[The Classic Christian Network] PASSOVER PREPARATIONS (1): "An Overview&…

Posted: April 11, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Artist: Rochelle Blumenfeld 

Available for purchase in the Passover Section @ AJP

When is Passover? And how do people celebrate Passover?

Passover is an eight day festival which begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. Jewish holidays begin at sundown the night before, so for the year 2005, the first night of Passover will be April 23rd. Orthodox Jews observe the first two days and the last two days of Pesach as holy days similar to Shabbat. Conservative & Reform Jews generally celebrate Passover with seders on the first two nights, and all people who keep Passover eat matzah instead of unleavened bread throughout the week.

Traditionally, on the evening before Pesach begins with the first seder, a search for chametz (any product derived from grain) using a wooden spoon and a feather is conducted. The next morning the remaining chometz is burned and a special prayer is said to officially deny any ownership of any chametz (also spelled hametz). Cereals and other vegetables resembling hametz-producing grain such as rice, peas, beans, lentils, corn, legumes, millet are disallowed by Ashkenazic (Jews of Northern European descent) Jewish tradition, but many Sephardic Jews (of Spanish/Portuguese or Middle Eastern or African descent) have a different tradition which allows these foods for Passover. More information about these different Passover customs & traditions can be found here: Ashkenazic | Sephardic

The Passover Seder

Seder is a Hebrew word that means “order.” In this case, it specifically refers to the order of prayers and activities for the evening of Passover, stemming from the experience of the Israelites in Egypt as recounted in Chapter 12 of Exodus in the Bible when they left slavery in Egypt to become free.

The seder is guided by a Haggadah, which comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to explain” or “to narrate.” In Exodus 13:8 the Israelites are instructed to “Tell your child on that day, saying: It is because of that which God did for me when l came forth out of Egypt.” On the basis of this passage, it is considered a duty to narrate the story of the Exodus on the eve of Passover to pass along the story to future generations, as well as remind oneself of one’s own history. Discussion of personal experiences & relation to a modern context is also highly encouraged, as the seder is meant to be a personal experience for all participants even though the events being discussed took place a long time ago. If you want to try a new haggadah for your seder, here are my recommended Passover Haggadahs & Companion Books.

I often have several non-Jewish friends at my seders. And the themes we talk about aren’t about slaves in the traditional sense.

A large part of what we discuss is metaphysical & spiritual in nature, largely stemming from the Buddhist concept that attachment is what brings suffering life. And bondage is by definition, strong attachment. We talk about the bondage we put ourselves in every time we think about the insecurities we have about ourselves, the thoughts we think that put ourselves down, the negative core beliefs we continue to hold onto about ourselves even though they do not serve us. For all of us, the seder offers an opportunity to release–to discuss and free ourselves from the bondage of mental negativity that is part of everyone’s human experience. Every participant is offered the chance to let themselves out of Egypt by letting go of shame, fear, hurt, anger, disappointment, grief, bitterness, judgement, and our old favorite the “I’m not good enough” belief–any thought or idea that drags them down, and having the group at the table support them in that moment by adding their energy and focus to the fulfillment of that effort. Leaving Egypt is a way to finding your soul, and you don’t have to wander in the desert for 40 years to do it. In this way, the seder resonates and becomes very personal even for participants whose relatives were not slaves in Egypt, because for us, at our seder table, Egypt is a state of mind.

We also talk about oppression in parts of the world where it exists unchecked, and debate the role that our own country plays in keeping freedom from reaching some of those country’s populaces with the policies we pursue as a nation that keep oppressive dictators in power. If this makes you uncomfortable, keep reading. I say this not because I hate America, but because I love America, and I want us to be as a nation closer to the ideals we claim to be about than to the reality of what I think we are, because there is no dream for freedom greater, or vision stronger than the one promised by America. It takes courage to admit that we have problems that need to be addressed, and it is this very strong attachment to “being right” and “all-powerful” and the very normal human desire to pretend like everything’s OK because change takes hard work and strong mental commitment, that allow problems to persist on both a personal and national level. The seder offers a chance to think globally, and act locally, meaning, within yourself and your own life to reassess your part in the commitment to spread the American dream of freedom. We talk about the war in Iraq and soldiers willing to die to defend freedom, and we honor their sacrifices, and that of their families. We talk about children being sold as sex slaves in Asia, because even though we can do nothing while we all sit at the table to help them, we can at least remember them in the moment , because the fact that they are not forgotten means there is at least a place to begin to solve that problem. And we ask everyone to think about what they can do after the seder to bring freedom to someone–to themselves, by letting go of whatever’s holding them back, to a friend, by being there in support to help someone else let go of something troubling them and enter their “promised land”, or to others in another country or our own country by reaching out as a volunteer or making a financial contribution to make a difference.

