PASSOVER : A LOVE STORY
The special love relationship, which the Jewish people share with G-d, was forged on this night of Passover, the night of leaving Egypt.
The Hebrew word Pesach means "Skipping over,
Rather than "Passing over" as it is commonly translated.
A deeper meaning for this term becomes evident from this Midrash :
The Voice of my Beloved,
Here it comes skipping over the mountains,
Jumping over the hills.
(Song of Songs 2:8)
When Moses came to the Jewish people and said, "This month you will be redeemed," they said to him, "How can we leave when all of Egypt is filled with our idol-worship?" Moses answered, "Since G-d desires to redeem you, He will not look at your idol worship. Rather, He is skipping over the mountains."They said to him, "How can we be redeemed when only 210 years have passed out of the 400 years of the decree of slavery?" He said, "Since God desires to redeem you He will not look at your calculations. Rather, He is skipping over the mountains." (Midrash Shir Hashirim Raba 2)
On this night, the natural order of things was reversed. Instead of the Jewish people calling out to G-d to redeem them, G-d came to them at a time when they were least prepared, when they were at their lowest spiritual low, when they were completely undeserving of a change of fate.
Yet, it is at this Juncture that G-d tells Moses:
"Israel is my Firstborn."
G-d, our Father, relates to us as His children. A father doesn't wait for his children to deserve to be saved from the lion's den.
This is the founding element of our entry into nationhood, the loving unconditional relationship between G-d and His people. G-d skipped over our deeds, like an infatuated lover who overlooks his beloved's faults. "Love covers all crimes." (Proverbs 10:12)
THE LOVE STORY BEGINS HERE
The holiday of Passover provides us with the initial jumpstart to the Jewish calendar. G-d initiates the relationship -- one-sided and unconditional at first -- with the fledgling Jewish nation. His love gives us the security and the strength we need to respond in kind and to take the responsibility at Mount Sinai.
This explains why we read the "Song of Songs" -- that ultimate love story -- on Shabbat during Passover. It also explains an interesting point regarding the names of the holidays.
We call this holiday Pesach to remember the "passing over" of G-d of the Jewish homes during the last plague. Whereas in the Torah, this name isn't mentioned. Instead, God calls it the "Holiday of Matzot" to remember our willingness to leave Egypt in such haste, putting aside our concerns about our dough and instead trusting in G-d.
Each of us -- G-d and Israel -- appreciates and chooses to remember the other's kindness and contribution to the relationship.
Love, trust and appreciation are the main ingredients of any close relationship, be it between husband and wife, between parent and child, or between two friends. Here, through the story of Passover, the foundation is set for our unique relationship with G-d –- not a relationship of servant to master, subject to king, but a relationship of lover and beloved.
IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN
Again, this year we will experience the first night of Passover, which is called Leil Shimurim –- the night of G-d's watching.This is the point in time when, again, G-d desires our redemption and demands nothing in return. It is an opportunity to feel G-d's loving presence, as He envelops us in a secure cocoon, protecting us from any danger. Let's allow ourselves to trust Him in return and take the risks involved in love and commitment.
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SOURCE : TORAH FOR TOTS
The Yom Tov (holiday) of Pesach last for eight days. This year (2001), Pesach starts at sundown, Motzei Shabbat, Saturday, April 7th, and ends Sunday evening, April 15th.
The first two and last two days of the Yom Tov, are days on which no work is permitted. Work is permitted on the intermediate days, days 3 thru 6. These intermediate days on which work is permitted are referred to as Chol Ha-Mo'ed.
In Eretz Yisroel, The Yom Tov of Pesach last for seven days. The first and last days of the Yom Tov, are days on which no work is permitted. Work is permitted on Chol Ha-Mo'ed (the Intermediate days), - days 2 thru 6.
THE ABC'S OF PASSOVER
Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is also known as the "holiday of freedom," because it commemorates the Jewish Exodus from Egypt following 210 years of slavery. Passover is regarded as the official "birth" of the Jewish nation, and its lessons of struggle and identity continue to form the basis of Jewish consciousness 3,300 years after the event.
The Exodus was essentially an account of Moses' prodding Pharaoh to "let my people go -- in order that we may serve the Almighty." It took a lot of convincing -- Ten Plagues in all -- but eventually the Jews walked out of Egypt in broad daylight. Seven days later, the Red Sea split, drowning the Egyptian army. Then, 50 days after the Exodus, the entire Jewish nation stood at Mount Sinai to experience divine revelation and receive the Torah.
