Passover, or Pesach (PEH-sach) in Hebrew, is a commemoration of the ancient Hebrews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt focusing especially on the night when God “passed over” the houses of the Hebrews during the tenth plague—and the following day, when the Israelites had to leave Egypt hurriedly. Centered on the family or communal celebration of the Seder (ritual meal, pronounced SAY-der), Passover is one of the most beloved of all Jewish holidays.
In anticipation of Pesach, it is traditional to engage in a thorough spring cleaning. During the entire 8-day holiday, special dietary customs enable us to vicariously relive the ancient Hebrews’ redemption from slavery. Because the ancient Hebrews had no time to let their bread rise during their escape from Egypt, Jewish law forbids eating (or even possessing) any food that might contain leaven. Leaven is food that contains any grain product (wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye) that has been allowed to ferment in water.
The central ritual of Pesach is the Seder, a carefully choreographed ritual meal that takes place either in the home or in the community. A number of symbolic foods are laid out on the table, of which the most important are the Matzah (MAH-tzah), the unleavened “bread of affliction,” and the Zeroa (Zah-ROH-ah) shank bone, which commemorates the Pesach sacrifice in the ancient Temple. The Seder follows a script laid out in the Haggadah (hah-GAHD-ah), a book that tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
The overarching themes of Passover are redemption and freedom. The divine redemption of the Israelites becomes part of the blueprint for the Jewish understanding of morality and ethics, which can be seen in Jewish participation at the forefront of movements for social justice.
Adapted from MyJewishLearning.com