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Rituals for Passover

Passover, also known as Pessach, is one of the most important of the Jewish holidays. Some even assert that it is the most important. While there is no consensus on that topic, it is one of the most observed by American Jews. A 2014 study tells us that more than 70% of American Jews participate in a Seder while only 50% fast for Yom Kippur and only 20% are keep Kosher (2). Even if you don't regularly practice Judaism, chances are, you're going to acknowledge Passover.


We mark the occasion with great festivity and ritual, though in this blog, I will be covering only a few. This is not a wholly encompassing article on every aspect of Passover, as I have more-so chosen to cover the aspects that I believe to be most spiritually fulfilling.


During Passover, Jews abstain from Chametz "any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt that has come into contact with water and been allowed to ferment and “rise.” (4). Ashkenazi tradition also sees legumes and rice as chametz, while Sephardic custom does not.



Matzah

Controversial though the flavor (and texture) of matzoh may be, it is an important part of the Passover ritual.

Made of flour and water (and a pinch of salt), matzah is an unleavened flat bread.


While you are more than welcome to purchase it at your local shop, making it yourself can be a meditative addition to your Passover preparation.

Regular Matzah

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a baking sheet in the oven.

  2. Knead into a stiff dough. Roll out thinly into small rounds. Use a matzo roller or a fork to poke holes in it all the way through.

  3. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the matzo on it. Return to oven and bake until crispy on one side, about 2 minutes.

  4. Flip and bake until crispy, about 2 minutes.

  5. Enjoy!


Cleansing for Pessach

On the 14th of Nissan, it is tradition to search the house high and low for chametz. Known as Erev Pesah, it is tradition to do so by candlelight, with a feather and spoon in hand. Then, once we've completely swept our homes clean, we place all three in a bag. The next night, we light it on fire and let it burn. These three stages are known as bedikat hametz, or the search for chametz, bittul hametz, or the nullification of chametz, and finally, bi-ur hametz, the destruction of chametz (3).


It is a tradition of some to hide ten pieces of chametz throughout the house that when these blessings are said, they are said over found chametz (7).


When all the chametz has been located, a Bracha (prayer) is said,


Paired are you, Sovereign our Gd, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us through their commandments, commanding us to remove all chametz.


Once the search is finished, the bittul formula is recited,


All leaven in my possession which I have not seen or removed or of which I am aware is hereby nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.



This declaration of non-ownership is intentional. According to Michael Strassfeld, it is not as the action of removal that is most important, but rather the intention.


The next morning is the time to destroy all the chametz. While there are non-incendiary methods (breaking up the bread and spreading it to the wind, rendering it inedible with chemicals, etc.), burning it is most common. It also accounts for the tradition of burning the wooden spoon and feather. Once it has burned, the following blessing is recited.


All leaven in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, is hereby nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.


This is a less common kavanah, or meditation, that is at times added:


Sovereign, our Gd and the Gd of our ancestors, just as I have removed all chametz from my home and from my ownership, so may it be Your will that I merit the removal of the evil inclination from my heart.


But we don't just have to burn the chametz and the candle, feather, and spoon. We can burn all that we no longer wish to have in our homes, in our lives, in our spirits, in ourselves.


As you go through your home, even if you don't stop eating chametz, take a candle and a feather and walk through your home, cleansing your space.


Here are some suggestions for what to leave behind:

  • Fear

  • Anxiety

  • Imposter Syndrome

  • Stress

  • Unworthiness

  • Negative energies that serve no purpose

  • Belief systems that no longer serve you


Once you have gathered all of it, leave the bag overnight. When morning dawns, in a fire-safe place, burn it all.




Lighting candles

Like many Jewish holidays, Passover begins with the lighting of candles.

If not on Shabbat, this is the prayer that is recited:


Bah-rookh ah-tah ah-doh-noi eh-loh-hay-noo meh-lekh hah-oh-lahm ah-sher ki-deh-shah-noo beh-mitz-voh-tahv veh-tzee-vah-noo leh-hahd-lik nayr shehl yohm tohv.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲ-דֹנָי אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל יוֹם טוֹב

Blessed are You, Sovereign, our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Their commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Yom Tov light.



Cups of Elijah, Miriam, and Ruth

The prophet Elijah is joined by the prophetess Miriam and Ruth, the first convert.


It is said that when the Moshiach (messiah) has arrived, the prophet Eliyahu Hanavi will arrive and herald the age of the Moshiach. Because of this, we leave an untouched glass of wine for him and the door open.