Passover is an eight-day holiday (in Israel, seven days). It is marked by the eating of matzah, unleavened bread, and by the celebration of an elaborate Seder on the first two nights (in Israel, on the first night only).
The Seder is designed to give each Jew the experience of "going from slavery unto freedom." The seder includes telling the Exodus story as recorded in the Haggadah, eating of "slavery symbols" like bitter herbs (Marror), recounting the Ten Plagues, and drinking four cups of wine -- which correspond to the four stages of redemption as recorded in the Biblical book of Exodus. The Seder is highlighted by eating matzah as part of a festive meal.
The name "Passover" derives from the fact that during the final
plague, God passed through the land and smote every firstborn Egyptian -- but
made sure to "pass over" the Jewish houses.
ALL ABOUT MATZAH
During the entire week of Passover, Jews are forbidden to eat or possess any chametz -- leavened grain. For this reason, we dispose of (or sell) all our bread, cookies, pasta, beer, etc. -- and purchase only products that are labeled "kosher for Passover." To avoid any problems of residual chametz, Jews also have special sets of dishes and pots for Passover.
Matzah is the main staple of the Passover week. The Bible gives two reasons for eating matzah. The most commonly-known is that on the morning of the Exodus, the Jews were so rushed in getting out of Egypt that the bread didn't have time to rise -- hence they ate it unleavened.
In addition, the Bible (Exodus 12:8) states that the Jews also ate matzah the night before the Exodus -- at that first Passover Seder. That is because chametz is puffed up and represents arrogance; matzah is simple and humble. To come close to the Almighty, which is the ultimate pleasure in life, one must remove his own personal arrogance. Thus we remove chametz from our homes, and likewise work on the character trait of humility.
On the evening before Passover, there is a careful search of the home for
chametz. It is done by candle light and is a memorable experience for the whole
family. Any remaining chametz is either burned the next morning (in a ceremony
called Sray'fat Chametz), or is sold to a non-Jew for the week of Passover. The
sale must be serious and legally-binding, and therefore should be done only
through the assistance of a qualified rabbi. Any food that is sold must be put
in a closed cabinet and taped shut.
What is the Omer?
Literally, the Hebrew word 'Omer' refers to an agricultural measure used in the Bible (sometimes translated as a "sheaf). When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, an Omer of wheat was brought as a "wave offering," to be waved in the six directions over the altar, by the Holy Priest, on the second day of Passover. This waving in the six directions was in recognition of Him to Whom the whole world belongs, G-d.
Although we commonly speak of "counting the Omer," the Omer itself was not what was actually counted. The "counting" referred to a seven week period which starts on the day the Omer offering was brought to the Temple. According to the Torah, the people were commanded by G-d to count seven weeks, 49 days, from the second day of Passover to the day before the festival of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. On Shavuot, the 50th day, the "first fruits" from the fields and vineyards were brought in joyous procession to the Temple in Jerusalem. So Shavuot also became known as the "Feast of First Fruits."
After the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, it was no
longer possible to bring the "first fruit" offerings, so the literal
Omer offering, the measure of wheat, could not be offered as a sacrifice.
However, the Torah commandment to count the 49 days of the Omer remained, along
with the Festival of Shavuot itself on the 50th day, which was to be kept
"in all your dwelling places, throughout the generations."The counting
of the 49 days from Passover to Shavuot continued even without the Temple. But
the focus of Shavuot shifted from celebrating the agricultural "Festival of
First Fruits" toward commemorating the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai,
which also took place on Shavuot.
Who Should Count The Omer ?
According to Jewish Law, all male Jews 13 years old or over are required to count the Omer. Technically, women are not required to count, because they are exempt from commandments that must be performed at a specific time. However, many women do count the Omer if they want to, as well as under aged Children who are also technically exempt.
When To Count The Omer
The first day of the Omer period always falls on the second day of Passover.
Jewish Days always begin and end at Sundown. So, if Monday is the "second
day" of Passover, as it is this year, you would start counting Sunday
night. This same principle holds true for all the 49 days, you count on the
night before the "day." Counting should be done at night, any time
between sundown and the following dawn, If you forget to count in the evening,
but remember the following morning, you can still count, but should skip the
blessing before the count. You can then resume with the blessing on the
following night. If you miss a day entirely, you do not count on either the
evening or the following daytime, then you count all the rest of the days
without the blessing. The reason for this, is that the counting of the Omer is a
single 49 day process, so missing a day entirely interrupts the whole mitzvah.
