Preparing for Passover
by Sharon Ann Soudakoff
Celebrating Passover 5758
Passover is one of the major Jewish holidays held every year. It starts at sunset on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month Nisan and it lasts for eight days outside of Israel.
What Is Passover?
Pessach is Hebrew for Passover, which stands for 'the Festival of Freedom'. This is when we celebrate freedom of the Jewish people as they left Egypt in the year 2448 according to the Jewish calendar. This year, it starts on Friday, April 10th, 1998 and ends with havdalah on Saturday, April 18th, 1998 after the appearance of the stars (approximately 42 minutes after sunset).
Laws And Customs
If you have attended a Pessach Seder, you will have noticed that there are many traditions that has been carried for over 3,300 years. The importance of Seder has persisted from generation to generation as families and friends gather at the Seder table. Before we go over what actually takes place at the Seder, we should look at what is involved to prepare for this eight-day long holiday.
During the eight days of Pessach, we do not eat any 'chometz' or leaven - food that contains grains and has been subjected to even the slightest amount of moisture for a period of time (approximately 15 minutes) before baking. Chometz includes wheat, rye, barley, oats, and nearly all grain products, and foods or drinks made from them or their derivatives.
It is often amazing to note how many products can have chometz - grain vinegar and products such as pickles, horseradish, etc. All articles made of flour such as matzos, cakes and macaroons require reliable endorsements by a reputable traditional spiritual leader known as 'Rav'.
Only endorsed matzo meal or potato starch may be used for baking. No ordinary flour is permitted to be used. You also need to make sure that candy, soft drinks, wines, liquors, milk, canned food and dried fruits are endorsed by a Rav. All green vegetables can be used except peas, beans and corn. Rice can not be used. (Sephardic custom allows the use of rice, beans, and etc under certain conditions.) A Rav (Chacham, Sephardic term for Rabbi) must be consulted.
When buying packaged food products, for your own safety, do not purchase any products unless the 'Kosher L'Pessach' sign attested to by Rabbinical authority, is obviously a part of the label printed on the container by the manufacturer. Whenever you are not sure, you should consult your Rabbi who will be more than happy to advise you.
Children should not be fed chometz during Passover unless a physician has so ordered and a Rabbi has been consulted as to procedure.
Why Do We Not Eat Chometz?
When the Jewish people left Egypt, they did not prepare food. They left quickly and baked unleavened dough into cakes known as matzahs. G-d commanded the Jewish people that to celebrate Passover, matzahs should be eaten and no chometz (leaven) should be eaten or owned by Jewish people during the holiday.
What Does That Mean?
Since chometz, also known as leaven, is not permitted in our food during Pessach, special attention must be given to dishes and utensils. For that reason, you may have noticed that people use different dishes and utensils that are reserved specifically for Pessach. Only under certain conditions can some of the utensils used throughout the year also be used on Pessach. That is when they are "kashered" or prepared in a special manner for Pessach use.
The laws of "Kashering" are many and varied. If you have any utensils that you wish to 'Kasher', consult your Rabbi. Kashering is a process to prepare dishes, utensils, appliances and the kitchen for Pessach.
* Every part of the oven or stove must be thoroughly cleansed and scraped to be sure no chometz remains. It must then be heated to a glow. During Pessach, special metal sheets are placed over the top of the range to prevent contact of any part of the stove with Pessach utensils. There are specially made tin boxes which are recommended, that may be placed inside the oven, after it has been thoroughly cleansed. If you do not intend to use the oven, these processes are unnecessary. Cleansing and scraping are sufficient. (For exact instructions, a Rav should be consulted.)
* Since starch contains flour, heavily starched table cloths should not be used for Pessach purposes. Plastic table cloths are permissible.
* Many soaps and cosmetics contain leaven derivatives and are consequently Chometz'dig - unfit to use on Pessach. Ask your Rabbi which brands may be used. There are companies that manufacture cosmetics Kosher for Pessach. Otherwise contact a Jewish organization who can advise you as a public service.
* Many medicines and vitamin pills are Chometz'dig - due to grain derivatives. Again, a Rabbi should be consulted before using it.
The Night Before...
'Bedikos Chometz' - the final search for Chometz begins after sunset of the evening before Pessach. The lady of the house or someone else usually places ten small pieces of bread (on napkins so no crumbs may be lost) at the windows, on the dressers, etc.
