Freedom Festival: Passover Demystified
Passover is a Jewish festival derived from the Torah, the holy book of the Jewish people. It is perhaps the most interactive Jewish holiday, as it involves storytelling, questioning and a table decorated in symbolism. We tell the Passover story at a festive meal called a Seder. We know how to conduct a Seder because we use a book titled the Haggadah, which means “telling.” The Haggadah intertwines the story of the enslaved Jewish people leaving ancient Egypt, called the Exodus, to the free and promised land of Israel.
Judaism holds a blessing for many activities, including food and drink; in order to elevate the ordinary to a spiritual level. The Haggadah tells Seder participates when and which blessings are recited. It also includes the four questions. Many people who have never attended a Seder nevertheless know of the four questions asked around the festival table. The four questions (in short, paraphrased form) include (1) “we on Passover are required to dip karpas (often parsley or another vegetable) into salt water twice on Passover, why?” (2) “tonight, why do we eat matzah (a thin, special cracker) and not bread?” (3) "on all other nights, we eat all vegetables, tonight, why are we commanded to eat bitter herbs?” ; (4) “why are we commanded to recline in our chairs?.”
Why dip a vegetable in a overly salty mixture? To remind us of the tears our ancestors cried as slaves. Why a plain, thin cracker over delightful leavened bread? Because matzah reminds us of humility, it reminds us of our ancestors fleeing persecution and slavery. When the Hebrews left Egypt to flee to Israel, their bread did not rise, they took it and ran – creating matzah. Thus, we do not consume leavened products for the duration of the festival. Why do we eat unpleasant tasting bitter herbs at a festival of freedom? Because we must remember the bitterness of slavery, so we may be better ourselves. Why recline and not just sit at a Seder? Because now, we are free.
Many other activities take place in this interactive festival dinner; four cups of wine are enjoyed throughout. The story of Moses being born, the sacrifice his mother gave by giving him away so he may not know suffering as a Jew in Egypt, only for him to reclaim his identity and lead his people to the free land of Israel is perhaps the most important story in Jewish history.
By Melissa Ariella Sherman