But you may still continue counting without saying the blessing.
33rd Day of Counting
It was during a 33 day period of the Omer counting that many thousands of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva died of a plague, or the plague of persecution by the Romans for teaching Torah. In memory of this tragedy, the first 33 days of the Omer counting are a time of semi mourning. No weddings are performed then, no haircuts are taken, and festivities are generally avoided. These restrictions are lifted on Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, when it is said the plague stopped. Therefor the day was one of joy and happiness. Another reason given for this special day is, that it is the Yahrzeit of the great Tana Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Especially in the land of Israel, at Meron, the grave site of Rabbi Shimon, has become a place where tens of thousands of people gather to commemorate and pray on this day.
There are many Jewish calendars available for the counting of the Omer. If you cannot find one that you are comfortable with, there are a number of good versions that can be downloaded from the Internet.
'May your counting to the Festival of Shavuot, the day we received our
beautiful Torah from G-d, be one of great expectation and inspiration.'
Searching for Chametz (Leaven)
SOURCE : OHR
It is prohibited by Torah law to own chametz (leaven) on Pesach. Therefore we search and destroy chametz before Pesach. In most homes the process of cleaning begins weeks before Pesach. The house is scoured from top to bottom to remove all traces of chametz.
Bedikat chametz is done the night before Pesach, Nissan 14 immediately after nightfall. If it is too difficult to search the whole house on one night the search can be started earlier according to the laws of bedikat chametz. However, the blessing is only said on the night of the 14th.
Before the search the blessing of 'al biur chametz' is recited as found in the Haggadah or Siddur. From the time the blessing is said until the after the search one should not say anything not relevant to the search.
When there is more than one building to search, one blessing suffices. One person says the blessing for all the searchers, they listen to the blessing and say "amen." Then they split up and search the different buildings.
Any chametz not found during the search is declared null and ownerless (hefker): "All chametz, leaven and leavened bread, that is in my possession which I have not seen, removed or is unknown to me, should be annulled and considered ownerless like the dust of the earth." This declaration is traditionally said in Aramaic as found in the Haggadah or Siddur. However, one who doesn't understand Aramaic must say it in a language he understands.
The search should be conducted by the light of a candle, in order to look in all the nooks and crannies. If the candle might cause damage, such as a carpeted area, one may use a flashlight.
It is preferable that the owner of the property conduct the search himself. Nevertheless, he may appoint someone else to search on his behalf. Any place chametz might have been put during the year must be searched. Therefore, one must also check one's pockets.
There is a custom that ten pieces of chametz are "planted" in the rooms to be searched. If you hide ten and find nine, just keep searching! The ten pieces remind us of the ten plagues.
NULLIFICATION AND BURNING
The following morning, it is forbidden to eat chametz after the fourth hour. One may continue to derive other benefit from the chametz until the end of the fifth hour. Before this time, the chametz must be burned and again nullified. Since the times vary from city to city, an Orthodox rabbi should be consulted for the exact times in your area.
The second nullification is: "All chametz, leaven and leavened bread, that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, should be annulled and considered ownerless like the dust of the earth."
Chametz is symbolic of the "evil inclination"
Which we "Seek and Destroy."
The following instructions are by no means a complete halachic guide for Pesach. A Rabbi should be consulted for any questions and doubts that arise, and refer to the many books available that present the halachot in detail. The following instructions are based on classes given by Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita.
1.All places or articles into which chametz (leavened grain products, eg. bread, crackers, cake) is usually brought during the year must be cleansed and checked for chametz before the evening preceding the seder. The search for chametz (details of which can be found in the Haggadah) is started at nightfall on the evening preceding the seder.
2.Any article or place which is not used on Pesach, which is closed up and sold, does not need to be checked for chametz.
3.Chametz which has been rendered inedible (even to an animal) by being soaked in a foul-tasting liquid such as detergent, "Draino", bleach or ammonia is not considered chametz.
4.There is no obligation to check and destroy chametz that is less than the size of an olive (approx. 30 grams) and is so dirty that a person would not eat it.
5.Surfaces, closets and cracks where it is possible that chametz has entered should be washed, ensuring that detergent enters all cracks and crevices.
