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Pesach Customs



Pesach and its Customs

Pesach, known in English as Passover, is one of the most commonly observed Jewish holidays, even by otherwise non-observant Jews. According to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), 67% of Jews routinely hold or attend a Pesach seder, while only 46% belong to a synagogue.
The Yom Tov (holiday) of Pesach / Passover lasts for eight days. Pesach starts at sundown on the 14th of Nisan, and ends after sundown the evening of the 22nd of Nisan. This year (5774-2014), Pesach starts at sundown, Monday evening, April 14, and ends late Tuesday evening, April 22, 2014.
Pesach is the first of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Shavuot and Sukkot). Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel, but not much attention is paid to this aspect of the holiday. The primary observances of Pesach are related to the Exodus from Egypt. This story is told in Exodus, Ch. 1-15.

The name "Pesach", meaning to pass through, to pass over, to exempt or to spare. It refers to the fact that G-d "passed over" the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt. In English, the holiday is known as Passover. "Pesach" is also the name of the sacrificial offering (a lamb) that was made in the Temple on this holiday. The holiday is also referred to as

Chag ha-Aviv, (the Spring Festival),

Chag ha-Matzot, (the Festival of Matzahs),

and Z'man Cheiruteinu, (the Time of Our Freedom)

The first two and last two days of the Yom Tov, are days on which work is not permitted. Essential work is permitted on the intermediate days, (days 3 thru 6), referred to as Chol HaMoed.  (Days work is not permitted - Sundown April 14 through Night April 16 and Sundown April 20 through Night April 22)
In Eretz Yisroel, The Yom Tov of Pesach last for seven days. Pesach starts at sundown on the 14th of Nisan, and ends after sundown the evening of the 21st of Nisan.The first and last days of the Yom Tov, are days on which no work is permitted, days 2 thru 6 are Chol HaMoed.
The prohibitions on Pesach is the same as on Shabbat except that cooking, baking, and carrying, all of which are forbidden on Shabbat, are permitted on Pesach. When Pesach is onShabbat, all Shabbat restrictions must be observed.
The Seder is an important part of the Pesach Yom Tov. The Seder takes place the first 2 nights of the 8 day Yom Tov, (except in Eretz Yisroel, where there is only 7 days Yom Tov, and only one seder), the family gathers together to observe the Pesach Seder.

The grain product we eat during Pesach is called matzah. Matzah is unleavened bread, made simply from flour and water and baked very quickly. This commemorates the Jews leaving Egypt in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise. It is also a symbolic way of removing the "puffiness" (arrogance, pride) from our souls.
Matzot are baked any time before Pesach.
For the Seder, take three whole, unbroken Matzot and place them one above the other, in a matzah cover or in a special compartment under the Seder plate.
The three Matzot represent the three categories of the Jewish people; Kohain, Levi and Yisroel. They also represent our three Fathers - Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov in whose merit we were taken out of Egypt.
In addition to the three matzot, one should prepare an extra supply of matzah so that each person will be able to eat at least the minimum required amount, each time matzah is eaten at the Seder.
We eat Matzah at least three times during the Seder,

  1. By itself as MATZAH
  2. With MARROR as KORECH
  3. By itself as TZAFUN (the Afikoman), at the end of the meal.
We should not begin to prepare for the Yom Tov Pesach until we are sure that our fellow Jews are also able to enjoy it. It is a centuries old tradition that immediately after Purim, money is collected for the benefit of those less fortunate, so that they too may be able to prepare and enjoy Pesach. These funds are known as Maot Chitim, (money for wheat), referring to the custom of gathering wheat to provide the poor with Matzo and other items for the observance of Pesach.
NOTE: This is just a very basic introduction. There are many laws regarding Pesach, and a competent authority should be consulted with any questions.
We may NOT eat chametz (leavened bread or leaven) during Pesach Chametz includes anything made from the five major grains , wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt, that has not been completely cooked or baked within 18 minutes after first coming into contact with water. Orthodox Jews of Ashkenazic background also avoid rice, corn, peanuts, legumes (beans) and some other foods as if they were chametz. All of these items are commonly used to make bread, or are grown and processed near chametz, so use of them was prohibited to avoid any confusion or cross-contamination. Such additional items are referred to as "kitniyot."
We may NOT even OWN chametz at all during Pesach or derive any benefit from it. This includes feeding it to our pets or animals. All chametz must either be disposed of or sold to a non-Jew.
In preparation for Pesach, one cleanes his home, and all chametz is removed. Kitchen utensils and dishware used in the home all year round are not used during Pesach. One uses utensils and dishes that are specifically designated for Pesach.
No foods containing chametz ingredients may be eaten.
Only foods that are "Kosher L'Pesach (Kosher for Passover)" are allowed.
A Jew may not own any chametz on Pesach. Ideally one would dispose of all chametz, but this can pose a financial hardship. To solve the problem, our sages permit us to sell our chametz to a non-Jew. In doing so, chametz will not be in our possession during Pesach, and we will not transgress the Torah's prohibition of owning any chametz during Pesach. By transferring it to a non-Jew, we are permitted to buy it back after Pesach. This is an actual sale, that is legally binding and meets all the requirements of both civil and religious law. The details of this sale may be complicated and should be handled by your Rabbi.
All the members of the community sell their chametz through a Rabbi, who is empowered to act as an agent by a 'Power of Attorney Form for the Sale of Chametz.' The sold Chametz is the non-Jew's property until after Pesach ends and must be treated accordingly. The Chametz should be locked away until after Pesach when the Rabbi repurchases it for the community.

