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Passover - What It Is

To many people Passover is that Jewish holiday that occurs around the same time as Easter and you can't eat bread. However, it's much more than that.

If you remember the movie, The Ten Commandments, you know that Moses asked the Pharaoh to release the Jewish people from slavery. Pharaoh refused. In return, God sent plagues into Egypt.

It was the last, and most fierce plague, the slaying of the first born, that finally made the Pharaoh capitulate, and allow the Jewish people to leave Egypt.

The Jews were spared from the last plague by spreading lamb's blood on their front doors, thereby identifying the house as a Jewish house, and the plague "PASSED OVER" the houses of the Jewish slaves. The ten plagues are:

  1. Blood
  2. Frogs
  3. Vermin
  4. Beasts
  5. Cattle Disease
  6. Boils
  7. Hail
  8. Locusts
  9. Darkness
  10. Slaying of First Born
Each year, to celebrate being freed from slavery, Jewish families gather in their homes to celebrate with a special meal called a Seder that begins the holiday with prayer, food and song. Each person has a Haggadah, a special Pesach prayer book, from which to read the service.

Because Passover is celebrated in the home, it becomes a family reunion with grand parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends all gathered around a large table. While there is one person leading the Seder service, everyone gets involved as they read aloud a section of the service.

The table is decorated with special table cloths, flowers, candles and the good china and silverware is used. In the middle of the table is a seder plate with symbols of the holiday, these include maror (bitter herbs), zeroah (a roasted shank bone), karpas (a vegetable), beitzah (a roasted egg), and haroset (a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine. There is also wine and a plate of three matzot.

During the service, the youngest child asks the Mah Nishtanah (Four Questions).

The first question: Why does this night differ from all other nights? For on all other nights we eat either leavened or unleavened bread; why on this night only unleavened bread?

The answer: To remind us of the Exodus when our ancestors didn't have the time to bake their bread, and baked it in the hot desert until it was hard. No time to allow the yeast to rise either, so it was flat.

The second question: On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs; why on this night only bitter herbs?

The answer: To remind us of the bitter, cruel way our ancestors were treated in slavery.

The third question: On all other nights we need not dip our herbs even once; why on this night must we dip them twice?

The answer: We dip our food into Haroset (a mixture of apples, wine and nuts) to remind us of the hard work our forebears did while building the Pharoh's buildings. The mixture resembles mortar.

And we dip our greens (reminder of spring) into salt water, to remind us of the tears that were shed by the Jewish slaves.

The fourth question: On all other nights we eat either sitting up or reclining; why on this night do we all recline?

The answer: To be comfortable, and to remind us that once we were slaves, and now we are free.

The Seder is in remembrance to the hardships our ancestors faced in slavery, and has been celebrated ever since they were free from the slavery.

By Jim Evans

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