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CULTURE & HERITAGE - Culture & History

PESSAH

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Chagall


Passover is a Jewish holiday and festival. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.

Exodus 13:3: “And Moses said unto the people, remember this day, in which ye came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage....”

Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, which is in spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and is celebrated for seven or eight days. It is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays.

Exodus:12, 3 “They shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers....

In the narrative of the Exodus, the Bible tells that God helped the Children of Israel escape slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the Egyptians before the Pharaoh would release his Israelite slaves; the tenth and worst of the plagues was the death of the Egyptian first-born. The Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over the first-borns in these homes, hence the name of the holiday. When the Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise (leaven). In commemoration, for the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason it is called "The Festival of the Unleavened Bread" Matzo (flat unleavened bread) is a symbol of the holiday.

Exodus: 13, 7 “Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days”.

Removing all chametz

Traditionally, Jews do a formal search for remaining leaven (Hebrew chametz, as in bedikat chametz) after nightfall on the evening before Passover.

Passover seder

It is traditional for Jewish families to gather on the first night of Passover (first two nights in communities outside the land of Israel) for a special dinner called a seder (סדר—derived from the Hebrew word for "order", referring to the very specific order of the ritual). The table is set with the finest china and silverware to reflect the importance of the meal. During this meal, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special text called the Haggadah. Four cups of wine are consumed at various stages in the narrative.
 
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Participation of children

The four questions
Children have a very important role in the Passover seder. Traditionally the youngest child is prompted to ask questions about the Passover seder, beginning with the words, Mah Nishtana HaLeila HaZeh (Why is this night different from all other nights?). The questions encourage the gathering

Afikoman
The afikoman — an integral part of the Seder itself — is used to engage the interest and excitement of the children at the table. During the fourth part of the Seder, called Yachatz, the leader breaks the middle piece of matzo into two. He sets aside the larger portion as the afikoman. The children are allowed to "steal" the afikoman and demand a reward for its return.

Concluding songs

"Next year in Jerusalem!" is followed by several lyric prayers that expound upon God's mercy and kindness, and give thanks for the survival of the Jewish people through a history of exile and hardship. "Echad Mi Yodea" is a playful song, testing the general knowledge of the children. Some of these songs, such as "Chad Gadiyah" are allegorical.

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14th century Haggadah