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What is Passover?

Of all the Jewish holidays that we Jews celebrate, the most impactful on our souls and if we are not careful, our bodies, is Pesach, Passover. The story takes place in Egypt where the Jewish people had lived for 210 years. As with many exiles since, at first our stay in Egypt as strangers in a strange land began wonderfully, with Joseph being the viceroy of the land, and the Jewish people having freedom to live as they wished as monotheists in the spirit of their forefathers, and foremothers.

Soon however, things changed. A new Pharaoh began to rule over Egypt. The Hebrews (as we were called then) began to suffer greatly as slaves, and the Egyptians began to mistrust this strange people who dressed, spoke and had different names to them.

Eventually the labor became so back-breaking that the Hebrews started to cry out to their One and true G-d to rescue them. Although he had not grown up among his people, and maybe because of that, Moshe was chosen to be G-d's implement to punish the Egyptians and to take out His people.

After a series of nine devastating plagues that changed the face of Egypt, the final plague, the killing of the firstborn, was the final straw for the recalcitrant Pharaoh to let the people go. The fact that Pharaoh himself was a firstborn, one could assume motivated him to remove this troublesome population from his country.

Before they left, they were commanded to bring a lamb into their homes for a few days. This may seem a fairly innocuous commandant, however, when we realize that the lamb and sheep in general were considered to be a god in Egypt, this was a particularly dangerous move. A miracle happened and the Egyptians were unable to harm the Hebrews even though they wanted to for committing such an offence. We celebrate the miracle of the Jewish people's safety at that moment, the Shabbat before Pesach and refer to it as Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Shabbat!

The night before their delivery from Egypt, the Jewish people sacrificed this lamb, used its blood to draw upon the doorposts of their homes, so G-d would Pesach, “Passover” their homes and not hurt them when He killed the Egyptian firstborn.

That night they ate the Egyptian god, as a paschal offering, and left the next day, with matzah on their backs. If they had spent an entire night as completely free people, why did they need to leave in such a hurry the next day? And the answer is that they left quickly, not because they were afraid of the Egyptians, but because of their eagerness to reach Mount Sinai, receive the Torah and become G-ds chosen people.

Once a year we celebrate and really relive that experience by performing the seder (order) by reading the haggadah, eating matzah, and maror (bitter herbs to remember the bitter moments we experienced in Egypt) and drinking four cups of wine to celebrate the incredible miracles of our freedom.

We also are told to remove and not eat any leaven products for the entirety of the Pesach. Leavened bread is different from matzah as it was left to rise. We therefore consider leavened bread to represent “haughtiness” and “laziness” as it is full of air and took time to prepare. We the Jewish people should be like matzah, quick, light, and humble (as it is low) to fulfill the mitzvoth of Hashem. The word Matzot and Mitzvot in Hebrew are actually the same letters!

The Kabbalists say that every year a feeling of that freedom can be felt on Pesach night, and we too can go free from all the things that “enslave” us in our lives, whether that is bad character traits, unhealthy relationships, or anything else that keeps us from maximizing our true spiritual potential.

One of the main focuses of Pesach is the children. Going back thousands of years, children have been the focal point of the seder, by making them ask questions, or hiding the afikomen, or doing things in an unusual manner to pique their interest to ask more questions. One possible reason for this unique aspect of Pesach, is because children represent the next generation in the Jewish line that has come through history. We therefore are commanded in the Torah to specifically tell this story to our children, so that can not only hear the story of the ancestors, but own it as well.