Passover: Laws and Customs

SPIRITUAL PREPARATION FOR PASSOVER:

Three special Sabbaths take place before Passover. Each has a unique message for the mind and soul. The first is called Shabbat Parshat Parah. 

Parshat Parah takes place two weeks before the month of Nisan. Taken from Numbers 19:1-22, this portion of the Torah explains the ancient purification process involving the sacrifice of  the Parah Adumah, the now extinct Red Cow. 

The Parah Adumah, which had to be completely red and never been used for work, was used in a ritual purification process when someone became impure through contact with a dead body. As a result, the person would be unable to bring the Passover sacrifice until he became ritually pure again. 

First, the cow was slaughtered according to the laws of Kashrus, which kills the animal using a completely painless technique.  Next, as described in the Torah, the cows blood was sprinkled seven times. The cow was then entirely burned, and the priest had to take a piece of cedar wood, some hyssop and some crimson wool and throw it onto the cow. 

The laws surrounding the Parah Adumah are called chukim, decrees without apparent logical explanations. Other laws are called mishpatim, laws that are apparently logical or sensible, such as Thou Shall Not Commit Murder. 

Even King Solomon, the wisest of men could not explain the purpose of this Torah commandment.  King Solomon said “…I said I will be wise, but it is far from me” (Ecclesiastes 7:23) 

With the Temple destroyed, sacrifices like Parah Adumah can no longer be performed by Jews.  Instead, as a reminder of what was lost, Torah readings which discuss the sacrifice process have been incorporated into the prayer service. 

Shabbat Ha Chodesh: The Shabbat before the month of Nissan is called Shabbat Ha Chodesh, the Sabbath of the Month. Taken from Exodus 12:1-20, it tells of the commandments of the Passover sacrifice and the preparations for the Exodus from Egypt. 

Like a trumpet announcing the arrival of the King, each succeeding Shabbat raises the Jewish People’s anticipation of the arrival Passover, the anniversary of our national birth. 

Shabbat Hagadol: Finally, it is the Shabbat before Passover. This is called Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Sabbath. The haftorah read at the synagogue this Shabbat refers to the great day of the final redemption (Mal. 3:23). 

Even before we retell the history of our exodus from Egypt, we also look to the future and our final exodus from our current exile which will be heralded by the prophet Elijah. 

Before the Jews left Egypt, they were commanded to take a lamb and sacrifice it four days later. This took place on Shabbat and it is this Shabbat that we honor by remembering the Jews faith in G-d. 

Shabbat Hagadol is similar to Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Before Yom Kippur we are afraid of what Hashem will decree. Most repent out of fear. But on Shabbat Hagadol, we remember the great miracles Hashem performed in bringing about our exodus from Egypt, and in appreciation our hearts want forgiveness out of love of G-d. 

Like the Jews of Egypt, our heart are open and receptive to G-d’s greatness. In communities throughout Eastern Europe, rabbis would give a special sermon twice a year. Once on the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and once on Shabbat Hagadol. The custom continues to this day.

PHYSICAL PREPARATION FOR PASSOVER:

Cleaning For Passover: There is no doubt that Passover is the most challenging holiday for which to prepare. Like anything important and worthwhile, it requires a lot of effort and dedication. The key to Passover is organization. Not only must special food be bought and stored, but the entire house, including garage and cars must be rid of chametz, any leavened food. 

On the very first day, you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel(Exodus 12:15). 

Chametz: So what exactly is chametz?  

Chametz is a mixture of flour and water that is allowed to rise. In addition to bread, it refers to any kind of food that has leavening properties or capabilities. We are permitted to only eat foods which do not contain chametz.  In regards to prepared foods, we are only permitted to eat foods marked Kosher For Passover and which have been prepared under the direct supervision of a recognized authority on the laws of Koshruth. Similarly, we are only permitted to use utensils, dishes, pots and pans which have been specially cleaned or reserved for Passover. Since this can be costly, many families use foil, paper and plastic goods wherever possible. 

The laws regarding hametz are very strict. Not only are Jews prohibited from eating chametz, we are also prohibited against having any chametz in our possession. This is why in the weeks leading up to Passover, (there are four weeks after Purim), it is a good idea to start using up chametz. When food shopping, buy only what you think you will need for the short term. This will cut down on what you may have to throw out or store before the holiday. 

