Hebrew Calendar Dates: Begins on the 15th of the Nissan, lasts for either seven days (in Israel) or eight days (in the Diaspora). Historically, together with Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) and Sukkot (Tabernacles), Pesach is one of the three pilgrimage festivals (Shalosh Regalim) during which the entire population made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Other Names for Pesach:
Another name for Passover is Chag HaAviv (the Spring Festival) because this holiday occurs in the beautiful springtime, the season in which God in his infinite kindness, took the Jews out of Egypt. It is also known as Z’man Chairuteinu (The Time of Our Freedom). Pesach time is an auspicious time to pray for redemption of all sorts of personal limitations and for the final Ultimate Redemption. The sages have taught that in the month of Nissan our ancestors were redeemed and in the month of Nissan the Jewish nation will in the future be redeemed.
When it began:
The first Pesach occurred during the year of 2248 BCE, over 3,300 years ago, when God, through a series of unprecedented outright miracles and Moshe as the leader, liberated the Jewish nation from slavery in ancient Egypt that was ruled by the Pharaohs. Pesach commemorates the story of the Exodus as described in the Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus.
How it’s observed today:
Since no trace of chametz, leavening, may be seen, consumed, nor owned for the duration of the holiday, people either clean their homes accordingly and prepare separate Pesach utensils and dishware, or make arrangements to spend the holiday in a specially prepared venue. The first night (In Israel) or the first two nights (in the Diaspora) are graced by the seder, complete with its full array of symbolism inherent in the Matzah, Maror (bitter herbs) and four cups of wine, in observance of the commandment to “tell the story of the exodus of Egypt”. Throughout the 8 days, we eat only kosher for Pesach matzah, as leavened bread is prohibited. On the second night of Pesach, we begin the Omer Counting, the special nightly counting of 49 days until the receiving of the Torah, commemorated by the holiday of Shavuout.
Pesach is an eight-day holiday, with the first day (outside Israel, first 2 days) celebrated as a full festival with special prayer services and holiday meals. The intermediate days, the second through seventh days, (third through seventh days outside Israel) are called Chol HaMoed (Festival Weekdays), in which labor-intensive activities that will interfere with enjoyment of the holiday are not permitted. Chol HaMoed is treated as a vacation period with nicer than usual meals, entertaining guests, visiting other families, and taking family outings.
The children are encouraged to ask the Passover hagaddah’s Four Questions on seder night to engage them in the story of the Exodus.
The stealing of the Afikomen (a piece broken off from a matzah during a seder and put aside to be eaten at the end of the meal) with gifts promised for its return, is another custom instituted to engage children in the special seder program.
At some seders, the head of the seder will put the matzah in a little sack on his shoulders and march around the table to re-enact the story of the Exodus, when the Jews left Egypt with matzah on their backs.