6.Kashering for Pesach is done in the same way as during the year
7.It is customary to also cover any surfaces that have been kashered and that will be used for food, or for utensils on Pesach; eg. tables, countertops, cabinets and stovetops, with plastic, linoleum or aluminium foil.
8.Any chametz that will not be consumed or destroyed before Pesach, must be sold to a Gentile
before the time of prohibition of chametz (the time of the prohibition is printed in Jewish calendars and newspapers) for all of Pesach. The transaction should be performed by a Rabbi, since the laws are complex and a contract is necessary. The chametz that has been sold must be stored away until after Pesach.
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CONDUCTING THE SEDER
SOURCE : TORAH.ORG
1. The Seder table should already be set before nightfall, with the seder plate, matzot, cups etc.
2.The seder plate should contain - starting from top left (NE) going clockwise - an egg lightly roasted, a piece of meat (chicken also OK), charoset (usually made of grated apple, ground walnuts, cinnamon, red wine and dates), chazeret (a vegetable), karpas (potato, parsley etc.) and in the middle maror (the bitter herb - horseradish or romaine lettuce). A bowl of salt water should be placed on the table but not on the plate.
3.Three whole matzot shmura should be placed under or in front of the plate. They should be covered and separated from each other by a napkin or cloth. Matzot shmura are matzot that were made for the sake of the mitzvah and from wheat that was protected from moisture from the time of its harvest. They are the matzot that one should use for the commandments of the seder.
4.Seats should be equipped with cushions, so that the participants can lean on their left sides while eating and reciting the Haggadah (except for eating of the maror) to imitate freemen and nobility.
5.Everyone should have a cup that holds at least 86 cc. And there should be enough wine to fill four cups for each person at the seder. Red wine is preferable but white wine may also be used. Children and pregnant women or people who for health reasons cannot drink wine, may fulfill the obligation with grape juice (preferably, with a little wine mixed in). The cups should be filled to the brim for each of the four cups of wine.
6.Kiddush is recited by the person conducting the seder while holding the cup in his right hand. The participants should listen to his words, keep in mind that they are fulfilling their obligation through his recitation, and say amen when he finishes each blessing. Everyone then drinks the majority of their cup while leaning to their left. (Try to finish the drink in two gulps)
7.Everyone then washes their hands. Water is poured from a cup, twice on the right hand and twice on the left, no blessing is recited.
8.The karpas (celery, parsley, boiled potato) is then dipped in the salt water and eaten, after reciting the blessing "borei pri ha'adama" as printed in the Haggadah.
9.The middle matzah is broken into two. The larger part is set aside for the Afikoman which is eaten later, and the smaller part is kept with the other two matzot. It is customary for small children to "steal" the Afikoman and hide it. After the meal the father "buys" it back with offers of gifts (preferably something of a Jewish theme).
10.The matzot are uncovered and lifted up and the person conducting the seder recites with everyone else, "Ha lachma anya." The second cup of wine is filled, the seder plate is removed (to arouse children's curiosity) and the Haggadah begins. The youngest present, and often all the children, now ask the four questions, "mah nishtanah." The rest of the Haggadah is read, sung and explained. It is the obligation of the parents to explain the Haggadah to their children and to each other. Indeed every person is obligated to delve into, and explain and relate the story of the Exodus to others and to themselves to the best of their ability.
11.When "vehi she'amdah" is recited the cups of wine should be raised. When the plagues are recounted we tip a little wine out of the cups, and afterwards fill them to the brim. Likewise, when the Hallel is begun ("lefikach"), the cup should be raised, and when the blessing is reached, everyone (or just the leader with others responding amen) says the blessing over wine and the second cup is drunk. (Also while leaning.)
12.Wash hands as before, but this time a blessing is recited ("al netilat yadaim"). One should not speak from the time the hands are washed until after the matzah is eaten.
13.The leader holds all three matzot, and recites the blessing over bread ("hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz"), he then drops the bottom matzah and recites the blessing over eating matzah ("al achilat matzah"). He then distributes a small piece of each of the top two matzot to the participants (who supplement their portion from other matzah shmurah on the table.) Everyone now eats, while leaning on the left side. One should eat about 2/3 of a square machine-made matzah, or a little less than half of a round hand-made matzah. Try to eat this amount within about 3 minutes.
14.The blessing ("al achilat maror") is then recited on the maror (grated, raw horseradish or romaine lettuce). The maror is dipped into the charoset, then shaken off and eaten (not leaning). One should eat about 27cc of maror, (about two leaves of romaine lettuce). Be sure to clean and check the lettuce carefully before the seder to ensure that there are no insects on the leaves.