The rabbis were so afraid that people might miss a piece of chametz that they instituted a few last minute rituals. The night before Passover there is a special search for the last remaining pieces of chametz, and the next morning there is a special ceremony for burning those remains. We also make formal declarations renouncing ownership of chametz and declaring any that remains in our homes or in our possessions, null and void. 

Hametz as a Metaphor: In the midrash, the rabbis see chametz as a symbol of the yetzer ha-ra, the evil inclination. Flour and water that rises is a symbol of pride and an unchecked ego. The Talmud, in Brachot 17a, compares the yeast in dough to the kind of corruption that can ferment and rise in the heart. 

Removing all chametz is a metaphor for purging ourselves of all impurity. Even Philo the Alexandrian commentator and philosopher compared the presence of chametz to the presence of evil. 

This is why the rabbis make us go to such lengths to remove even the tiniest bit of chametz. It is meant to represent the struggle to remove our own bad traits. 

Matzoh as a Metaphor: Matzoh, on the other hand, is flat, a poor man’s bread, made only of flour and water. It must be baked within 18 minutes so the dough has no chance to rise.  It is a symbol of humbleness and suppression of ego. 

House First: For those who do not go to relatives or hotels for the holiday, here is a basic guide for making your home kosher for Passover. Save your kitchen for last.  

Do a thorough cleaning of the house. Start two weeks before Passover with special attention to areas such as clothing, pocket books, sofa cushions, books, toys, toy bins, (etc.) anywhere that chametz may have been eaten or stored. Start with one room at a time and allow no further eating there once the room is clean. Inform family members and friends that the room is now “Pesahdik.” (kosher for Passover). If you know that no one has brought or eaten chametz is a certain room, like an attic, crawl space or office, you don’t have to clean it. 

The Kitchen: Once the house is free of chametz and clean for the holiday, (consider it Spring cleaning), you are ready to tackle the kitchen and dining areas. Clean the insides of cabinets and remove all crumbs. Reline cabinets, especially those cleared of hametz, where kosher-for-Passover food, dishes, or utensils will go.  Place chametz items in boxes to be stored away, and start to use up half eaten boxes of chametz.

Clean out the refrigerator, and if necessary, defrost the freezer, including gaskets where chametz can accumulate. If you can, store foods that can last the two weeks of Passover in a separate refrigerator. Line the shelves with foil or cut up paper grocery bags. 

Clean the range thoroughly including the area under the burners. Use the self clean cycle if you have one, or chemical oven cleaners. For a continuous-cleaning oven, clean as for a regular oven. Don’t forget the oven racks. Once clean, do not use them for 24 hours. 

Turn burners on highest heat for at least fifteen minutes, or five to ten minutes for electric burners, and turn the regular oven on the highest heat, including the broiler, for half an hour. Some keep the heat on longer, a half hour to an hour for burners, and an hour more for the oven.  Remember fire safety rules.  Never leave a burner unattended.  And, use special caution if your household has children. 

For a microwave, clean thoroughly and do not use for 24 hours. Place a cup of water inside, and turn the microwave on until it is completely steamed or the water has disappeared. 

Clean the sink thoroughly. Pour boiling water into all sinks, and use plastic liners in porcelain sinks. You don’t need liners in stainless steel sinks. 

Dishwashers are iffy. Check with your local rabbi. Some permit their use after they have been thoroughly cleaned and not used for 24 hours and then operated on a full cycle with detergent. Others insist on new racks. Others do not permit their use if they have porcelain interiors.  

Scrub down and cover the countertops unless they are granite, in which case they do not need to be covered. A good covering is lightly adhesive shelf paper that sticks and is washable, but comes off easily without leaving a residue. Vinyl or plastic coverings or aluminum foil can also be used. Leave one small counter area or work space free for chametz, which can be quickly covered in the morning before the first seder. 

Clean the table and chairs, checking in between the cracks of the table where it opens and in between the cracks of seat cushions. Cover the table with a tablecloth or plastic. 

Tape or tie shut any cabinets that are not going to be used for Passover or are designated to contain chametz which will be sold.  

Cleaning for Passover is a daunting task which when taken seriously can be a source of great anxiety.  When is clean ….clean??  The general rule is that if any remaining residue of chametz is unfit for consumption by a dog, it is sufficiently clean for Passover. 