Candles are lit to start Passover, just as on any Sabbath or Festival. Many people like to use pillows at the table and eat reclining, because in ancient times to eat that way was the sign of being free. Prominent on the seder table is the Seder Plate.

The Seder Plate

Decorative Seder Plates, Art & Passover Ritual Items 
made by American & Israeli artists)

The Seder plate includes Maror (bitter herbs, to remind of the suffering of slavery), Charoset (apple nut mixture resembling mortar used by slaves to build bricks, yet sweet to remind of sweetness after suffering), Pascal Lamb (Kosher Shankbone, to represent the ancient sacrifice of the Paschal lamb (Pesach) which had to be eaten roasted, & remind of how the Lord “posach” or “passed” over the houses of the Jews when visiting the plagues because they smeared lamb’s blood over their door frames to mark their houses, Baytza (roasted egg, representing both fertility and renewal of Spring and the required roasted offering brought on all festivals in the Temple), Karpas (parsley, dipped in salt water to remind seder participants of the tears shed during times of slavery.) and Chazaret (lettuce or watercress, a symbol of how the rich born free began their meals — with salad instead of bread).

Four cups of wine are had during the seder because of the four promises made to Jewish ancestors when they were freed from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 6:6-7). “I will take you out” of the land of bondage. “I will save” you.“ I will free” you from slavery. “ I will take” you to be a Chosen People. Kiddish is said over the first cup of wine. The Cup of Elijah, filled with wine, is kept on the table untasted throughout the Seder, and the door to the house is kept ajar in the hope that the Prophet Elijah may appear as a messenger of God and announce the coming of the Messiah. A second cup, called Miriam’s Cup, is a new addition to the Passover dinner table, you can read all about Miriam and Miriam’s Cup to learn more about Passover’s heroine.

Try Handmade Shmura Matzoh this Passover!

Matzah (plural : matzot) is unleavened and unfermented bread. It is the bread that the Israelites baked during their hasty flight from Egypt that left no timne for bread to rise. Three matzot are placed in the Seder tray. Half of the middle matzah, becomes the Afikomen (dessert), and is playfully “stolen” by a child and ransomed back to the adults prior to the second half of the seder for a prize, or as in my family’s tradition, it is hidden by the adults, found by the children then sold back to the adults for some cash. (Note to children: Grandpas generally give the best exchange rates.) Shmura is a special hand-made, round-shaped Matzah, , that in my opinion, tastes way better than the regular matzah you get at the grocery store. Shmura comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to watch or to guard” indicating that the entire process of making the matzah is carefully supervised by a rabbi from the moment the grain is harvested until the finished matzahs are packaged. Shmura matzah is made in small batches, often of whole grain flour, in areas with large Jewish populations, but you can order it from the above link if you want to try it. It’s what I use for my seders every year.

Along with various prayers for each of the items on the seder plate, Highlights of the seder service include:

The Four Questions  
(asked by the youngest at the table)
all answered in decription of the seder above

Four Question Passover Puppet Set 

Each two sided puppet shows why Passover is different from all other nights of the year.

On all other nights we eat all kinds of breads. Why do we eat only matzoh on Pesach?

On all other nights we eat many kinds of vegetables and herbs. Why do we eat bitter herbs, maror, at our Seder?

On all other nights we don’t usually dip our foods. Why do we dip our foods twice tonight?

On all other nights we eat sitting up straight? Why do we lean on a pillow tonight and eat reclining?

The Reciting of the Ten Plagues

1 Blood
2 Frogs
3 Lice (vermin)
4 Wild Beasts(flies)
5 Blight (Cattle Disease)
6 Boils
7 Hail
8 Locusts
9 Darkness
10 Slaying of the First Born
10 Passover Plagues Puppet Set

An excellent & fun learning tool 
for children at the seder

“Dayenu” It Would Have Been Enough

Perhaps the most famous of Passover songs, this song is about commemorating the miracles of Passover. Each of the plagues is consdiered a miracle, because the Jews were spared from each, and the fact that even after Pharaoh freed the Jews, yet another miracle occured after Pharoah decided he didn’t want to let Moses’ people go after all, when God parted the Red Sea to allow the Jews to escape from the Pharaoh’s army who were chasing them down across the desert, then once the Jews were safely across, closed the sea on Pharaoh’s army, sending them to a watery grave. 



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