Passover takes place this year on March 25th at sundown. It is a holiday with universal themes: freedom from slavery, spring and renewal. It begins with the Seder, the festive meal that is more than just a meal; it is an evening long event where participants are taken on the journey of the Israelites from slavery to freedom through food, song, rituals and celebration. Symbolic foods are laid out on a Seder Plate placed in the middle of the table as a reminder of the themes of the holiday.
At the Seder, there is something for everyone: guests actively participate in the story telling, they drink four cups of wine, blessings are recited in praise of God and his miracles, and even children are kept entertained, beginning with the youngest child asking the leader of the Seder about the meaning of the holiday and its symbolic foods. (“The Four Questions”). Later, the children win a prize when they play a game of hide and seek with a piece of matzah, and finally they are in their element when the door is opened inviting an invisible guest (the Prophet Elijah) to join the festivities.
Seder means order in Hebrew. The Seder follows a specific order, and each of its fifteen segments help to create a framework for telling the story of the Israelites freedom from slavery after four hundred years of bondage to King Pharoah. The drama of the exodus unfolds through the Haggadah, the book used by all who are present at the Seder. The story has all the elements of a great adventure: God brings plagues upon Egypt to force Pharoah to free the Israelite slaves. The most severe plague of all, the tenth plague is the killing of all first born males. It does the trick; Pharoah finally allows the Israelite slaves to go free. The tenth plague is the basis for the name of the holiday, Passover, when the Israelites are instructed by Moses to sacrifice a lamb and place its blood on their doorposts. The blood would serve as a sign for the angel of death to “pass over” the Israelite homes and not smite their first born sons like the Egyptians. The adventure continues with the slaves leaving Egypt quickly, not having time to allow their bread to rise. The result is unleavened bread, known today as “matzah”, a traditional food eaten during Passover. Excitement continues to build with Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt to the edge of the Red Sea with Pharoah and the Egyptian army in hot pursuit. Pharoah has changed his mind and wants his slaves back. But the Israelites are trapped; the only way out is to go forward into the sea. At the last minute, Moses raises his staff, and with God’s help, the waters part for the Israelites allowing them to reach dry land safely while the Egyptians are drowned when the parted waters close in upon them. The story continues with Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai and the Israelites arriving in the promised land, Canaan, after a forty year journey in the desert.
Each year the Seder is an opportunity for Jews to reconnect with the traditions and history that have kept them alive for thousands of years.