On the evening before the Pesach Seder, Sunday evening, April 13, 2014, a thorough search of the house (and business) is made to ensure that no chametz remains. There is a tradition of distributing ten pieces of bread throughout the house, so that the searchers will have something to find
The family gathers together, with a candle for lighting the way, a feather for brushing-up the chametz, and a wooden spoon onto which the chametz is brushed.
The head of the household lights a candle and makes the bracha:

Ba-ruch Ah-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hay-nu Meh-lech Ha-olam Ah-sher Ki-de-sha-nu B-mitz-vo-tav V-tzi-va-nu Al Bee-ur Chametz.

Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us concerning the removal of chametz.


The head of the household collects this bread that is found into a special bag and sweeps up the crumbs using a feather.
The search for chametz is made by candlelight, paying special attention to crevices and places where chametz can usually be found.
After the search, the chametz found is put away to be burned the next morning. The head of the household recites the following declaration:
"Any chametz (leavened bread) or leaven which is in my possession and which I have not seen, nor disposed of, nor did I know of it, may it be considered as null and as ownerless like the dust of the earth."


The following morning, (Monday, April 14, 2014), Erev Pesach, the 14th day of Nisan, the chametz that was found, is burned together with the bag and the feather.
The head of the household again recites the following declaration after the chametz is burned:  
"Any chametz (leavened bread) or leaven that is in my possession whether I have seen it or not, whether I have disposed it or not, may it be considered as null and as ownerless like the dust of the earth."
The day before Pesach, Erev Pesach, Monday, April 14 , 2014, is the fast of the firstborn, commemorating the fact that the firstborn Jewish males in Mitzrayim were "passed over " (spared) during the final plague while the first-born sons of the Egyptians were killed.
It has been a custom for many centuries that the fast day is broken by a Seudat Mitzvah, a festive meal in celebration of a Mitzvah, such as a Siyum - (a celebration marking the conclusion of the study of a book of the Talmud). The Siyum usually takes place in the Synagogue after the Shacharit (morning) prayers, following which participating firstborn males are permitted to break their fast.
The Shabbat before Pesach, (Parshat Acharei Mot , April 12, 2014), is called Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Shabbat) because it was the day when the Jews were to take the sheep (which the Egyptians worshipped) to be used for theKorban Pesach (Pascal offering) four days later. (This suggests that the first Pesach was on a Wednesday).
After nine plagues, the Egyptians were powerless to react to the slaughter of one of their gods. The Israelites, of course, didn't know this, and therefore displayed tremendous faith in Hashem prior to Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus). We remember this event with a special Haftorah (reading from the prophets) where again great faith and trust in Hashem is emphasized. The Haftorah concludes with the call to remember the teachings of Moshe and informs us that Hashem will send Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet) to herald the great and awesome day when Bnei Yisroel (the Children of Israel) will again experience redemption. This is yet another possible reason for the name Shabbat HaGadol, - that "great day" mentioned in the Haftorah.
Traditionally, on Shabbat HaGadol,  the Rabbi lectures about the observance and meaning of Pesach, teaching the laws of Pesach, so that the families can prepare properly for the Yom Tov. Which leads to another interpretation of Shabbat HaGadol - "the Shabbat of the Leader" or "of the Rabbi." A more novel explanation is that the people returning from the synagogue later than usual on this Shabbat because of the unusually long speech that was customary on this day. Thus this Shabbat seemed "great," i.e., longer than the other Shabbatot.
Whatever the reason for the name, it is customary to recite part of the Haggadah on Shabbat HaGadol, from 'Avadim Hayinu' "we were slaves in Egypt" to 'Lechaper Al Kol Avonoteinu.'
SEFIRAT HA'OMER - (the counting of the Omer)
Counting of the Omer begins from the second night of Pesach until the day before Shavuot . The period from Pesach to Shavuot is a time of great anticipation. We count each of the days from the second day of Pesach to the day before Shavuot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, The counting reminds us of the important connection between Pesach and Shavuot: Pesach freed us physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed us spiritually.
The text of the Pesach seder is written in a book called the haggadah. The haggadah tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt and explains some of the practices and symbols of the holiday. Suggestions for buying a haggadah are included below. The content of the seder can be summed up by the following Hebrew rhyme:
Kaddesh, Urechatz,
Karpas, Yachatz,
Maggid, Rachtzah,
Motzi, Matzah,
Maror, Korekh,
Shulchan Orekh,
Tzafun, Barekh,
Hallel, Nirtzah
קדש, ורחץ
כרפס, יחץ
מגיד, רחצה
מוציא, מצה
מרור, כורך
שולחן עורך
צפון, ברך
הלל, נרצה
1. Kaddesh: Sanctification
A blessing over wine in honor of the holiday. The wine is drunk, and a second cup is poured.
2. Urechatz: Washing
A washing of the hands without a blessing, in preparation for eating the Karpas.
3. Karpas: Vegetable
A vegetable often potato, celery or parsley is dipped in salt water and eaten
4. Yachatz: Breaking
One of the three matzahs on the table is broken. Part is returned to the pile, the other part is set aside for the afikomen.

