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2017-04-10

Pesach 5777

Pesach, one of the most important Jewish holidays, falls on 15-22 Nisan 5777, or 11-18 April 2017 according to the Gregorian calendar. In Poland, it is sometimes referred to as the Jewish Easter. In 2017, it starts on the tenth of April. Like all other Jewish holiday, it starts at sunset.

Pesach is a spring holiday that Jews celebrate for eight days. In the Torah, the month of Nisan is described as the first month of the year. Pesach is also an agricultural holiday. Sacrifices of the first harvest and first born animals used to be made at that time. It also used to be referred to as Hag ha-Matzot, that is the Festival of the matzot.

The Book of Exodus (Shemot) tells us that Pesach commemorates the escape of the Jews from Egyptian slavery. The word pesach is derived from the verb pasah, meaning "pass" or skip in Hebrew, since according to the Book of Exodus the angel of death passed over the Jewish homes during the plague of the first borns. Pesach used to be one of the three pilgrimage holidays. Crowds of pilgrims came to Jerusalem at that time to sacrifice the fruits of the first harvest from their fields.

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In today's Israel, the holiday lasts for seven days, and in the Diaspora – for eight days. The first two days (one in Israel) are the most important, while following ones are the so-called half-holidays. Pesach starts with a festive supper. First, homes must be cleaned. All traces of chametz (leavening or leavened bread) as well as objects that could come in contact with it must be removed. Chametz is the product of one of five grains: wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats which have had contact with water for more than 18 minutes (the fermentation process starts after 18 minutes, according to the religious law). Not even a crumb may be left in the house.

For the next days, bread is to be replaced by matzot. We find the following instructions in the Book of Exodus:

For seven days, you are to eat bread made without yeast. But on the preceding day you shall clear away all leaven from your houses. (Shemot, 12:15).

Unleavened cakes shall be eaten during the seven days, and no leaven shall be seen of yours (Shemot, 13:7).

As soon as chametz is removed from the house, people can sit down to have a festive meal, the seder. In the Diaspora, we have two seders and in Israel only one. One should remember to keep one seat free for prophete Elijah. We also prepare a glass of wine for him. Seder (order in Hebrew) is celebrated according to a set of rules. The festive table decoration should include: salty water (mei melach), a vegetable, e.g. an onion (karpas in Hebrew), bitter herbs (maror and chazeret in Hebrew), a mixture of chopped fruit (charoset in Hebrew), an egg (beitzah in Hebrew) and e.g. a roasted chicken thigh (zeroa in Hebrew).

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The bitter herbs and salty water remind us of the hardships of slavery. The flat unleavened bread reminds us the haste in which Jews had to leave Egypt.

The Seder follows the reading of the Haggadah, or the story of the Jewish exodus from the Egyptian slavery.  An important part of the Hagada is recited by children. This is: Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh, mi-kol ha-leylot?, that is Why is this night different from all the other nights? Here are the answers:

On all other nights, we eat leavened bread, but tonight we eat only matzot.

On all other nights, we eat all kinds of herbs, but tonight we eat only bitter herbs.

On all other nights, we do not dip our food, but tonight we dip it twice.

On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but tonight we only recline.

The seder ends with the jointly-said wish:

Next year in Jerusalem! (Le-shana ha-baah bi-Yerushalayim, לשנה הבאה בירושלים)

 

Virtual Shtetl wishes you a happy and kosher Pesach!

Hag kasher ve-sameakh! (חג כשר ושמח)

A freyelkhn kushern Peysekh! (א פריילכן כשרן פסח)

 

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