If this is your first cleaning for Passover and you are unsure on how to go about it contact your local Rabbi for assistance.

Mechirat Chametz:  The ideal is to destroy all one’s chametz.  However, this can be costly and an unnecessary waste of good food. A more modern and halachically (permissible based upon Jewish law), correct approach is to sell your chametz to a non-Jew.  

The seller writes down the type of chametz, where it is located and how it can be accessed. Because the procedure is complicated, the sale is usually handled by a rabbi who acts as your agent during the transaction. A price is set, and the understanding is that the non-Jew can come to your house at any time to eat or take it. This of course rarely if ever happens and the sale is usually done as a favor. 

Shopping For Passover: Now that your house and kitchen are ready for Passover, you are ready to face the stores and aisles filled with foods marked Kosher for Passover.

If you live in a major metropolitan area, odds are your favorite supermarket chain will have specially designated Passover aisles or a whole area set aside for Passover foods. In cities with large Jewish populations, there will no doubt be kosher supermarkets where everything inside will already be marked kosher for Passover. Try not to feel anxious or pressured when you see people stocking up on Passover goods weeks before. 

Buying Meat, Chicken, and Fish:  Unless your supermarkets or grocery stores sell kosher meat, chicken or fish, you will need to go in person or place an order by phone or fax with your local kosher butcher or fish market. 

Kosher meat or chicken is kosher for Passover all year long. However, before holidays, and especially before Passover, the kosher butchers are busier than ever. Place meat orders at least three weeks in advance. Check if your butcher delivers. 

Buying Fruits and Vegetables: You can buy produce wherever you normally shop. It does not need special rabbinic supervision for Passover. There is no chametz in fresh fruit and vegetables. However, this is not always the case in produce which is available in convenient, ready-to-open bags, like ones for salads or broccoli flourettes, so be careful.

Buying Matzah: During Passover, and especially during the seder, only matzah made of flour and water prepared and baked in less than eighteen minutes is permissible. 

Enhanced or enriched matzah, also knows as matzah ashirah, containing egg, milk, honey, wine or fruit juice may not be eaten on Passover. Only children, the elderly and the infirmed are permitted to eat this kind of matzah on Passover. It is generally tastier and softer, which is why children and older people are allowed to eat it. 

Buying Machine vs. Handmade Matzah: Handmade matzah is generally more expensive than machine made. However, handmade matzah is more authentic looking since its pieces are usually pretty charred and not as uniformly shaped. 

I like to use machine made matzah during the week of Passover and handmade matzah for the sedarim. 

Buying Shemurah Matzoh: Another special handmade matzah that is available is called Shemurah Matzah, which means matzah that has been watched. Based on the commandment, “And you shall keep (watch) the festival of the matzah.” (Exodus 12:17)

The sages believed watching matzah required supervising the matzah-making process from the time of harvesting. They made sure that no water, which initiates the leavening process, came into contact with the wheat, whole or ground, until it is mixed into dough cooked for no more than eighteen minutes. 

Shemurah Matzah can be quite expensive but are highly sought after especially among very observant Jews. 

Buying Kitniyot: By custom, Ashkenazic Jews, or Jews from Eastern European descent, do not eat kitniyot on Passover. Kitniyot are legumes, like beans, peas, lentils, rice, millet, sesame and sunflower seeds, and according to some authorities, peanuts. This does not apply, however, to Sephardim, Jews of Spanish, Morroccan and Middle Eastern descent, who are permitted to eat kittniyot. 

Buying General Groceries: Each year, more and more common foods are beings marked Kosher for Passover. It is not necessary that you buy everything you see. Many people make the mistake of over-buying everything, especially the boxed cake and kuggle type mixes.  When determining what to buy, keep in mind, you will not want to prepare and eat these psudo-cakes once Passover is over. 

As a rule, foods that are kosher for Passover must have special markings indicating they are under proper rabbinic supervision. Matzah, matzah products, candies, cakes, beverages, canned and processed foods, jams, cheeses, jellies, relishes, salad oils, vinegar, wine and liquor would fall under this category. 

Each year the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations Of America publishes a Kosher for Passover Products Directory that lists all the products under their supervision. This directory is available from Orthodox Union, Dept. K, 45 West 36th St., New York, NY  10008. Or, check their web site as www.ou.org

EREV PESACH: There are several rituals performed the day before Passover as well as on the day of Passover. 

