The Guardian of Yisrael neither slumbers nor sleeps
Date: Begins the 14th of Nisan.
Duration: Lasts 8 days Jews in the Galut and 7 days for Jews living in Yisrael.
Names: Chag HaMatzot (Festival of Unleavened Bread); Zeman Heruteinu (Holiday of Freedom); Chag He'Aviv (Festival of Spring.
The name Pesach (Passover) derives from the fact that the angel of Hashem "passed over" the homes of the Yisraelim while smiting the firstborn Egyptians (Shemot 12:27)
Source: "In the first month [Nisan], on the fourteenth day of the month in the afternoon, is Pesach [offering] for Hashem" (VaYikra 23:5)
General Theme: This holiday commemorates the exodus of the Yisraelim from Egypt under the leadership of Moshe some 3,300 years ago. During their hasty departure, the Yisraelim did not have time to fully bake their bread and allow it to rise. The result was the creation of Matzah cakes (unleavened bread), which Jews today eat on Pesach as a reminder of that Egyptian slavery. Pesach also has an agricultural them. It heralds the arrival of spring and the beginning of the spring grain harvest.
Tradtional Foods: During the Pesach Seder meal, the following special foods are placed on the Seder plate:
Charoset: a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, wine, and cinnamon, resembling the mortar used by the Yisraelite slaves to make bricks for the Egyptian pyramids.
Zeroa (roasted shank bone): Represents the Paschal Lamb that was sacrificed by our ancestors.
Beitzah (roasted egg): Symbolizes both the sacrifice made by everyone in Yerushalayim at the Temple on each holiday and the mourning over the destruction of the Temple.
Maror (bitter herbs): Pure horseradish, which reminds us of the bitterness of slavery.
Karpas (parsley): Dipped into salt water, the parsley symbolizes the tears of misery that were shed by our enslaved ancestors. The parsley itself symbolizes spring and hope for the future.
Food that is Chametz (leavened) is forbidden to be eaten on Pesach. This would include food made of the grains wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt. Thus foods such as biscuits, cakes, cereals, crackers, bread, and liquids made from grain alcohols are expressly forbidden. Foods not chametz include meat, fish, fowl, all fruits, vegetables (except peas and beans), and from freshly opened packages, spices, coffee, tea, sugar, and salt.
All kinds of packaged and prepared foods are available for Pesach. To be acceptable, they should carry both the seal of a Rabbinical group and the inscription "Kosher for Passover" (Kosher L'Pesach).
Customs: Before the festival begins, the home is scrubbed and special care is taken to remove all bread items. Special Pesach pots and dishes are used during the holiday.
On the eve of Pesach, it is customary to search for any leftover chametz in a ceremony called "Bedikat Chametz (Searching for Chametz). Traditionally the ceremony is conducted using a candle for light, a feather as a broom, and a wooden spoon as a dustpan. The following morning, the chametz that was gathered the previous evening is burned.
All chametz that is not burned is stored away in one's home. In many communities this chametz is sold to a rabbi who in turn sells the community chametz to a non-Jew. After Pesach, the chametz reverts to its original owner.
A Pesach Seder is conducted on the first two nights of Pesach. The Pesach text used during the meal is the Haggadah.
Candles are lit and the appropriate blessing recited on the first 2 nights and last 2 nights of Pesach.
Historically, "Maot Chittin" (wheat money) was given to the poor. Today, one customarily makes a charitable tzedakah donation.
Beginning on the second night of Pesach, Jews begin to count the omer. The omer (literally "sheaf") refers to an offering from the new barley crop that was brought to the ancient Temple on the eve of the second day of Pesach. Omer has come to be known as the name of the period between Pesach and Shavuot. By counting the days of this period (Sefirat HaOmer), we recall the events to which these days connect in the Jewish calendar: the liberation from slavery commemorated by Pesach, and the revelation of the Torah commemorated by Shavuot. We count the days to heighten our anticipation of celebrating the revelation of the Torah.
The first 2 days and last 2 days of Pesach are holy days, with work restrictions. In the synagogue, the Hallel psalms of praise are chanted. A special prayer for dew (Tefillat Tal) is recited by the Cantor at morning services on the first day of Pesach. The Torah is chanted throughout the entire Festival of Pesach. On the first 2 days the reading is Shemot 12:21-51 and VaYikra 22:26-23; respectively. The readings for the last 2 days are Shemot 13:17-15:26 and Devarim 15:19-16:17.
On the evening of the 8th day of Pesach, it is customary to light a Yahrzeit memorial candle in memory of one's departed loved ones. The following morning at services there is a Yizkor memorial service in memory of the departed.
Some synagogues follow the custom of reading selections from Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) on the Intermediate Shabbat of Pesach. Rabbinic tradition interprets the book as a love song, where the beloved is taken to mean G-d and the bride to mean the Yisraelim. This tradition made the book especially appropriate to Pesach, because it marked, as it were, the beginning of the courtship of Yisrael and G-d before, metaphorically speaking, they finally became wedded at Mount Sinai by Yisrael's acceptance of the Torah.