Passover (in Hebrew, Pesach) commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The holiday originated in the Torah, where the word pesach refers to the ancient Passover sacrifice (known as the Paschal Lamb); it is also said to refer to the idea that God “passed over” (pasach) the houses of the Jews during the 10th plague on the Egyptians, the slaying of the first born. The holiday is ultimately a celebration of freedom, and the story of the exodus from Egypt is a powerful metaphor that is appreciated not only by Jews, but by people of other faiths as well.
How is Passover celebrated?
Passover is observed for seven days in Israel and eight days in the Diaspora. The main event of the Passover holiday is the seder (literally, “order”), a festive meal in which the haggadah (story of the exodus and related writings) is recited in a set order. During the entire duration of the holiday, it is forbidden to eat leavened food products (such as bread, pasta, etc.). The reason for this is that Jewish tradition states that in their haste to escape from Egypt the Jews did not have enough time to wait for bread to rise. Instead, they ate matzah, unleavened bread. Part of the Passover seder includes hiding the afikoman (half of a matzah that is kept between two other matzahs during the seder and later hidden). Children search for the afikoman and usually receive a prize for finding it.
For many Jews, the process of preparing for Passover involves cleaning every corner of the home and removing all leavened products, known as chametz. Some Jews practice biur chametz (burning chametz). Others keep all the chametz in a separate area of the house where it won’t be seen, and symbolically sell the chametz. This can be done through a local synagogue, and chametz is usually sold for a nominal amount of money (often a few coins). Many Jews have special Passover dishes that are only used once a year during the holiday.
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