Pesach begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month
of Nissan, and last for 8 days outside of Israel. The
primary observances of Pesach are related to the Exodus from
Egypt after generations of slavery. This story is told in
Exodus, Ch. 1-15. Agriculturally,
it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel,
but little attention is paid to this aspect of the holiday.
The name "Pesach"
comes from the Hebrew root Pei-Samekh-Cheit, meaning to pass
through, to pass over, to exempt or to spare. It refers to
the fact that G-d "passed over" the houses of the
Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt. In English,
the holiday is known as Passover. "Pesach" is also
the name of the sacrificial offering (a lamb) that was made
in the Temple on this holiday. The holiday is also referred
to as Chag he-Aviv, (the Spring Festival), Chag ha-Matzot,
(the Festival of Matzahs), and Z'man Cheiruteinu, (the Time
of Our Freedom).
Probably the most significant
observance related to Pesach involves the removal of chametz
(leaven; sounds like "hum it's" with that Scottish
"ch") from our homes. This commemorates the fact
that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not
have time to let their bread rise. It is also a symbolic way
of removing the "puffiness" (arrogance, pride)
from our souls.
Chametz includes anything made from the five major grains
(wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt) that has not been
completely cooked within 18 minutes after coming into
contact with water.
We may not eat chametz during
Pesach; we may not even own it or derive benefit from it. We
may not even feed it to our pets or cattle. All chametz,
including utensils used to cook chametz, must either be
disposed of or sold to a non-Jew (they can be repurchased
after the holiday).
The process of cleaning the home
of all chametz in preparation for Pesach is an enormous
task. To do it right, you must prepare for several weeks and
spend several days scrubbing everything down, going over the
edges of your stove and fridge with a toothpick and a Q-Tip,
covering all surfaces that come in contact with food with
foil or shelf-liner, etc., etc., etc. After the cleaning is
completed, the morning before the seder, a formal search of
the house for chametz is undertaken, and any remaining
chametz is burned.
The grain product we eat during Pesach is called matzah.
Matzah is unleavened bread, made simply from flour and water
and cooked very quickly. This is the bread that the Jews
made for their flight from Egypt.
The day before Pesach is the
Fast of the Firstborn, a minor fast for all firstborn males,
commemorating the fact that the firstborn Jewish males in
Egypt were not killed during the final plague.
On the first night of Pesach
(first two nights for traditional Jews outside Israel), we
have a special family meal filled with ritual to remind us
of the significance of the holiday. This meal is called a
seder, from a Hebrew root word meaning "order,"
because there is a specific set of information that must be
discussed in a specific order.
chocolate items can be found for Passover, such as chocolate
covered matzah, chocolate seder plates, seder mints, and
chocolate lollipops. Some of these items are given as gifts
while attending someone elses seder, while others are just
used to please the sweet tooth during the holiday. As
described in the Chametz cleaning process, Passover
chocolate needs to be produced on only kosher-for-passover
equipment, or the machinery has to be koshered specifically
for Passover, as well as special ingredients specifically
for Passover are required. Many main stream chocolate
companies do not find that this is cost effective, and do
not opt to make Kosher-for-Passover chocolate. Instead,
factories that make Kosher-for-Passover items all year round
are the companies that produce chocolate. Those of us with a
sweet tooth, appreciate that we are still able to purchase
chocolate during the holiday of Passover.