Bedikat Hametz: By the night before Passover, most families have finished cleaning the house for xhametz. After sundown, one final, symbolic search is conducted. This is called Bedikat Hametz. 

You need to hide about ten pieces of bread, in some kind of wrapping, around the house. This is actually something your children can organize for you. The search is conducted by candle light, but you may also use a flash light. You will also need a feather for brushing the chametz, and a bag in which to collect it. If you use candles, take necessary precautions not to start a fire.  And, if children are involved, please provide proper supervision.

Once the following blessing is recited there is no talking until the chametz pieces are collected: 

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu al biur hametz.  

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to remove all leaven. 

Bittul Hametz: Once the chametz is collected and secured in a bag, the act of nullifying  chametz still in one’s possession takes place. It is recited in Aramaic. 

Kol khamirah vakhami’ah, d’ikah, virshuti (d’lah khamitei ud’lah vi’artei, ud’lah y’danah lei) libateil v’lehevei hefkeir, c’afrah d’ar’ah.

Any leaven that may still be in the house, which I have (not seen or have not removed) shall be as if it does not exist, and as the dust of the earth. 

Biur Hametz: The next morning, it is custom to burn the bag of chametz, and any left over chametz you used that morning during breakfast. In Hebrew this is called biur chametz. The burning should take place well before noon of the first seder.

While other methods of destroying chametz are allowed, such as scattering it to the wind, or flushing it down the toilet, the most fun and certainly most educational one for children, is burning chametz in your own bonfire.  If you choose to burn you chametz  be careful and make sure it is done by a responsible adult.

The permanent destruction of the chametz is based on the Torah commandment to “destroy leaven from your houses” (Exodus 12:15, 19, 13:7) 

After the chametz is burned, the bittul formula is recited again. 

All leaven in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, is hereby nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth. 

Some have the custom of adding the following:

Lord, our G-d, and G-d of our ancestors, just as I have removed all chametz from my home and from my ownership, so may it be Your will that I merit the removal of the evil inclination from my heart. 

The Fast of the Firstborn: Because the firstborn Jewish males were spared during the final plague that killed all Egyptian firstborn males of Egypt, there is a custom for firstborns to fast the day of Passover. 

The fast is called Ta’anit Bechorim and when it is observed, it begins at sunrise rather than the night before, like other fast days. 

When erev Pesach falls on Saturday night, the fast takes place on Thursday since it is not allowed to fast on the Sabbath except on Yom Kippur.  

SYMBOLS OF THE SEDER TABLE: 

The rest of the day is generally devoted to preparing physically and mentally for the evening seder. Jews in Israel observe one seder on the first night of Passover, Jews in the Diaspora, observe two, (See Laws and Customs for Sukkot for an explanation of this custom) one on each of the first two nights of Passover.  

The Seder Plate: The seder plate, or ke’arah in Hebrew, contains the five symbols of the seder. While any dish can be used, most families have a special seder plate they use year after year. Some families have more than one on the table, depending on the number of invited guests. It is nice for children to have their own seder plate so they can feel more a part of the seder’s service. 

The foods that make up the seder plate are not actually eaten during the seder. They are: 

Karpas: a vegetable, usually green such as parsely, to symbolize Spring and rebirth. It is dipped into salt water near the beginning of the seder. 

Haroset: a mixture of chopped apples, nuts, wine and spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. We dip the maror into the haroshet to lessen the bitter herb’s taste. It also symbolizes the mortar that the slaves made for bricks in Egypt. 

Maror: the bitter herbs. The most common foods used for maror are carefully washed romaine lettuce or freshly ground horseradish. If you use horseradish from a jar, it should be unadulterated, without beets or vinegar. 

The rabbis list their preference for maror: romaine lettuce, horseradish, endive or escarole. They prefer romaine because like the Jews’ experience in Egypt, it was first sweet and then became bitter.  

Beitzah: a roasted egg, also the symbol of the festival sacrifice, the korban hagigah. The egg should be hard-boiled and while in its shell, scorched on top of the stove burner.

Zeroa: the shank bone, or a roasted bone, another symbol of the korban hagigah, the festival sacrifice.