The head of the family says a prayer, the Brocha of 'Al Biyur Chometz' (found in the Siddur or Haggadah). Then, using the light of a candle, proceeds from room to room to search for any Chometz, using a feather to sweep the crumbs (customarily into a wooden spoon). After gathering all chometz, it is well wrapped to be burned the following morning.
He also inspects closets, cupboards, pockets in clothes, behind the radiators, etc. Then, the 'Kol Chamira' prayer (found in the Haggadah) is said to renounce ownership of any Chometz which was not found during the Bedika (search).
Any chometz found during Bedika, including the gathered crumbs, should be put away, so as to prevent its spreading whatsoever. After the search for the bread is done, the bag is put away in a safe place until the morning when it is burned. The exact time that it has to be burned by depends on local times and a Rabbi should be consulted. At that point, all of the laws of Passover go into effect.
At The Seder Table
The word 'Seder' means 'order' or 'method'. During the Seder, we follow specific rituals. Now for the exciting part that you may be more familiar with.
The first night of Passover is when the Jewish people actually brought the Passover sacrifice and ate it before G-d at midnight smote ("killed"). G-d killed all of the firstborn sons of Egypt at midnight. The Korban Pessach (Passover sacrifice was eaten before the killing of the first-born) the same night. The Jews left Egypt the next day at Noon. (believe it or not) So the first night (and outside of Israel, the second night as well), we celebrate by having a Seder. Three special matzos (representing the Kohen, the Levite, and the Yisroel) each wrapped separately and placed one on top of the other on a plate on the Seder table. These matzos are specially prepared for use during Pessach containing only flour and water. Also called 'bread of affliction', this unleavened bread reminds us of what our people ate in the land of Egypt. They were in a hurry to leave that they had no time to let the dough rise.
There is also wine (usually red wine). Each person at the Seder drinks four 'kosos' of wine. The number four signifies the four expressions of Redemption which G-d used when sending Moses to free us (Exodus 6.6-7).
"I will bring you forth"
"I will deliver you"
"I will redeem you"
"And I will take you unto me"
The wine symbolizes joy and happiness.
On the Seder Plate, you will see the 'Zeroa' which is usually a boiled or a broiled neck of chicken. This is a symbol for the Paschal Lamb that is offered on the 14th day of Nisan during the time of the Bais Hamikdosh (Holy Temple in Jerusalem), Neither the Zeroa nor any broiled meat may be eaten on the Seder nights. It is only placed on the plate.
Then, you will see the 'Baytza', a hard boiled egg that is partially broiled after cooking. It symbolizes the 'Chagigah' (festival offering) that is offered during the three major festivals when we had the Bais Hamikdosh.
And then there is the 'Moror', usually Romaine lettuce or grated dry horseradish. These bitter herbs reminds of the time when our people were under Egyptian yoke and their lives were embittered by hard labor at clay bricks and all manner of toil in the fields.
Next is the 'Charoses' - a mixture usually composed of nuts, grated apples, (cinnamon and ginger) with a bit of wine added to make it a paste. During the Seder the moror is dipped into the Charoses. This, too, is a symbol of slavery. It resembles the mortar at which our ancestors worked during their enslavement.
And the 'Karpas' - a vegetable such as boiled potato, onion, radish, etc. The vegetable is dipped into salt water. The reason for this and eating it so much prior to the actual meal is to arouse the curiosity of the children to inquire as to the meaning of this irregularity. The father will then have an opportunity to explain the significance of this night and details of the exodus of Egypt.
It must be remembered that the main underlying purpose of the Seder is the questions to be asked by the children and the answers by the adults.
The reason that salt water is used with Karpas is to point to our present status as free men. The food that was served to us in Egypt was prepared without salt, which was considered a delicacy reserved for the free. Some say that the salt water also signifies the bitter tears that flowed from the Israelites as they were oppressed in Egypt.
We follow a book called the 'Haggadah' which contains the narration and ceremonials of the Seder for participants to follow. The Haggadah is based on the biblical commandment "And you shall narrate to your son on that day, saying: 'It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt'. In reading the Haggadah, we are observing the command to narrate the tale of the exodus from Egypt.
During the Seder, there is a custom where we pour wine into a special cup and call it 'Kos Shol Eliyahu' - the Cup of Elijah. This custom comes from an old Talmudic controversy as to whether there should be four or five cups on Seder night. According to tradition, Eliyahu Hanavi actually comes to each Seder. To symbolize the coming of Elijah, we stand up and welcome him with the words Baruch Haba (Blessed be he who comes).
