Passover symbolically commemorates the story of how the Jewish People escaped slavery in Egypt. The story goes: around 1300 BC, God sent a prophet (Moses) to tell the Pharaoh to free the Jewish slaves in Egypt. The Pharaoh refused, so God sent 10 plagues to afflict the Pharaoh’s people.
The last of these plagues was that the first-born child from each Egyptian house would die. Moses instructed the Jewish slaves to specially mark their doors with lamb’s blood, so that this most horrible plague would ‘pass over’ their homes. This is where the name “Passover” comes from.
In response to his people’s suffering, the Pharaoh let the Jewish refugees leave, but soon changed his mind. They still ended up fleeing, on short time, with the help of Moses, who later is said to have received the Ten Commandments from God. You might’ve seen the story in the classic Cecil B. DeMille film, The Ten Commandments.
“Chag Sameach!” — Happy Festival Day! This is the general Hebrew Passover greeting, also used for other holidays. You can add ‘Pesach’ in the middle of the phrase to get Passover-specific.
With a throat CH: “chag sahm-AY-ahck”
Pesach – Hebrew for “Passover.” The holiday usually falls around the same time of Spring as Easter, in the Christian faith.
Seder – the main event of Passover. A feast in which special foods and rituals help remember one of the most impactful times in Jewish history. Some say that the Last Supper in Christian lore was, incidentally, a Passover seder.
Exodus — when someone refers to Exodus or ‘the Exodus,’ they’re either referring to when the Jewish people were forced to leave Egypt, or to the book in the Bible that tells this story. The passover celebration uses symbolism to memorialize and honor the hardship, pain, and growth related to this historical event.
Items Used in the Passover Feast
The Haggadah — the book that walks everyone through the steps of the celebration.
The Afikomen — at seders with kids, parents hide a piece of unleavened bread, matzah, somewhere in the house. It’s called the Afikomen, and whomever finds it after dinner gets a prize! (usually money)
Eliyahu’s Cup — a cup of wine that nobody touches, symbolically offered to the religious figure Eliyahu, or Elijah. It’s a bit of a longer story, but in a broad sense, it’s like leaving out cookies for Santa Claus.
“ell-ee-YAH-hoo,” or just “Elijah”
The Seder Plate — holds the most important symbolic foods.
Wine — if you haven’t celebrated Passover yet, get excited! Wine is the center of a Passover seder, with one cup being drunk at each major part of the celebration. Four cups in total!
Matzah — bread made without yeast. When leaving Egypt, there wasn’t even enough time to let existing bread dough rise. So the Jewish refugees ate only flat, unleavened bread. We make the same symbolic sacrifice during a seder.
Lamb Shank — a lamb leg or other bone is included on the seder plate, to commemorate the lamb’s blood used to mark Jewish homes and save first-born sons from being killed in God’s ‘pass’ over Egypt.
Egg — the reasons we include eggs in a seder are a little more dubious and up for debate. It could be partially in rebellion to the ancient Egyptians’ avoidance of eating eggs.
Maror — the word means ‘bitter herbs,’ but it refers to the bitter greens and horseradish eaten at the seder. Bitter food symbolizes the bitter journey of leaving one’s homeland, and the sacrifices made by those fleeing Egypt.
Karpas — usually curly parsley, sometimes other fresh vegetables. Each person at the seder dips a piece into salt water before eating it, to symbolize the tears shed during Exodus.
Charoset/Haroseth — usually made with fruit (apples), nuts (walnuts), and wine. The pasty texture, on a piece of matzah, represents the bricks and mortar the Jewish slaves toiled over.
with a throat CH: “cha-ROH-set”
A Communal Experience
Passover is best celebrated with multiple people, to share the food and allow for conversation. If you’re not attending a Seder this year, but still need some holiday connection, try visiting Supportiv. You’ll be matched with like-minded peers in the same boat – so you don’t have to spend the night alone.
Supportiv does not offer advice, diagnosis, treatment or crisis counseling. Peer support is not a replacement for therapy.
Please consult with a doctor or licensed counselor for professional mental health assistance.
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