What Is the Jewish Holiday of Passover?
Passover 2021 begins Saturday and ends Sunday April 4.
Passover is the Jewish holiday of liberation, based on the believers of the religion’s own story of emergence from Egypt and becoming free.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor, who is Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation of NY, told Inside Edition Digital, “It's the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar.” He underscored Passover’s importance, adding, “It's the birth of what it means to be Jewish in the world today.”
The rabbi says it is “where our history began.”
The Hebrew name for Passover is Pesach. Pesach means "passed over," because in the Bible itself, in the book of Exodus, we are told that God passed over the doors of the Israelites during the plague of the firstborn. The 10 plagues were the driving points of the story of liberation. But with each of the plagues, the Pharaoh was told, "Let my people go,” and when Pharaoh did not, the punishment was collective. Until the final and most awful plague, which was the death of the firstborn Egyptians. The Israelites were called to place some blood on the lintel of their doors as a signal that this was a home of an Israelite. And so when the Angel of Death would pass over, that family would be spared.
“Passover happens during the Hebrew month of Nisan, which is historically speaking, the first month of the biblical calendar. It usually happens around March or April, sometimes May,” the rabbi said. “Passover in the state of Israel is observed for seven days and outside of Israel for eight days. And during those days, the way the Jews eat changes very significantly. We do not have leaven, which for most of the Jewish community means having matzah. It's a different kind of bread, which reminds us of the race that we were in when we left Egypt. We left in such a hurry. We didn't have time to let the bread rise.”
On Passover the Seder is observed. Seder is a word that means "order," and in this very elaborate ritual in Jewish tradition, there are different steps, all of which are designed to help relive the experience of being liberated from Egypt.
“Part of the way I do that is by having a plate with symbols on it called a Seder plate and the different symbols each point to a different facet of the story. The haroset, which is a sweet mixture of sometimes apples, sometimes dates, and nuts, and grape juice, or wine, is supposed to signify the mortar with which my ancestors built the pyramids in Egypt. It's a symbol of slavery,” the rabbi said.
The holiday also signifies a rebirth as it occurs in the spring as a way to grow again, according to Rabbi Creditor.
“There's a tradition that happens toward the end of the Seder, where you open your door. And you open your door for the Messiah, for Elijah the prophet to come and announce the Messiah has arrived. And I've lived long enough to worry that that's not going to happen. And because I've lived long enough to worry that that's not going to happen, sometimes I don't really believe it. And so I work really hard, as soon as the Seder begins, to allow myself to really hope,” the rabbi said. “To hope that despite everything I know the world is going to be better right now. And then when I open up my door, Elijah is going to be there. It's a tradition for some of us to open the door and have the children be the ones. And sometimes to play a game and someone sneaks out and they dress up like Elijah the prophet. But I really, really hope that this year will be the year.”
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