15.A sandwich is made, using a little of the bottom matzah (add from the table's supply if necessary) and maror. One should eat about the same amount of maror as before (no. 14; a little less is OK) and about half the amount of matzah as before (no. 13). No blessing is recited but the paragraph, "zecher
lemikdash keHillel" is recited beforehand.
16.The meal is now eaten. Many people have a custom to eat boiled eggs dipped in salt water. One should take care not to overeat at the meal, as one must leave room for two more cups of wine, and the matzah of the Afikoman. Roasted meat should not be served at the meal, so as not to appear as though we are bringing the Paschal sacrifice outside the Temple. The meal should be eaten while leaning, and one should discuss the Haggadah during the meal as well.
17.At the end of the meal, the Afikoman is eaten, while leaning. No blessing is made. One should eat the same amount of matzah as in no. 13, although if this is difficult, one may eat half that amount. Nothing should be eaten or drunk after the Afikoman except for water.
18."Elijah's" cup is filled and the third cups are filled at this time. The Grace After Meals is recited while holding the cup of wine (until "al yechasrenu" is said). Don't forget to insert the appropriate prayer for Pesach ("ya'aleh veyavoh"). After the Grace (birkat hamazon) the cup of wine is lifted, the blessing over wine is said, and the majority of the cup is drunk, while leaning. The fourth and final cup is filled, the door is opened, and "shfoch chamatcha" is said.
19.The door is closed and the rest of Hallel is sung or recited. At the end of Hallel, the participants say the blessing over wine, and drink the last cup. Then the blessing after wine is recited.
20.The concluding prayer is recited, "Next Year in Jerusalem" is sung, and the Seder
isconcluded with the singing of the traditional songs (echad mi yodea, chad
gadya, adir hu, etc.).
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ORDER OF THE SEDER SERVICE
General Note: The Wine, Karpas, Matzah and Maror obligations
mentioned here apply equally to all Seder participants.
Kadesh - the Benediction
The Four Cups of Wine
Wine is used because it is a symbol of joy and happiness.
Why We Recline
Urchatz - Purification
The next step in the Seder, Karpas, requires dipping food into water, which in turn mandates, according to Jewish law, that either the food be eaten with a utensil or that one's hands be purified by washing. On the Seder eve we choose the less common observance to arouse the child's curiosity.
Karpas - the "Appetizer"
A small piece of onion or boiled potato is dipped into salt water and eaten (after reciting the blessing over vegetables).
Dipping the Karpas in salt water is an act of pleasure and freedom, which further arouses the child's curiosity.
The Hebrew word "Karpas," when read backwards, alludes to the backbreaking labor performed by the 600,000 Jews in Egypt. [Samech has the numerical equivalent of 60 (60 times 10,000), while the last three Hebrew letters spell "perech," hard work.]
The Salt water represents the Tears of our ancestors in Egypt.
The middle Matzah on the Seder plate is broken in two. The larger part is put aside for later use as the Afikomen. This unusual action not only attracts the child's attention once again, but also recalls G-d's splitting of the Sea of Reeds to allow the Children of Israel to cross on dry land. The smaller part of the middle Matzah is returned to the Seder plate. This broken middle Matzah symbolizes humility and will be eaten later as the "bread of poverty."
Maggid - the Haggadah
The child's questioning triggers one of the most significant mitzvot of Passover, which is the highlight of the Seder ceremony: the Haggadah, telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Theanswer includes a brief review of history, a description of the suffering imposed upon the Israelites, a listing of the plagues visited on the Egyptians, and an enumeration of the miracles performed by the Al-mighty for the redemption of His people.
Rachtzah - Washing Before the Meal
Eating the Matzah
Taking hold of the three Matzot (with the broken one in between the two whole ones), recite the customary blessing before bread. Then, letting the bottom Matzah drop back onto the plate, and holding the top whole Matzah with the broken middle one, recite the special blessing "Al achilat Matzah." Then break at least one ounce from each Matzah and eat the two pieces together, while reclining.
Morror - the Bitter Herbs
Korech - the Sandwich
Shulchan Aruch - the Feast
A Rabbi was once asked why Jews eat eggs on Passover. "Because eggs symbolize the Jew," the Rabbi answered. "The more an egg is burned or boiled, the harder it gets."
