The Passover Holiday: Six Critical Insights
During the Seder, Jewish families retell with solemnity the defining story of their faith and heritage
Jews regard the Passover festival as a significant time to remember and celebrate what God has done through His chosen people.
As highlighted in the six facts below, this holiday expresses the deep tradition and heritage of the Jewish people.
1.) The biblical history. In the Hebrew Bible, the story of Moses and the Israelite people escaping slavery shows God’s hand at work. Exodus 9: 1 says: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh and say to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.”‘”
After Pharaoh did not allow the Israelites to leave, God sent 10 plagues on the land of Egypt. During this time, God instructed the people to eat a Passover meal in haste and to prepare to leave Egypt quickly. “‘When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians,”‘ Exodus 12:25-27 says. “Then the people bowed down and worshiped.”
2.) The 10th plague. During the 10th plague on Egypt, God struck down the firstborn son in homes that did not smear lamb’s blood around their door frames. The angel of death passed over the homes that obeyed God’s instructions.
This year, the week-long holiday of Passover to remember this symbolic event runs Friday, March 30, 2018 through Saturday, April 7, 2018.
3.) The Passover foods. As the Israelites fled Egypt, “the dough [they brought from Egypt] was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves,” Exodus 12 says. Traditional Passover foods today include special matzah or unleavened bread (meaning it’s made without yeast) and bitter herbs such as horseradish, which are symbolic of the bitterness of slavery.
4.) The matzah is split in two during the ceremonial Seder meal. The larger of the pieces, the "afikoman," gets set aside for dessert later in the Seder. "Setting aside or hiding the larger half of the matzah reminds us that the best, the real redemption, is yet to come, still hidden in the future," Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin wrote on Chabad.org, which shares the Jewish faith and heritage through outreach and education.
A fun highlight for kids involves the search for the afikoman. "Some have the custom to hide the piece of matzah that was set aside for the afikoman, and have the children find it and then return it only in lieu of a promised gift," Shurpin noted.
5.) The Passover Seder meal typically takes on the first and second evenings of Passover. A Seder plate includes symbolic foods that are eaten or displayed, such as roasted lamb shankbone and roasted egg, which symbolizes rebirth. Wine or grape juice is also served.
During the Seder meal, families retell and use the food to ceremonially commemorate the exodus story. "The whole idea of the Seder is to retell the defining story of the Jewish people — how the Israelites defy Pharaoh and flee toward freedom — and for each person at the table to understand that struggle for freedom as their own blessing," as Lauren Markoe noted last year in Religion News Service.
6.) The Red Sea. "When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter," Exodus 13:17-18 says. "For God said, 'If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.' So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea."
The story continues in Exodus 14: "Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left."
For generations to come, this story of the Lord's deliverance of his people out of enslavement will be remembered.
This story originally appeared in LifeZette last year and has been updated.