Matzot: Matzah takes center stage on the Passover table. Three matzot, one on top of the other, are used during the seder. We use a special matzah cover with three compartments to hold each piece. The three matzot are symbolic of the three categories of Jews: Priests, Levites and Israelites. Again, only matzah made from flour and water, also known as lechem oni, poor man’s bread, may be used.

Afikoman Bag: A special bag is set aside for the afikoman, the piece of matzah that is broken off at the beginning of the seder. The piece within the bag is then hidden for the children at the seder to find after the meal. For most children, this is one of the highlights of the entire evening. 

Since the seder cannot continue without the afikoman, children are allowed to ask their price for the afikoman’s safe return once they have found it.

Wine: Since each adult at the seder table is required to drink four cups of wine, good Kosher for Passover wine is necessary. Children, or adults who cannot tolerate that much wine, may drink grape juice.

There is no one reason for the four cup requirement. The most common explanation connects the four cups with the four expressions of redemption found in Exodus 6:6-7. “I am the Lord. I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm… and I will take you to be my people….” 

Salt Water: Various bowls of salt water are placed throughout the seder table for dipping vegetables. The salt water is a reminder of the tears shed when we were slaves in Egypt.  

The Cup For Elijah: Tradition says that the prophet Elijah visits each Jewish family on Passover. Therefore it is a custom to fill a special goblet for the prophet. 

Reclining: It is a special mitzvah to recline during the seder. Reclining is a symbol of freedom and wealth. Therefore, we place special pillows on each chair so each member of the seder may participate in the comfort that was enjoyed in the ancient world. 

Kittel: In some homes, the leader of the seder wears a long white robe called a kittel as a symbol of purity and as a reminder of the priestly garments worn during the temple service of the Passover sacrifice. 

The Hagaddah: The haggadah tells the story of the exodus from Egypt and also contains the order of the evening’s service. The word, hagaddah, comes from the Hebrew, L’hagid, to tell, which fulfills the most important theme of Passover: recounting again and again the miraculous exodus from Egypt. 

The hagaddah has had thousands of editions. It was one of the earliest religious manuscripts to be illustrated. Some authorities date the first illustrated hagaddah back to 1482 in Guadalajara, Spain.

The hagaddah is many things: script, folk songs, history, myth and sacred text. Each guest and especially child, at the seder table should have a hagaddah in front of them. Most children in Jewish day schools or afternoon programs learn about the hagaddah and even make their own. 

Many hagaddahs today come with commentaries to facilitate group discussion. It doesn’t matter if one reads the hagaddah in the original Hebrew or if each guest at the table reads from the hagaddah in English.  

Candlelighting: 

If the first seder falls out on Friday night, light the candles eighteen minutes before sundown and say the following blessings: 

First Blessing: Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel (Shabbat v’shel) yom tov

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandment and commanded us to kindle the lights of (Sabbath and of) the festival.

Second Blessing: Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam, shehekheyanu, v’kiyamanu, v’higgiyanu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season. 

THE SEDER:

The word seder means order, and it is this order or outline that we follow in the hagaddah. The seder begins at night fall after the holiday and or Sabbath candles are lit. 

Kadesh: The first cup of wine or grape juice is lifted. The sanctification over wine, or Kiddush, that begins every Sabbath and festival meal is recited. It always includes the phrase, y’tziat mitzrayim, connecting Passover with each Sabbath and festival of the year. 

Urhatz: Hands are washed not with soap but by taking a cup of water in the left hand and pouring half its contents in three splashed over the right hand, then switching and pouring the remainder over the left. 

Normally, observant Jews will ritually wash their hands before a meal which includes bread or matzah.  This act reminds us of the Priests washing their hands during the temple service. After washing hands we a blessing, al netilat yadayim, is recited.  

However, in this case, we wash hands but omit the blessing.

The purpose of Urhatz is to elicit questions by small children such as:  “Why didn’t you say a bracha?”  We want children’s curiosity to be piqued and we want them to ask questions during the Seder. Urhatz is meant to get the ball rolling.

Karpas: We dip a vegetable into the salt water during the seder as a symbol of the bitter tears shed by the slaves in Egypt. This is the first time we dip something during the seder.  The second time we dip the maror into the charoset.

