Celebrating Passover: Traditions and Ritual
Celebrating Passover involves a variety of rituals that are symbolic of the story of Passover: the Jews exodus from Egypt and their ultimate emancipation from the Egyptians.
Preparing for Passover is as important as the actual celebration itself and begins with ridding one’s home of chametz, or anything made from the five major grains: wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt. The process of eliminating chametz is a time consuming one, requiring several days to thoroughly scrub the home clean and even to delve into all the nooks and crannies to find every crumb. The morning of the Seder a formal search is undertaken for any remaining chametz using a candle to illuminate the dark corners, a feather to sweep, and a wooden spoon to scoop up and dispose of chametz. Any chametz that was found must be burned.
On the first and second night of Passover, the Seder, which means order, is held as a reenactment of the Jews exodus from Egypt. Reliving and retelling the story each year is done so that all may remember the plight and ultimate salvation of the Jews. The Seder is broken into 15 steps that illustrate the story with various traditions. For example, every person present drinks four cups of wine to remember to four promises God made to the Jews on exodus: “I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians, I will deliver you from their bondage, I will redeem you, I will take you as my people.”(Exodus 6: 6-7)
The 15 steps of the Seder are:
1. Kaddesh—Sanctification. Recite Kaddesh, a blessing over a cup of wine or grape juice.
2. Urechatz—Washing. Washing of the hands, 3 times for each right and left, without making a blessing in preparation for Karpas.
3. Karpas—Vegetable. Dip a vegetable, usually parsley, into salt water and eat it. This is done to remember the tears the Jews shed during slavery.
4. Yachatz—Breaking. Break one of the three matzah at the table in two. The larger piece is called the Afikoman and is hidden. He who finds it may ask for a gift. The other piece is returned to the table.
5. Maggid—The Story. The story of the exodus and the first Passover is retold, beginning with the youngest person at the table asking the four questions. Each of the four questions begins with: Why is this night different from all other nights?
• On all other nights, we eat either unleavened or leavened bread, but tonight we eat only unleavened bread?
• On all other nights, we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight, we eat only bitter herbs?
• On all other nights, we do not dip [our food] even once, but tonight we dip twice?
• On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but tonight we only recline?
6. Rachtza—Washing. A second washing of the hands but this time with a blessing in prepration for eating the matzah.
7. Motzi—Blessing over Grain Products. A blessing for grain products and bread is said over the matzah.
8. Matzah—Blessing over Matzah. A specific blessing is said over the matzah and some is eaten.
9. Maror—Bitter Herbs. A blessing is recited over a bitter vegetable, usually horseradish, which is then eaten with a bit of romaine lettuce to symbolize the bitterness of slavery. Maror is eaten with a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine, known as charoses, which symbolizes the mortar used by the Jews in building during their slavery.
10. Korech—The Sandwich. A special prayer is said and maror is eaten on matzah with charoses.
11. Schulchan Orech—Dinner. Time to enjoy a sumptous, festive meal!
12. Tzafun—The Afikoman. Let the hunt begin: children now go on the search for the afikoman, which is eaten as “dessert”.
13. Barech—Grace. Grace is recited and tahnks are given. The third cup of wine is poured and a blessing is said over the cup before it is drunk.
14. Hallel—Praises. A fourth cup of wine is poured as well as a cup for the Prophet Elijah. The fourth cup of wine is blessed and consumed.
15. Nirtzah—Closing. A closing prayer is said along with a wish that next year Passover may be celebrated in Jerusalem.
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