Passover is the eight day holiday on which we celebrate the Exodus of our ancestors from slavery in Egypt. There are many rich traditions connected to Passover, many of them centered on food. (Surprise, surprise!) We eliminate all leavened products from our homes and eat matzah (unleavened bread) for eight days.
Sinai's Second Night Community Seder - All Set Up in 2014
Sinai holds holiday services at 9:00 am on the 1st, 2nd, 7th, and 8th days of Passover, in addition to regular Shabbat services and Sunday morning minyan.
Passover has several names in the Torah, each one saying something different about the meaning of the holiday:
Chag HaPesach – The Festival of the Paschal Offering. On the night of the fourteenth of the first month (which we call Nisan), the Torah instructs us to offer a special sacrifice of an unblemished lamb. It is to be eaten roasted, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, as a “holy barbecue” by a person’s entire household, along with guests. In ancient Israel, this celebration marked the renewal of spring.
Chag HaMatzot – The Festival of Unleavened Bread. Beginning on the fifteenth day of the first month, a seven day festival takes place on which all leavened products must be removed from the home. Only unleavened bread may be eaten. This was an agricultural holiday that celebrated the beginning of the grain harvest.
Orginally, Chag HaPesach and Chag HaMatzot were two separate ancient holidays that had nothing to do with the Exodus from Egypt. The Torah, however, combines them into a single festival that symbolizes the Exodus, while retaining the earlier associations.
The paschal sacrifice must be eaten quickly – with loins girded, sandals on feet and staff in hand – as if ready to depart that night. None of the sacrifice can be left over the next morning. The name Pesach also came to be associated with the tenth plague. The Israelites painted their doorposts with the blood from the paschal sacrifice so that the angel of death would “pass over” (pasach) their homes, sparing their first born children.
Matzah came to symbolize freedom. Our ancestors did not have time to let the dough rise before leaving Egypt, so they had to make due with unleavened bread.
With the joining of these two holidays, the Torah adds two additional names that incorporate the historical elements into the seasonal/agricultural celebrations
Chag HaCheirut – The Festival of Freedom. In the kiddush for Passover, we refer to the holiday as Z’man Cheiruteinu, the time of our freedom. The Exodus from Egypt is the founding experience of the Jewish people. It plays a primary role in our collective consciousness. The memory of slavery is meant to inspire us to behave compassionately towards those who are suffering. The experience of freedom serves as an eternal bond between us and God.
Chag HaAviv – The Festival of Spring. This name ties together the agricultural and historical aspects of the holiday. Springtime is the time for renewal, the beginning of the grain harvest, and the time when our ancestors were freed from Egypt. Because of the Torah’s reference to Passover as a springtime holiday, we adjust the lunar-based Hebrew calendar. During seven years out of every nineteen year cycle, we add an additional month to ensure that Passover always occurs on the night of the first full moon after the Spring equinox.
Of course, we include all of these elements in our celebration of Passover today. We have reminders of the paschal offering on our seder plate, along with symbolic representations of springtime and rebirth. We tell the story of God freeing our ancestors from slavery, and we re-experience that freedom ourselves.
So whatever you want to call it – Chag HaPesach, Chag HaMatzot, Chag HaCheirut, or Chag Ha-Aviv – HAVE A HAPPY PASSOVER!