Tzofun - Out of Hiding
Everyone should eat at least 1? ounces of Matzah, reclining, before midnight. After the Afikomen, we do not eat or drink anything except for the two remaining cups of wine.
Bairach - Blessings After the Meal
Now we fill the cup of Elijah and our own cups with wine. We open the door and recite the passage which symbolizes an invitation to the Prophet Elijah, the harbinger of the coming of Moshiach, our righteous Messiah.
Hallel - Songs of Praise
After reciting the Hallel, we again recite the blessing over wine and drink the fourth cup, reclining.
Nirtzah - Acceptance
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THE "AFIKOMAN" IN
THE PASSOVER SEDER
Is there any indication that the AFIKOMAN may
have existed before the Temple was destroyed?
At the end of the Pesach Seder we eat some matzah.
This is called the afikoman, which means "dessert."
Ever since the Romans destroyed our Temple about two millennia ago, we do not offer sacrifices. So we eat matzah in place of the Pascal Lamb as a commemoration.
One of the reasons offered as to why it was replaced with matzah is that matzah represents the food of oppression. In a spiritual sense, until the Jewish People are once more able to offer up sacrifices in the rebuilt Temple we are in a state of oppression. That's the reason why the afikoman is broken in half, to teach us that we have yet to become "whole."
This is also one reason that we end the Seder with the phrase "Next year in Jerusalem." Why? Because our Seder is incomplete so long as it is missing those special mitzvot such as the Pascal lamb that can only be performed in the Temple in Jerusalem.
THE 4 QUESTIONS
The seder is a way for each participant to relive the Exodus as a personal spiritual event. The seder is of a religious nature with a carefully prescribed ritual that makes the dinner quite unlike family dinners held on civil holidays.
The Ritual is laid out in the Haggadah, a book that is followed during the Seder.
The head of the family begins the ceremony by sanctifying the holiday with a benediction (Kiddish) over a cup of wine. In all, four cups of wine (arba' kosot) will be drunk at certain intervals. After all have washed their hands, the master of the seder presents celery or another raw vegetable (karpas) dipped in vinegar or salt water to all participants. Then a shank bone, symbolic of the Paschal lamb eaten in ancient times, and (commonly) a hard-boiled egg, symbolic of God's loving kindness (or, according to some, a mournful reminder of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem), are removed from the seder plate, while all recite a prayer.
After a second cup of wine is poured, The youngest of the children present
asks the four questions (these are in the haggadah) and the adults answer in
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
The answer: To remind us of the bitter, cruel way our ancestors were treated in slavery.
The Third Question
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
The answer: To be comfortable, and to remind us that once we were slaves, and now we are free.
The Sedar is in remembrance of the hardships our ancestors faced in slavery,
and has been celebrated ever since they were freed from slavery.
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The holiday of Passover marks the anniversary of the birth of the Jewish nation. The story of the Jewish nation is one of individuals who became a family who became a people. The great individuals who laid the spiritual foundation of Jewish peoplehood were Abraham and Sarah, their son and daughter-in-law Isaac and Rebecca, and their son and daughters-in-law Jacob, Rachel, and Leah.
From Jacob, Rachel, and Leah came a family of 70 people who, due to a famine in Israel, were forced to migrate to Egypt. In Egypt this family grew and prospered to such an extent that they eventually came to be seen as a threat by their Egyptian hosts. Respect and admiration turned to contempt, and finally to an organized program of enslavement and oppression. After 210 years, and a series of unheeded warnings by Moses to Pharaoh which resulted in the Ten Plagues, God liberated a nation which had grown from the original family of 70 people. Seven weeks later this newly conceived nation received the Torah at Mount Sinai.
The Haggadah is the story of the birth of the Jews as a people. It deals primarily with the events in Egypt which led from slavery to liberation, though it also spans the entire period from Abraham to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. One could say that the Haggadah is our national birth certificate as well as our Declaration of Independence. More than just a historical document, it also speaks of the ideals and values which constitute the essence of our national consciousness and identity.
The word haggadah means to tell, or to relate. The Haggadah is a vivid narrative which is set in the context of a parent-child dialogue. Passover, with the Haggadah as its focus, tells every Jew three things: who you are, where you came from, and what you stand for.
The message inherent in the Haggadah is that Jewish identity and continuity hinge on encouraging children to ask questions -- and being prepared as parents to provide sensitive and substantive answers. In Judaism, being learned, knowledgeable, and wise is not only a goal, it's a prerequisite.