In the days of the Bais Hamikdosh, the Paschal Lamb is eaten at the conclusion of the meal. It is forbidden to eat anything after the Paschal Lamb. Today the Afikomen, which means dessert, takes place of the Paschal offering and is the last thing eaten on Seder night. It has become a custom for the children to 'steal' the Afikomen and to exact some gift for its return. This custom was introduced in order to enliven the closing parts of the Seder and have the children remain awake until the end.
The leader conducting the Seder, and all adult males, recline on a pillow on the left side. This posture connotes freedom and independence.
The Seder, or order for procedure of the evening, is contained in fifteen concise Hebrew terms as presented in the Haggadah:
1. Kadaish - Sanctification - We begin the Seder by filling the 'kosos'
(cups) with wine and recite Kiddush. We drink Kosos in a reclining position.
2. Oorechatz - Wash - We wash our hands in the way it is customary before
a meal, but do not make a blessing.
3. Karpas - Vegetable - We dip a small piece of vegetable into salt water
and before eating it, make the blessing over vegetable.
4. Yachatz - Division - We break the middle matzo and 'hide' the larger
part for the Afikomen (to be eaten at end of meal), and put the smaller
part back between the two other matzos.
5. Maggid - Tell - The youngest member of the family at the Seder asks
the MaNishtana (the Four Questions).
6. Rachatz - Washing - After drinking the second cup of wine, we wash
our hands for the meal, this time with the customary blessing.
7. Motzi - Blessing of Hamotzi - Taking hold of the three matzos, the
broken one between the two whole ones, the blessing of Hamotzi is made.
8. Matzo - Blessing of 'Al Achilas Matzo' - Holding only the top matzo
and a half, we make the blessing 'Al Achilas Hiatzo' and then break off
a goodly piece of the top matzo and also a piece from the middle one, while
reclining, eat the two pieces together.
9. Moror - Bitter Vegetable - We dip the Moror in Charoses and make the
blessing 'Al Achilas Moror'. As it is obligatory to eat a sizable piece
of moror, we are advised to use Romaine lettuce rather than horseradish.
This vegetable is considered moror because of the bitterness of its core
and it leaves when they fully mature.
10. Korech - Sandwich - We break off pieces of bottom matzo, put moror
between them, and say 'Ken osso Hillel' and, while reclining, eat it.
11. Shulchan Orech - Set table - we now eat the meal.
12. Zofun - The Hidden Afikomen - We eat the Afikomen, after which no
other food may be eaten.
13. Boroch - Grace After Meal - We drink the third cup of wine after
making the 'Bore Pri Hagofen'. (Blessing for the wine)
14. Hallel - Prayer of Praise - After filling the fourth cup of wine,
we open the front door of the house, say the 'Shofoch' prayer and the conclusion
of the Haggadah and recite the Hallel. Then, after saying 'Boro Pri Hagofen',
we drink the fourth cup.
15. Nirtzo - Acceptance - Having carried out the Seder properly, we hope
our service is accepted by G-d.
Selling the Chometz
A Jew is not allowed to own any Chometz for the entire eight days of the holiday. So we sell it to a non-Jewish person. Usually, one does this through a Rav. We also lock up all the places that have chometz in them, like the cabinets and drawers, etc.
Make Sure Everyone Celebrates Pessach
Passover is one of the major Jewish holidays each year. It is important, as we unite to celebrate the freedom of Jewish people everywhere, that we make sure everyone is able to participate including the poor and the unfortunate people.
It has been a tradition of the Jewish Community around the world to have a Mo'os Chittim drive, raise money to provide the poor with the necessities of the Yom Tov (holiday). This has been carried out through the generations in the magnanimous spirit of our declaration at the recital of the Haggadah. "Kol dichfin yesei veyechul" - all that are hungry, lot them come and eat. Bais Yaakov conducts a Mo'os Chittir campaign and distributes the funds to poor families here and in Israel. If you have not yet contributed toward Mo'os Chittim, please do so right away. JDCC has a Passover Fund.
We hope you will join us at the fourth annual JDCC Community Seder which will be held on the first evening of Pessach this year.
L'Shana Haba'ah b'Yerushalayim!