The dipping serves two functions: one, to arouse a child’s interest to ask why we are dipping; and two, the act of dipping is reminiscent of GrecoRoman banquet customs that were reserved for the free and the wealthy.

Yahatz: The middle matzah is broken in two. The larger piece, which is the afikoman, (from the Greek, meaning dessert of the seder), is wrapped in a napkin or in a special afikomen bag and hidden for the children to find before birkat hamazon, the grace after meals, is said. The smaller piece is placed between the other two matzot. 

Besides being a fun activity and a good way to keep the children’s interest during the seder, breaking the afikoman is symbolic of lehem oni, the bread of affliction, like the food the slaves ate in Egypt.

Magid: This is the telling of the story of the exodus from Egypt and the core portion of the seder. It is the whole reason for holding the seder and the most important for our children. It breaks down as the following:

Ha Lahma Anya “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt.” This paragraph, which is written in Aramaic, the language of the Jews in the early centuries of the Common Era, invites all who are hungry to join with the hope that the next year we will be a free nation in the land of Israel. 

The Four-Questons: Ma Nishtana –“Why is this night different?”  This is the beginning of each of the four questions, probably one of the most popular parts of the seder. This very famous section can be chanted in Hebrew, English, even in Yiddish, by the youngest child or children. 

Each of the four questions ask why things are different this night of Passover. The first question asks why matzah and not chametz is eaten; the second question asks why bitter herbs are eaten; the third question asks why the vegetables are dipped not once, but twice during the seder; and the fourth question asks the reason for reclining during the seder.

Avadim Hayinu “We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt.” The four questions are never answered directly in the hagaddah. Instead, this paragraph attempts to answer indirectly by telling the story of the exodus. It sets forth two essential themes of the hagaddah:  

1.   We, not just our ancestors, were slaves in Egypt, and if G-d had not redeemed us, our children would still be slaves in Egypt.

2.   We can never tell the story of our slavery in Egypt enough times.

The Five Sages: To illustrate how we can never finish telling the story of our slavery, the hagaddah brings a tale of five sages who stayed up all night long to discuss the exodus from Egypt. 

The Four Sons: On the most basic level, the hagaddah teaches us the best way to approach children about our heritage. Recognizing that not all children are alike, the hagaddah makes allowances for the wicked child, the wise child, the simple child and the child that does not know how to ask questions at all.

On a deeper level, the four sons may stand for the ideological groups that threatened rabbinic Judaism in the first and second centuries, like the Hellenes, Judeo-Christians, Sadducees and Essenes.

The four sons could also have mirrored the political attitudes of Jews living under Roman rule – those who supported the revolution, those who refused to join the revolt, those who had been enslaved by Rome and those who had not been exposed to Judaism and didn’t know what the revolution was all about.

A more modern interpretation by the late Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn (1880-1950), explains that the four sons really stand for the four generations of American Jews, each one more removed from Jewish tradition than the last.

First, there was the religious immigrant; then there was the rejecting second generation; then there was the confused third generation in conflict between what he or she remembered from his or her grandparents and from what his or her parents omitted from their lives. And finally, the fourth generation, who never knew his or her grandparents and has no basis from which to even form a question.

The Ten Plagues: As we recite each of the ten plagues, we remove a drop of wine from our cups, either with our pinky to symbolize “etzbah elohim,” the finger of G-d, or with a spoon. 

Dayyeinu: A lively song and a seder favorite that recounts the great deeds G-d performed for the Israelites. Sung in a refrain, each phrase ends with the words, “Dayyeinu,” It would have been enough.  

Be Chol Dor Vador: “In each generation, every person should feel as if he were personally redeemed.” This paragraph is the clearest statement that we were redeemed from Egypt, not just our ancestors.

Lefikhakh: “Therefore, since G-d redeemed us, we must glorify the Him and sing praise before Him.” This introduces the prayers for Hallel which are next recited in the hagaddah.

Second Cup of Wine: The concluding blessing of the maggid section praises G-d as our redeemer and hopes for our future redemption. Maggid concludes with the blessing over the second cup of wine which we drink while reclining.

Rachtzah: We ritually wash our hands and this time recite the blessing, al netilat yadayim.

Motzi Matzah: Each person at the table takes a piece of the top matzah and a piece of the broken middle matzah. After the blessing for hamotzei and for matzah is recited, both pieces are eaten reclining to the left.

