Mysteries of Passover Surprising History and Fascinating Facts Revealed

Mysteries of Passover Surprising History and Fascinating Facts Revealed

What is Passover? 

The major Jewish holiday Passover honors the story found in the biblical Book of Exodus about the Israelites' freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt. It is observed every year in the spring, usually during the Hebrew month of Nisan. Depending on Jewish custom, it may run for seven or eight days. The biblical account of God passing over the Israelites' houses during the tenth plague, sparing their firstborn children while punishing the Egyptians' firstborn children, is the source of the term "Passover" for the feast. In the end, Pharaoh decided to free the Israelites from slavery as a result of this incident.

A number of traditions and rituals surround Passover, such as the Seder feast, which tells the tale of the Exodus through readings, music, and symbolic foods. The custom of eating unleavened bread (matzah) instead of leavened bread (chametz) to represent the Israelites' hasty departure from Egypt, when they did not have enough time for their bread to rise, is one of the main features of Passover. Jews consider themes of liberation, redemption, and the everlasting bond between God and the Jewish people during the Passover holiday. The occasion honors the blessings of liberty while commemorating the path from slavery to freedom and the significance of keeping the remembrance of past hardships alive.

When is Passover 2024?

The dates of Passover 2024 are April 22, 2024, and April 30, 2024. Because Passover is determined by the lunar-based Hebrew calendar rather than the Gregorian one, the date varies annually. It happens in the Hebrew month of Nisan every time.

The Story Behind the Passover 

The Passover story, which is found in the Torah, describes the Israelites' captivity in Egypt, their rescue, and their flight—known as "the Exodus." The narrative starts with Joseph, the son of Jacob, who was sent to Egypt as a destitute and helpless servant after being sold into slavery by his brothers. However, Joseph quickly ascended to prominence and power thanks to his knowledge and gift for dream interpretation, and the Egyptian monarch turned to him as a valued counselor. Many of the other Israelites went to Egypt with him, along with his entire family. For many generations, they flourished and proliferated there. However, a new monarch, or "pharaoh," arose in Egypt, and this one was unaware of Joseph's assistance. The new Pharaoh was wary of the Israelites because they had grown significantly in number over the years and he thought they would rebel against him at some point. He therefore mistreated them and had them labor in appalling conditions as slaves. The Israelites nevertheless made it through and kept growing in number.

Pharaoh, horrified by their tenacity, decided to punish them more severely by ordering the execution of all sons born to Israelite mothers. Although Shifrah and Puah, the brave Israelite midwives, disobeyed this order, the baby boys remained in grave danger. Yocheved, an Israelite woman, was afraid for her infant boy's life when he was born. She put him in a basket and left him floating in the vicinity of the bathing areas along the Nile River. Pharaoh's daughter arrived at the river and discovered the infant in the basket while Yocheved's daughter Miriam observed from a distance. Moses, meaning "drawn from the water," was the name she gave him and brought him up as her own. Moses knew very little about his possible life growing up in the palace. But as he grew older, he realized how bad things were for his people. Moses killed an Egyptian taskmaster after witnessing him abuse an Israelite slave one day.

After coming to terms with his actions, Moses left for the country of Midian. There, he wed Tzipporah, a Midianite woman, and took up shepherding. One day, as Moses was tending his sheep, he saw an incredible sight: a burning bush that was not being consumed. There, Moses heard from God, who promised that he or his sibling Aaron would deliver the Israelites from slavery. Though Moses wasn't sure if anyone would pay attention to him, God gave him encouragement and strong signs, so Moses decided to leave Midian and go back to Egypt. When Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh, they begged him to release the Jews (Exodus 5:1, Moses says to Pharaoh, "Let my people go"). However, Pharaoh declined, doubting that Moses was speaking on God's behalf. Pharaoh made the Israelites labor as payback.

