Nisan 15–22, 5782 | Evening of Wednesday, April 5 – Evening of Thursday, April 13, 2023
Passover, or Pesach (PEH-sach) in Hebrew, commemorates the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt and their ultimate exodus to freedom. This story of redemption from slavery is the “master-story” of the Jewish People – a story that has shaped Jewish consciousness and values. It is just as relevant today for all humankind as it was 3,400 years ago.
In each generation every person is obliged to feel as though he or she personally came out of Egypt. (Torah, Deuteronomy 16:14)
The Exodus from Egypt occurs in every human being, in every era, in every year, and even every day. (Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, 18th century Chasidic leader)
Passover, or Pesach (pronounced PAY-sokh) in Hebrew, commemorates the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt and their ultimate exodus to freedom. This story of redemption from slavery is the “master story” of the Jewish people that has shaped its values of religious freedom, caring for the stranger, and standing up to oppressive tyrants.
The story harks back 3,400 years to the family of Jacob, who fled their home in Canaan, or ancient Israel, in the face of a terrible famine. They made their way to Egypt where they were welcomed, and grew in population and in acceptance. But when a new pharoah came to power in Egypt, he feared the growing Israelite population and enslaved them, oppression that continued for the next 210 years.
Moses, an Israelite baby who survived Pharoah’s decree of Jewish infanticide and ended up growing up “half-Egyptian” in the palace itself, heard God’s call at a burning bush out in the desert to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He negotiated with Pharoah for the Israelite’s freedom. This led to a famous show-down between God, who demandd freedom for the Israelites, and Pharaoh, who symbolizes the hard-hearted forces of tyranny and enslavement. God breaks Pharaoh’s spirit by inflicting Egypt with 10 plagues.
During the night of the final plague, God “passed over” and protected the houses of the Israelites, giving the festival its name. Finally, with the Egyptian army chasing after them, God (symbolized by Moses’ outstretched arm) split the waters of the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to cross the sea on dry land and escape. Since they ran out of Egypt in a hurry, the Israelite slaves did not have time for their plain bread to leaven and rise, giving Passover it’s most famous symbol, matzah, which is Hebrew for “unleavened bread.”
Today the Jewish community holds the messages of this story more dear than any literal, biblical “facts.” Our perspectives have evolved but reading this episode as a historical metaphor can still lead to deep spiritual reflection. I hope you will find your own connection with the Exodus story during Passover!
The central ritual of Pesach is the Seder (SAY-der), a carefully choreographed ritual meal that takes place on the eve of Passover at home with family and friends or with the community. It is both a sumptuous feast as well as an educational experience for children and adults alike. The Seder begins by reading the Haggadah (Ha-ga-DAH), a 2000-year-old book which retells the story of the Exodus from Egypt in detail. Children sing “The Four Questions” (Mah Nishtanah in Hebrew) which introduce the telling of the story.
An essential part of the Seder is eating ritual foods symbolic of the journey from slavery to freedom:
The Haggadah instructs us that “each person is to experience the exodus from Egypt personally, as if we ourselves have been freed from Egypt.” The Hebrew word for “Egypt” literally means “the narrow, constricted place.” At the Seder we might contemplate where in our own lives we feel constriction, where we feel stuck, and how we might move into spaciousness and freedom.
During the eight days of Passover, it is customary not to eat, or even possess, any food that may contain leaven (Ha-MAYTZ in Hebrew). Chametz (also spelled “hametz” or “chometz“) is any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt that has come into contact with water and been allowed to ferment and “rise.”
In practice, just about anything made from these grains—other than Passover matzah, which is carefully controlled to avoid leavening—is to be considered chametz. This includes flour (even before it is mixed with water), cake, cookies, pasta, breads, and items that have chametz as an ingredient, like malt.
Observant Jews clean their homes thoroughly in the days before Passover in order to remove any leavened food from everyday pots, pans, and dishes. Some people vacuum their cars, wash their tablecloths, and take the opportunity to deep-clean the house! Jews of many observance or religiosity levels will eat matzah on Passover instead of bread.
The story of the Israelites’ Exodus from slavery is the foundation of Jewish ethics. The Torah (Jewish Bible) insists no less than 36 times we are obligated to protect the powerless, as we empathize with their experience as we were slaves in Egypt. We are to create societies based on the principles of justice, righteousness and compassion. Throughout the generations, the story of the Exodus has encouraged secular and religious Jews alike to commit to bringing more justice into the world.
The Seder is a wonderful opportunity for families of any faith, culture, or ethnicity, to reconnect to their personal stories and values.
Bring the Seder to Your Home:
Passover brings extra stringencies around what food is present in a Jewish space. Tradition dictates that a Jewish person should not consume, derive benefit from, or even see chametz (leavened wheat products) during the Passover holiday. During the seven-day, eight-night celebration of Passover, bread and other leavened products such as crackers, cakes, and cereals may not be brought onsite for either public or private consumption. Following the Sephardic and now Conservative and Reform movements’ traditions, we do permit the eating of kitniyot (rice and legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, carob, soybeans, peanuts, etc.) in the building.
As we observe Passover, which continues through sunset April 13, please note the foods that can and cannot be on campus during this time.
Examples of items that can be on campus:
Examples of items that cannot be on campus: