will make you my people, and I will be your God. And you will know that I am the Eternal, your God, who delivered you from the captivity of the Egyptians."

This covenantal relationship is the basis of the holiday of Pesach.


We rejoice at our liberation from Egypt and all the redemption that has taken place since then. This goes hand in hand with looking forward to the future redemption. That is why the prophet Elijah has a special place in the Seder. Since the deliverance from Egypt is the beginning of our people's history, it has a vital role in the Jewish liturgy and is often featured.

On Passover, we are called to tell the story of the Exodus, the journey out from Egypt. This commandment, which is linked only to this holiday, reminds us of the journey and invites us to talk about the story and discover its depths and meanings.

On Passover, we are called to tell the story of the Exodus, the journey out from Egypt. This commandment, which is linked only to this holiday, reminds us of the journey and invites us to talk about the story and discover its depths and meanings.


The Haggadah, the book that tells us what we must do on the Seder and what happened when we departed from Egypt, says: "In every generation, a man is obliged to consider himself as if he had departed from Egypt. As it is written, tell your children of that day..."

The peculiarity of Pesach is found in this quotation. It teaches that Jewish history is timeless. Pesach is not just a commemoration of an important event that happened in our past, but an event in which we have participated and continue to participate. We must relive the servitude and redemption that happens every day of our lives.

This is our own story, not just some ancient tale we tell. To live this experience, we must do three main things.


The focus of the experience is the Seder. On the first night of Passover, we gather with families, friends, small and large communities to celebrate with a ritual meal. The Hebrew word Seder means order, as the meal has a very exact, predetermined order.


There are many different ritual customs in the Seder, such as eating matzah, bitter herbs and four glasses of wine, followed by a rich feast. The many symbols are meant to remind us of the bitterness of slavery and the great joy of freedom. During this feast, the Haggadah is read. The Haggadah is a unique pedagogical and liturgical text. The word comes from the word narrative and reflects the purpose of the evening, telling the story of the Exodus.


In the Haggadah, there are highly anticipated passages such as the four questions, or Ma Nistana, the four children, various songs such as Dajenu, the hiding or stealing of the afikoman (pieces of matzah)...


But behind the fun and intimacy, behind the family and friendship, there is an essential religious drama. The props are symbols, the script is the Hagadah, and the actors are us, our families, our friends, everyone who understands this drama.


Pesach is also a family celebration because it is of great importance to pass on the story, and not only the story, but the meaning of Pesach. The children's role is to ask the four questions, and our role is to impress them with our answers because we understand what they don't, that the future of the Jewish people is in their hands.


For our people to continue their 3,000 years of history in every generation, our children and we must feel that they were enslaved people in Egypt and that they were rescued.