God then revealed to Moses that the Egyptians would experience a string of plagues as evidence of God's might until Pharaoh consented to release the Jews:

  1. transforming the Nile's water into blood
  2. Frogs with lice
  3. untamed animals
  4. Bovine illness
  5. Boils
  6. Hail Locusts
  7. Shadows
  8. The slaying of the Firstborn Egyptian

God killed the firstborn of every Egyptian household during the last plague, but He "passed over" (thus creating the holiday of Passover) the Israelites' homes (whose doors were marked with the blood of a lamb), sparing their children. Pharaoh eventually gave in to the disease and let the Israelites go. Without enough time for their bread to rise, they hastily packed and fled Egypt, which is why eating leavened, or risen, grain products is forbidden on this festival and why matzah is traditionally consumed.

The Israelites were pursued by Pharaoh's army to the Red (or, more accurately, "Reed") Sea as soon as he realized his mistake. It seemed that the Jews were doomed, with the ocean in front of them and Pharaoh's army pursuing them from behind. However, God instructed Moses to wave his staff across the sea at that precise moment, and in what is arguably the greatest miracle in Jewish history, the seas divided and the Jews were able to cross on dry land. The seas closed as they approached the far side of the sea, submerging Pharaoh and his warriors beneath the surface. The Israelites started their trek in the dry land, and Moses, Miriam, and the rest of them sang songs of gratitude to God for their deliverance, including Mi Chamochah, which is included in our current liturgy. The Hebrew word pasach, which means "passed over," is the source of the English word "Passover." It alludes to the 10th plague, which killed the Egyptian firstborn but, amazingly, "passed over" the Israelites' homes (more on that later).

Traditional Passover foods include:

  • Matzah: Unleavened bread, representing the Israelites' hasty departure from Egypt.
  • Maror: The bitterness of slavery is symbolized by bitter herbs, usually horseradish.
  • Charoset: A concoction of finely chopped apples, almonds, wine, and spices that represents the mortar that the Israelite slaves in Egypt used to construct their buildings.
  • Karpas: A vegetable, usually celery or parsley, soaked in brine to represent the tears shed during enslavement.
  • Zeroa: A roasted chicken neck or shank bone that symbolizes the Passover sacrifice.
  • Beitzah: A roasted egg, representing rebirth and life's circle.

During the Passover Seder, a traditional dinner held on the first two nights of Passover (and occasionally all seven or eight nights, depending on custom), these dishes are extensively featured. Furthermore, other traditional Jewish foods may be served during Passover, with adjustments made to ensure they are free from chametz (leavened ingredients).

FAQS

Q. What is Passover and why is it celebrated?

Passover is a significant Jewish holiday commemorating the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. It marks the Exodus, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt following ten plagues sent by God upon the Egyptians, culminating in the sparing of the Israelite firstborns during the final plague. Passover celebrates freedom, redemption, and the covenant between God and the Jewish people.

Q. What is Passover in the Bible?

In the Bible, Passover is described in the Book of Exodus. It recounts the story of the Israelites' slavery in Egypt, their liberation, and their journey to the Promised Land. The holiday is specifically linked to the events surrounding the final plague inflicted upon Egypt, during which the Israelites marked their doorposts with the blood of a lamb so that the Angel of Death would "pass over" their homes, sparing their firstborns. Passover is also associated with the instructions given to the Israelites to eat unleavened bread (matzah) and to commemorate their hurried departure from Egypt.

Q. Why is Passover 7 days?

Passover is traditionally observed for seven days, following the biblical commandment to eat unleavened bread for that duration (Exodus 12:15). In the diaspora (outside of Israel), an additional day is added to the holiday, making it eight days. This duration also aligns with the historical practices and traditions that have developed within Jewish communities over the centuries.

Q. What are the 4 rules for the Passover?

The rules for Passover include:

  • Eating unleavened bread (matzah) instead of leavened bread (chametz) throughout the holiday.
  • Removing all chametz from one's possession before the holiday begins.
  • Refraining from eating certain foods that are considered chametzes, such as bread, pasta, and anything made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelled.
  • Participating in the Seder meal, which includes specific foods and rituals prescribed by Jewish tradition, such as eating bitter herbs (maror) to remember the bitterness of slavery and dipping vegetables in salt water to symbolize the tears shed during that time.