Maror: We take the bitter herbs, dip them in the haroset, a mixture of nuts, apples and wine that remind us of the bricks our ancestors made as slaves, and recite the blessing for the maror. We do not recline while eating.

Koreich:  Each person at the seder makes a sandwich out of two pieces of matzah and some maror. We do not lean while eating it because the bitter herbs signify slavery.

The first-century sage Hillel invented the sandwich (korech) of matzah and maror because of the Torah commandment to eat the two with the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:8). 

Shulkhan Orech: Believe it or not, it’s finally time for dinner. The meal may have as many courses as you like. Here are two menu suggestions: 

1. Chicken soup with matzah balls; green salad with home made or bottled dressing; Brisket, roasted potatoes, steamed asparagus. For desert, flourless chocolate cake, fresh fruit, nuts and candy. 

2. Sliced, warm Gefiltah fsh or salmon loaf; sweet and sour meatballs; chicken in wine sauce; Passover stuffing with sautéed vegetables; steamed broccoli. For dessert, assorted cookies, fresh fruit salad, nuts and candy.  

See RECIPES at end of page.

Tzafun: The seder may not proceed unless the afikoman is returned, or in most households, ransomed and then eaten, by everyone at the seder. Eating the afikoman at the end of the meal is also a reminder of the Passover sacrifice which was eaten at the end of the Passover meal when the temple existed. 

Barech: Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meals, is recited. Afterward, the third cup of wine or grape juice is raised, the blessing borei pri hagafen is said, and the wine is drunk while reclining. 

Shefokh Hamatka: The front door is opened to welcome the prophet Elijah and children crowd around the cup of Elijah to see if he “drinks” from the wine. The paragraph, shefokh hamatka, pour out your wrath, is recited. 

The custom for reciting this verse began during the Middle Ages in response to Jewish persecution during the Crusades. The connection between the verse and Elijah is that at the final redemption, the nations that persecuted the Jews will be punished. It was also a way of showing how false the blood libels were by opening the door and inviting anyone to see for themselves that nothing of the sort was taking place.  

Hallel: The last part of the hagaddah contains praises and songs to G-d. The remainder of Hallel is said. Following the recitation of Hallel, the fourth cup of wine is poured, the blessing is said, and the wine is drunk while reclining.  

Nirtzah: The conclusion of the seder. We finish the seder with the poem called, “Hassal Siddur Pesach.” We then sing the song, Le Shana Haba B’yerushalayim, Next Year In Jerusalem. 

It is traditional to complete the Seder by singing the additional songs which have been added to the Haggadah. Songs such as “Ki lo Na’eh,” “Adir Hu,” “Ehad mi Yodea,” Who Knows One, and “Had Gadya”.  They can be a lively and shared experience by all family members and guests.

The Second Seder: For those living in the Diaspora, a second seder is observed. (See Laws & Customs for Sukkot for an explanation of the second days observed for most festivals by Diasporaic Jews.) As far as the Hagaddah, the text is the same as the first night, except for two liturgical poems recited at the end of the seder. U-be-khen va-yehi ba-hatzi ha-lailah is sung the first night and u-be-khen ve-amarteim zevah Pesach, is recited the second night.

Candlelighting: Before lighting the candles on the second night of Passover, the first day must be finished. So instead of lighting the candles before sunset, candles are lit after nightfall. Since it is a festival, we are allowed to light the candles with a pre-existing flame, such as a pilot light on a gas stove or a wick from a  25-hour-burning candle.

When lighting candles, repeat the blessings listed above with the exception of the blessing, she’hechiyanu. 

Counting the Omer: At the end of the second seder or the second night of Passover, we begin a countdown toward the next pilgrimage festival called Shavuot. The omer was a specific measure of the new wheat harvest that was cut the second night of Passover and brought to the temple as an offering. Even though our temple does not exist any longer, the rabbis commanded us to count the days between Passover and Shavuot.

You start with the blessing: 

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam, asher kidshau b’mitzvotav al sefirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning counting the omer.

And then state the day’s count:

Hayom yom ehad la’omer.

Today is the first day of the omer. 

If you forget to count the second night, but remember the third night, resume counting without the bracha, or blessing. 

