Passover 101 – The Basics

Before any major holiday, I like to read through a refresher on the basics.

And each year, I enjoy finding new twists to how we’ll celebrate Seder with our young grandchildren. This year, I found inspiration in the Torah portion “Shmot.” Now that our older grandson reads so beautifully, I’ll be adding to his part in the Exodus skit that we do.

So back to basics:

What do “Seder,” “Passover” and “Haggadah” mean?

“Seder” means order. And even though there is a huge amount of variability in how a Seder is conducted, the main elements follow a prescribed order, detailed in the Haggadah, based on 15 basic steps.

“Passover” comes from the Hebrew root meaning to “pass by” or to “spare,” referring to when the Angel of Death passed over the Hebrew homes and spared the firstborn.

“Haggadah” is from the Hebrew to tell (l’haggid).

Passover 2017 - Sunset, Monday, April 10 through nightfall, Tuesday, April 18

What else is Passover called?

You might also hear Passover, or Pesach, referred to as:

  • Chag he-aviv (the Spring festival)
  • Chag ha-matzot (the festival of matzahs)
  • Z’man cheh-roo-tay-nu (the time of our freedom)

How long is Passover?

Reform Jews, as well as Jews who live in Israel, celebrate Passover for seven days. Orthodox and Conservative Jews outside Israel celebrate for eight days.

Some families have two Seders (Sedarim) – a first and a second Seder. Many congregations gather for a community second Seder.

What’s the Passover story (the short version)?

After hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, God warned Pharaoh to free the Jews. There were multiple warnings that came as plagues.

After nine other plagues, God sent the tenth and final plague in the form of the Angel of Death to slay the firstborn son of every Egyptian family.

To make sure the Angel of Death knew not to enter the Jewish households, the Jews were instructed to kill a lamb and paint their lintels and doorposts with the lamb’s blood, a sign to the Angel to “pass over” or “spare” the firstborn in that house.

Finally, Pharaoh agreed.

Yet, just as the Jews began to flee, Pharaoh changed his mind and began chasing them. When the Jews reached the Red Sea, God parted the waters, allowing the Jews – miraculously – to cross over on dry land.

The Egyptians followed, with their horses and chariots, and were drowned.

Some say that the salt water at the Seder represents the tears of both the enslaved Jews and the Egyptians who perished in the Red Sea.

Next week on the blog: “Help! I’ve Never Put on a Passover Seder!”

Need a helping hand to put on a Seder? Download our free e-book “Celebrate Passover: How to Plan a Fun, Simple Seder”

Want more fun at your Seder? Check out our Passover Seder Steps Follow-Along.

For more ideas, browse through our Passover Pinterest Page.

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