Pesach is the holiday of an historical event, a celebration of how God brought us out of Egyptian slavery to freedom. It is the second feast listed in Leviticus 23. It is connected with the feast of Unleavened Bread. Passover beings on the fourteenth day of the first month, which is Nissan. The Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the fifteenth and lasts for seven days. During those days we “must eat bread made without yeast.” No work is to be done on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and on the seventh day. The Scriptures make a distinction between Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but modern day celebration combines the two into one eight day celebration.

God brought plagues upon Pharaoh and on all Egypt. The greatest of these plagues was the slaying of the firstborn son of every Egyptian, even Pharaoh, and even the firstborn of the cattle. An unblemished one year old lamb was brought into each Israelite household, roasted, eaten and the blood put on the top and sides of the doorframes of their houses.

Exodus 12 recounts the first Passover. This passage gives us a few more details of the observance of this holiday. Here G-d commands us to remove yeast from our homes. If any Israelite ate yeast, they were to be cut off from the community. This symbolizes the haste in which the Israelites had to leave Egypt. Leaven is called Chametz. According to tradition, this 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. Orthodox and Ashkenazi Jewish people, Jew from an Eastern European background, also prohibit using rice, corn, peanuts, and legumes (beans) as if they were chametz because these items are often used to make bread. Such additional items are referred to as “kitniyot.”

Passover is a beautiful depiction of G-d’s redemption. A lamb was slain to grant life. And prophetically it points to the sacrificial death of Yeshua. Each Israelite had to sacrifice a lamb and apply the blood to his doorpost. If he did not follow the requirements given by Adonai, then his firstborn would be slain. They couldn’t say I don’t like this method. This doesn’t make sense or there has to be another way. In the same way, Adonai has told us that it is blood alone that atones for sin. Even if it doesn’t make sense to us, we must do things G-d’s way or suffer the consequences. The consequence of sin is death. But all we need to do is accept the sacrifice of Yeshua on our behalf and then we will pass from death to life.

On Pesach we hold a Seder in our homes. Seder is from the Hebrew word meaning “order.” There is a set order to the evening. Every home that celebrates Passover will follow the same order.

1. Kaddesh: Sanctification

At this time a blessing is said over the first cup of wine and it is drunk.

2. Urechatz: Washing

This is a ceremonial washing done without any blessing. It is to prepare oneself for the eating of the karpas.

3. Karpas: Vegetable

A vegetable (usually parsley) is dipped in salt water and eaten. The salt water symbolizes the tears that were shed as a result of the hard labor in slavery. When you shake the parsley, the water falling off looks like tears.

4. Yachatz: Breaking

The middle matzah of three is broken. Part of it returns to the bag and the other part becomes the afikomen. It is hidden away to be redeemed later in the ceremony.

5. Maggid: The Story

This is where the story from Exodus of the first Passover is told. IT begins with the youngest child asking the four questions. These questions are designed to help tell the story. After the maggid, a blessing is recited and the second cup is drunk.

6. Rachtzah: Washing

A blessing is said this time and our hands are washed the second time for the evening. This is in preparation to eat the matzah.

7. Motzi: Blessing over Grain Products

The ha-motzi blessing is said at this time. It is a general blessing over breads and grains.

8. Matzah: Blessing over Matzah

Then a specific blessing over matzah is recited, and a piece of the matzah is eaten.

9. Maror: Bitter Herbs

A blessing is recited over a bitter vegetable (usually raw horseradish; sometimes romaine lettuce), and it is eaten. This symbolizes the bitterness of slavery.

Note that there are two bitter herbs on many Seder plates: one labeled Maror and one labeled Chazeret. The one labeled Maror should be used for Maror and the one labeled Chazeret should be used in the Korech, which comes next

10. Korech: The Sandwich

Rabbi Hillel stated that the maror should be eaten together with matzah and the paschal offering in a sandwich. In his honor, maror (Chazeret) is put on a piece of matzah together with charoset.

11. Shulchan Orech: Dinner

A festive meal is eaten. The only special requirement for this meal is that unleavened bread be eaten.

