Passover commemorates the formative experience of the Jewish people, and their transformation from scattered tribes indentured in Egypt, to a nation on the road of redemption.
Passover lasts 7 days in Israel, and 8 days in the rest of the world. This year it begins on March 30th (actually at sundown of March 29th), and ends on April 5th.
There are numerous preparations taking place before Passover, but on the first night of Passover, a ceremonial meal called Seder, is held in the company of family and friends.
To give you a better understanding of Seder, I am posting a quote of the opening words, one of my friends recites at the Seder meal his family hosts every year for a large circle of their family and friends (their very elegant table setting above).
“We are about to engage in a ritual that has been performed for thousands of years.
It involves the telling of stories, the singing of songs and the eating of special foods.
I cannot personally vouch for the factual content of the stories and songs.
The food I know will be wonderful.
Another thing I know is that it makes me feel good to gather family and friends to share in an event that to me is intensely meaningful.
You hold in your hands the Haggadah. Ha-ga-da means “to tell”.
And at Passover time it tells a story about freedom.
And not just freedom from slavery, but freedom from greed, envy, hate, and apathy.
Imagine a world without greed, envy, hate and apathy.
This religious ritual is merely a means to convey the idea.
It is the responsibility of every adult to bring this message to their children, so they can, in turn, pass it on to their children.
Tonight is a reminder of what we should all be doing every single day.
So if there are some factual inconsistencies, or conflicting interpretations in the stories or songs, please remember that freedom despite everything you hear about it being a right, is really a privilege borne from the responsibility to teach it by example.
Hopefully we all sense our individual freedom and the desire to teach by example.”
As the Haggadah is read, various foods, which recall slavery and freedom, are being consumed:
- Matzoh – a flat, yeastless cracker of flour and water – symbolizes redemption and freedom
- Maror – a bitter herb (horseradish mixed with red beets and sugar) – symbolizes the bitterness and harshness of slavery
- Charoset – a sweet mixture made of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine – represents the mortar used by the Jewish slaves
- Karpas – vegetable dipped in salted water (parsley, celery or boiled potatoes) – representing tears of the Jewish slaves
- Z’roa – a roasted lamb or goat shank bone , chicken wing, or chicken neck - symbol of the sacrificial lamb offered in the Holy temple at Jerusalem
- Beitzah – a hard boiled egg – symbol of fertility and spring
Also four cups of wine are drunk during the course of the Seder evening as the Haggadah is being read.
The leader of the Seder encourages family participation and discussion to make the Haggadah more interesting, and as relevant as possible.
The youngest child present, asks the question “Why does this night differ from all other nights”, which engages others to reflect on the meaning of this special event.
The Seder is concluded with a joyous “LA-SHANAH HA-BA’AH BI-YERUSHALAYIM (Next Year in Jerusalem).
No, no, this is not the end of the celebration, now everyone is treated to a very tasty, more traditional menu, which includes Beef Brisket, Oven Browned Salt Potatoes, Vegetarian Matzoh Lasagna, Gefilte Fish, Matzoh Balls, Carrot Kugel, Matzoh Apple Kugel, and numerous others, plus a myriad of other dessert choices.
Children also have fun during Afikomen, as they are asked to search for pieces of broken matzoh, hidden in the house, and the child who finds the hidden piece of Matzoh receives the first prize (larger amount dollar bill), and all the other children receive a consolation prize, which is still money, but in smaller denomination.
If your family follows other special traditions during Seder, you are welcome to share them with all of our readers.
TIP: By next Passover, I will share recipes for some of the foods, displayed above.