In recent years, the minhag has expanded to include the Prophetess Miriam, as, without her, we would not have been led from slavery in Egypt. Unlike Elijah, the Cup of Miriam is filled with water to represent the Well of Miriam that provided water for the Jews in the desert (5).


Ruth, the first convert, was the great-grandmother of King David, from whose line the Moshiach will come. It is a new tradition to place a cup for Ruth, to honor her and all those who follow her and enter Judaism by choice. All our souls were at Mt. Sinai, and honoring the return home is a tradition worth including (6).

Seder Plate

The seder plate is a dish steeped in tradition. It is a ritualistic representation of the story of Passover, where every item has meaning. Generally, each item will have a labeled place on the seder plate. Though food placed on the Seder plate will not be consumed during the Seder, all bt the Beitzah and Zeroa will be consumed throughout the seder.


Karpas

A green vegetable like parsley to represent spring. This will be dipped in salt water.

Haroset

A mixture of apples, nuts, wine, and spices. The recipes vary by custom and family, but it is meant to represent the mortar used by Jewish slaves in Egypt. It is also a contrast to the bitter maror.

Maror

Bitter herbs represent the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. This is most commonly found as horseradish, but the ideal bitter herb is that of lettuce. Some specify that it is Romaine lettuce that is most preferred. This is to represent that the bitterness is not only bitter---lettuce can be tender and sweet, but the white stems within it are bitter and taint the entirety of the bite. While romaine is preferable, horseradish, endive, or escarole are also permissible.

Beitzah

A roasted egg is a symbol of the sacrifice in the Temple if it were to still be standing. The egg should be boiled and then scorched while still in the shell. For vegans, some will use replacements like avocado pits, oranges, or brussels sprouts.

Zeroa

Roasted bone, most commonly a shank bone, another symbol of sacrifice. Like the egg, the shank bone is roasted and scorched. For vegans, the Gemara suggests using a beet as it represents the blood of the animals.


Salt Water

Though not always strictly on the Seder plate, keeping a bowl of salt water for dipping is required to represent the tears of the Jews while enslaved. The photo


Passover Seder

The most complicated of the Passover rituals, the Passover Seder generally follows a set number of steps. However, depending on the tradition and movement, the order of the satyr may vary. Some may have very long, involved seders, while others may choose a shorter version. There are also Seders with themes: social justice, feminism, abolishment, etc.


Creating a meaningful Seder is a great way to connect with Passover as a whole. what do you want to honor in your seder? What do you want to highlight?


The Haggadah is the guiding text for the Seder, but there are many variations. Here are a few free ones:


Chabad Free Printable Haggadah

AISH Haggadah


As you move through your seder, don't forget to recline! It is a tradition to recline and relax, as in ancient times, this was a symbol of a free person.


The Questions of 10

The number ten is one that we see reflected greatly during Pessach. It is a complete number, according to Kabbalah. There are 10 plagues and it is believed the world was created in 10 utterances. There are 10 commandments, which include all 613 mitzvot within them. There are also 10 qualities of HaShem reflected in the Sefirot.


Over the ten days of Passover, we are afforded a great time to think, reflect, and look inwards. During this time, I offer 10 questions to ponder, and should you choose, to journal about.

  1. What does liberation look like to you?

  2. How do you work towards liberation?

  3. What is holding you back from true freedom and liberation?

  4. How have the experiences of your ancestors impacted the way you view justice?

  5. How do the experiences of your ancestors impact your daily life?

  6. What are a few things that you would like to tell, ask, or communicate with your ancestors?

  7. What bitterness (maror) and sweetness (charoset) do you have in your life?

  8. What are the things you are releasing or have released through the burning of chametz?

  9. What are some of the ways that you can work towards bringing more joy, sweetness, and peace into your life?

  10. We often say "next year in Jerusalem", in the same vein, what are some things that you want to achieve, accomplish, or embody in the next year?

Chag Pessach Sameach, may you all have a joyous and fulfilling Pessach!

Z



Sources:

This blog draws from specific sources but is largely based on Michael Strassfeld's The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary, as well as

  1. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1172862/jewish/The-Feather-the-Spoon-and-the-Candle.htm

  2. https://www.chabad.org/multimedia/video_cdo/aid/4357661/jewish/The-Kabbalah-of-Pesach.htm

  3. The Jewish Holidays: a guide and commentary by Michael Strassfeld

  4. https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/1742/jewish/What-Is-Chametz.htm

  5. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/miriams-cup/

  6. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/2017/03/29/ruths-cup-a-new-passover-ritual-honoring-jewish-diversity/

  7. https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/870652/jewish/Why-scatter-10-pieces-of-bread.htm