12. Tzafun: The Afikomen

The piece of matzah set aside earlier is eaten as “desert,” the last food of the meal. One tradition is to have the children find the hidden matzah and redeem it back for some money. Some families switch the tradition around and have the children hide it and the parents find it.

13. Barech: Grace after Meals

The third cup of wine is poured, and grace after meals is prayed. It is similar to the prayer that is said on Shabbat. After the prayer, the blessing is said on the third cup and it is drunk.

The fourth cup is poured at this time along with a cup set aside for the prophet Elijah. Elijah is to come at Passover and is to herald the Messiah. The door is opened for a while at this point to see if Elijah has come. There is also a historical reason for this. The Jews were accused of such things as blood libel, putting the blood of Christian babies into matzah. So, the doors were open to show the Gentiles that this was not true

14. Hallel: Praises

Several psalms of praise are recited. A blessing is said over the last cup of wine and it is drunk.

15. Nirtzah: Closing

This states that the Seder is complete and concludes with a wish that we would celebrate Passover next year in Jerusalem.

The table is set with many ceremonial items that are used during the set order described above. Most of them are arranged on a special dish called the Seder plate. These items include the following:

  • A roasted shankbone of a lamb which symbolizes the lamb that was slain.
  • A roasted egg as a symbol of the new life they were granted by the sacrifice of the lamb.
  • The bitter herbs as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.
  • The charoset (an apple and nut mixture) which reminds us of the mortar used in Egypt to make the bricks.
  • The karpas, a green vegetable, which coincides with the arrival of spring.
  • Salt water for the tears shed by our ancestors.

Other items on the table include three matzot placed on the table to remind us of the unleavened bread the Israelites ate when leaving Egypt. During the Seder four cups of wine are to be drunk by every person. These symbolize God’s four part promise: “I will bring you forth, I will deliver you, I will redeem you, and I will take you.”

The telling of the story of Passover is done from a book called the Haggadah.

Messianic Significance

  • Messiah Yeshua is our Passover lamb. He died to free us from the bondage of sin.
  • The three matzot symbolize the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The middle one, the afikomen, represents Yeshua who was buried or hidden away for a time and then brought to life again.
  • Paul describes sin as leaven (1 Corinthians 5.6-8) We are to purge ourselves of sin.

The Shabbat preceding Passover is called Shabbat Hagadol (the Great Shabbat), because of the great miracle that occurred that day. Tradition says that as the Israelites prepared on the tenth of Nissan for the Exodus, their neighbors questioned them. The tenth of Nissan is the Shabbat before Passover. They explained to their neighbors that these lambs would be sacrificed on the 15th and that G-d would kill the firstborn of Egypt. The firstborn of Egypt went before their parents and Pharaoh and begged them to release Israel so they would be spared. They said no and a revolt happened which killed many of the Egyptians. On Shabbat Hagadol, after Minchah, we recite a portion of the Haggadah from “We were slaves” until “to atone for all our sins”; for that day marks the beginning of the redemption and its miracles.

There is another tradition called bedikhat chametz. As Passover approaches it is a time of spring cleaning. On the 14th of Nissan a search is made throughout the house looking for leaven. A small portion is left on purpose to be found and burned. The search is made with a single candle. This is a beautiful image of the spiritual cleansing that should be taking place in our lives on a regular basis.

One source stated, “Searching for chametz involves more than removing every particle of physical leaven from our domain; it also means eradicating every last vestige of spiritual leaven-self-inflating pride-from every ‘recess and crevice’ of the fourteen elements of our personality: the seven character traits of one’s ‘animal self’ and the seven character traits of one’s ‘G-dly self.'”

Here are a few customs from other lands:

  • In Southern Russia, they would greet Passover by sitting on the earth in their best clothes with a spear close by. This was their way of portraying the dangers faced by the Israelites as they hurriedly left Egypt.
  • In southern Portugal, where there are many descendants of the Marranos, Jewish people who fled the Inquisition, the people hold a picnic. This is the only reminder of a Seder. During the Inquisition one single piece of matzah could put an entire family to death. A special prayer is said in memory of the Seder services their ancestors held.
  • Among the Yemenite Jews, the child reciting the four questions holds the roasted bone in one hand and an egg in the other. He then answers the questions himself.

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