THE REST OF PASSOVER:

Hol Ha Moed vs. Yom Tov: The intermediate days of Passover vs. the festival days of Passover. Traveling, cooking, working etc. is permitted on hol amoed but not on Yom Tov.

In the diaspora: Yom Tov begins the night of the 14th of Nisan and ends the night of the 16th. The intermediate days start after havdalah on the night of the 16th until candle lighting on the 20th of Nisan. Yom Tov begins the night of the 20th and is over the night of the 22nd.

In Israel: Yom Tov begins the night of the 14th of Nisan and ends with the havdalah service the night of the 15th. The intermediate days begin the night of the 15th and end with candle lighting the night of the 20th.  Yom Tov, and therefore Passover, is over the night of the 21st of Nisan. 

Making an Eruv Tavshilin: Cooking on Yom Tov is allowed, but cooking ahead for other days of the week is not. This is to give the yom tov the respect it deserves, but it poses a problem when the last day of yom tov is the day before Shabbat.

So, an eruv, a mixture, tavshilin, of cooked foods, is created that allows us to also prepare foods for Shabbat since there is no cooking from sundown to sundown (See Laws and Customs for Shabbat). 

It involves making a symbolic meal of two foods – bread, (See Laws and Customs for Sukkot or Shavuot) or matzoh, on Passover; and an egg, or piece of meat or fish – on Wednesday afternoon.

Put them on a plate and lift it up while reciting an Aramaic blessing:

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al mitzvat eruv.

Blessed are You Lord our G-d King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning the mitzvah of Eruv.

Once this eruv is complete, it is considered as if we had already cooked for the Sabbath, and any other cooking done later is incidental. Just put the prepared food in an out-of-the-way place so it is not accidentally eaten.

Like all legal fictions, (such as mechirat hametz) it was created in order to lessen one’s hardship, whether it saves on the expense of having to buy all new groceries or it alleviates the amount of work required to make yom tov and Shabbat all in one week.

Special Prayers: The liturgy for Passover is basically the same as other festivals. However, during musaf on the first day of Passover, we recite a prayer for protection against harmful weather conditions. The prayer is called, Tfilat Tal, the prayer for the dew. Accordig to the Midrash, Isaac gave blessings for dew to Jacob on Passover night.

Yizkor: The memorial prayer for the dead is recited in the synagogue by children who have lost one or both parents. It is said on the seventh day of Passover (in Israel) or on the eighth day of Passover (in the Diaspora).

Torah Readings:  The Torah readings on yom tov all deal with the Exodus, the laws of the festival and later celebrations of Passover including the sacrifices of the day. Haftorah ro prophetic portions read on the first two days retell Passover celebrations during the time of Joshua and under King Josiah (Joshua 5:2-6:1-27; II Kings 23:1-9; 21-25). 

On the last two days of Passover, we read a Song of Deliverance by King David, which also parallels the Song of the Sea, which is read the same day.

Havdalah: A shortened version of havdalah is recited the last night of Passover, unless it coincides with Shabbat, in which the full havdalah is recited.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam borei pri hafaffen. 

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates fruit of the vine.  

Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam, hamavdil ben kodesh l’chol, ben yisrael l’amim, ben yom hash’vi’I, l’sheshet y’mei ha’ma’aseh. Baruch Ata Adonai, hamavdil ben kodesh l’chol.

Blessed are You Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who makes a distinction between sacred and secular, between Israel and the other nations, between the seventh day and six working days. You are blessed, Lord, Who makes a distinction between the sacred and the secular.

Cleaning Up: Before you rush out to buy or order in a pizza, remember, you have a lot of cleaning up to do. All the Passover dishes, foods, ritual objects etc.should be cleaned and put away in an organized fashion before chametz is brought back to the house. If you take a little extra time now, it will no doubt make your life easier the next year when you start all over. 

Also, remember that your rabbi needs time to arrange to sell back to you your chametz. That usually takes about two hours after the holiday is over.  So you can’t eat any chametz from you own cabinets for several hours after the holiday.  To do so is considered stealing belongs of another.

One last item. There are many Jews, usually the Orthodox, who do not eat bread owned by a Jewish bakery or store that was open on Passover. In Hebrew this is called, chametz she-avar alav ha-Pesach. If you agree or feel the same way, wait a couple of weeks until you can be reasonably sure that whatever was baked during Passover has already been sold.

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