What is Passover?
Three thousand five hundred years ago, the ancient Hebrews (the ancestors of today's Jewish People) were liberated from slavery after having served their cruel Egyptian masters for two hundred ten years. The Torah tells us that G-d freed them with tremendous wonders and miracles. Every year the Jewish people commemorate this monumental historic event through the celebration of the Passover holiday. In Israel, Passover is celebrated for seven days and in the Diaspora, Passover lasts for eight days. Through the words of the Torah, G-d has given the Jewish People several mitzvoth (commandments) to enhance the significance and holiness of the yearly occasion. The primary ones that are most important to mention are the mitzvah to eat matzah and maror (bitter herbs), the prohibition to eat chametz (unleavened bread or other baked goods), and to tell the story in detail to our children. These mitzvoth, and others as well, are incorporated into the Passover Seder.
The Passover Seder
On the first night in Israel and first two nights in the Diaspora, Jews all over the world hold a ritual banquet call a Seder. During this joyful and meaningful meal, many mitzvoth are performed to help the participants to re-experience the wonder and joy of that night 3,500 years ago when the Egyptian Pharoah was forced by G-d to let the Hebrews go free. The Rabbis of the Talmud set down a specific order (i.e. Seder) of procedures to follow which have been written down and preserved in a ritual "instruction manual" called a Haggadah. During the Seder the Haggadah is read and discussed into the late hours of the night, its instructions meticulously followed. Special attention is given to the children at the table and the table itself is beautifully set with special dishes and tablecloth. We drink four cups of wine to remind us of the four ways G-d saved us from Egyptian slavery and we eat special food to help us feel both the burden of servitude and the joy of liberation: Matzah to remind us of both; maror (bitter herbs, usually horseradish or romaine lettuce) to bring back to us the bitterness of slavery; karpas (parsley or boiled potato) dipped into salt water to remind us of the tears our ancestors shed; charoses (a unique Passover dip made of chopped apples, nuts, and wine) to remind us of the mortar used to make the bricks we made to build Pharoah's cities; and hard boiled eggs to represent the special holiday sacrifice that was made in the Holy Temple (just like eggs get harder as they are boiled, so we Jews get tougher as oppression and struggle for survival continue from generation to generation).
The Haggadah is a two thousand year old instruction manual that tells us specifically how we are to celebrate the Seder. With an eye to making sure that children feel included in the proceedings, several customs have developed to keep their attention. Toward the beginning of the evening, the children (from youngest to oldest) ask four questions regarding all the unique activities of the evening. This is followed by a detailed telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, many discussions, lots of singing and lots of eating, particularly special foods that are distinctive to Passover. In addition to the special foods that are eaten, four cups of wine are drunk over the course of the evening.
The Seder Plate:
One of several ritual objects used during the Seder meal, the Seder Plate, depending on family custom, is either placed in front of the leader of the evening's proceedings (usually the father or grandfather of the host family) or in front of every male participant. The plate is designed to hold the six ceremonial foods that we are bidden to eat during the Seder. Over the centuries, the Seder Plate has become the object of great artistic design. At Judaica Mall some of Israel's leading artists and craftsmen have lent their talents to creating some of the most beautiful Seder Plates ever made.
When Pharoah was finally forced to free the Hebrews from enslavement, the moment of freedom came suddenly and the Hebrews were forced to flee with very little preparation. The dough for bread hadn't had time to rise and was baked by the sun as it was being carried out on the backs of the fleeing Hebrew slaves. The result was matzah. To facilitate our re-experiencing of that ancient flight to freedom G-d gave us the mitzvah to eat only unleavened baked goods during Passover. During the Seder we are obligated to eat Matzah three times. Matzah more than any other mitzvah associated with Passover symbolizes the essence of the holiday. In order to beautify this deeply meaningful commandment, specially designed covers and plates have developed over the thousands of years that Jews have celebrated Passover. At Judaica Mall we offer a full range of beautifully hand woven and hand embroidered matzah covers. Beautify your Seder with an original matzah cover from Judaica Mall.
Four Cups of Wine and The Cup of Elijah:
In the Torah there are four different phrases used to describe how G-d saved the Hebrews from Egypt. Taken from two verses in the book of Exodus (6:6-7), they were the rabbinic basis for establishing the obligation to drink four cups of wine. Wine was considered the drink of free people and as such it is drunk during the Seder while leaning to the left. The four terms are I will take you out, I will rescue you from…, I will redeem you…, and I will take you to Me. A fifth description of the liberation process, I will bring you to… was disputed by the rabbis as to whether it was to be considered a basis for a fifth cup and was left to be decided by Elijah the Prophet when he would come someday to announce the arrival of the messiah. Thus was born the tradition to leave out a fifth cup of wine for Elijah the Prophet which he will drink when he comes to make his momentous announcement.