SUNDOWN MONDAY, APRIL 18: The labor-intensive search for chametz is officially over—and tonight, Jews begin the joyous festival of Passover—the most widely observed of all Jewish traditions. After weeks of painstakingly ridding their homes of chametz—any grain product associated with fermentation—Jews sit back and relax tonight as they join with family and friends for a Passover seder (ritual meal).
Tonight begins the seven- or eight-day festival (Jews in Israel observe seven days and Jews of the Diaspora observe eight). Passover commemorates the ancient Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. This ancient story of freedom defines Judaism to this day. Among the events in the biblical story recalled during the seder, Jews give thanks to G_d for “passing over” the homes of those whose doors were marked with lamb’s blood during the biblical Plague of the Firstborn; for helping them to escape safely from Egypt’s army and for eventually leading them to freedom.
Why is it so important to get rid of leavened products? In Jewish families, young and old get involved in cleaning out the chametz as a way of remembering this key part of the Exodus: As the Israelites left Egypt, they moved so quickly that their bread was not able to rise. In the wilderness, the Bible says, God provided sustenance. To this day, unleavened matzo bread is a common element on seder tables and a symbol of this ancient festival. (Chabad.org has Passover recipes, history, multimedia tools and more.)
Want to learn more about the seder? ReadTheSpirit asked an expert and provides lots of helpful information about attending a seder.
Got kids? Want to emphasize peace? Here’s a story of how one Jewish peace activist worked with kids to create a Passover table that makes peace a top priority.
As matzo is such an important element of Passover, many Jews try to revive the art of homemade matzo. Baking matzo is a challenge; only 18 minutes are allowed between the mixing of flour and water to the finishing of baking. Elaborate measures are taken to ensure the mixture does not rise. For 38 years, Chabad-Lubativtch has been spreading the tradition by bringing the “Model Matzah Bakery” to thousands of children in the weeks leading up to Passover. The tradition continued with fervor this year, complete with a 200-pound, portable oven! (Read a tribute article from Chabad.org.)
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.