5. Maggid: The Story
A retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the first Pesach. This begins with the youngest person asking The Four Questions, a set of questions about the proceedings designed to encourage participation in the seder. The Four Questions are also known as Mah Nishtanah (Why is it different?), which are the first words of the Four Questions.

The maggid is designed to satisfy the needs of four different types of people: the wise one, who wants to know the technical details; the wicked one, who excludes himself (and learns the penalty for doing so); the simple one, who needs to know the basics; and the one who is unable to ask, who doesn't even know enough to know what he needs to know.

At the end of the maggid, a blessing is recited over the second cup of wine and it is drunk.

6. Rachtzah: Washing
A second washing of the hands, this time with a blessing, in preparation for eating the matzah
7. Motzi: Blessing over Grain Products
The ha-motzi blessing, a generic blessing for bread or grain products used as a meal, is recited over the matzah.
8. Matzah: Blessing over Matzah
A blessing specific to matzah is recited, and a bit of matzah is eaten

9. Maror: Bitter Herbs
A blessing is recited over a bitter vegetable (usually raw horseradish; sometimes romaine lettuce), and it is eaten. This symbolizes the bitterness of slavery. The maror is dipped in charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine, which symbolizes the mortar used by the Jews in building during their slavery.

Note that there are two bitter herbs on the seder plate: one labeled Maror and one labeled Chazeret. The one labeled Maror should be used for Maror and the one labeled Chazeret should be used in the Korech, below.

10. Korech: The Sandwich
Rabbi Hillel was of the opinion that the maror should be eaten together with matzah and the paschal offering in a sandwich. In his honor, we eat some maror on a piece of matzah, with some charoset
שולחן עורך
11. Shulchan Orekh: Dinner
A festive meal is eaten. There is no particular requirement regarding what to eat at this meal (except, of course, that chametz cannot be eaten)
12. Tzafun: The Afikomen
The piece of matzah set aside earlier is eaten as "dessert," the last food of the meal. Different families have different traditions relating to the afikomen. Some have the children hide it, while the parents have to either find it or ransom it back. Others have the parents hide it. The idea is to keep the children awake and attentive throughout the pre-meal proceedings, waiting for this part.
13. Barech: Grace after Meals
The third cup of wine is poured, and Birchat Hamazon (grace after meals) is recited. At the end, a blessing is said over the third cup and it is drunk. The fourth cup is poured, including a cup set aside for the prophet Elijah, who is supposed to herald the Moshiach, and is supposed to come on Pesach to do this. The door is opened for a while at this point for Elijah Hanavi. 
14. Hallel: Praises
Several psalms are recited. A blessing is recited over the last cup of wine and it is drunk.
15. Nirtzah: Closing
A simple statement that the seder has been completed, with a wish that next year, we may celebrate Pesach in Jerusalem (i.e., that the Messiah will come within the next year). This is followed by various hymns and stories.







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