The 411 on Passover

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Photo Credit: templehillel.com

Growing up the Korean-American adopted child of a Jewish father and a Protestant-raised mother, my religious and cultural background was a mishmash of various things. I would celebrate Channukah and Christmas, get visits from the Easter bunny which left me with a chocolate smeared  face, and when I was little, my dad came to my class to teach us about Passover. In terms of the more religious aspect to the holidays, I went to Sunday school at Temple for two years, and have been to a few Church services at Christmas, but I have never fully practiced any particular religion on an ongoing basis.

As a person with such a diverse background, and being a student, I feel it’s important to know the history of these holidays I participate in. I may not define myself as Jewish or Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, but I still feel a connection to the stories. And while Christmas and Easter are big holidays with a lot of hype, Passover is just as important to a lot of people. So I feel it’s only right to highlight the meaning of Passover for everyone who doesn’t know much about the holiday.

In a nutshell, Passover represents the story of Moses, who was saved by the Egyptian Princess after his Jewish mother, who was a slave, gave him up when the Pharaoh commanded all Jewish male babies be murdered. Years later, when Moses learns his true identity, he goes back to his roots, winds up killing a Egyptian who is beating up a Jew, flees, marries, and becomes a shepherd of his father-in-law’s flocks, until one day he has a great epiphany. Moses comes across God who appears in the form of a Burning Bush and realizes he must go back to try and free his people.

Moses returns to Egypt and through his representative, his brother, Aaron, demands the Pharaoh to “let my people go.”  After being denied and continuing to go back to Pharaoh, God begins to set a series of plagues onto the Egyptians.

  •  Aaron strikes the Nile, the waters turn to blood;
  •  Swarms of frogs overrun the land;
  •  Lice infest all men and beasts. Still, Pharaoh remains stubborn;
  • Hordes of wild animals invade the cities,
  • a pestilence kills the domestic animals,
  •  painful boils afflict the Egyptians.
  •  Fire and ice combine to descend from the skies as a devastating hail. Still, “the heart of Pharaoh was hardened and he would not let the children of Israel go; as G-d had said to Moses.”
  • a swarm of locusts devours all the crops and greenery;
  • a thick, palpable darkness envelops the land.
  • all the firstborn of Egypt are killed at the stroke of midnight of the 15th of the month of Nissan.

Finally, the last plague is what pushes Pharaoh to tell the Jews to leave. Moses leads his people out of Egypt in haste, but Pharaoh changes his mind and comes after the Jews. God allows Moses to part the Red Sea, allowing for an escape. The sea comes crashing back down onto the Egyptians and with that, the Jews escape. Moses also climbs the mountain and returns with the ten commandments.

Some Important Terms:

Passover Haggada — Jewish Text that spells out the story of Passover that’s read on Passover.

Dayenu — A lyric to a joyous song as well as part of the Haggadah, meaning, “It would have been enough.”  An example of the meaning: “Had God given us the Sabbath and not brought us to Mount Sinai, Dayenu.”

Matzah — The unleavened bread that is the reminder of the haste with which the Hebrews left Egypt.

Maror — Bitter herbs eaten as a reminder of the life of Israel in Egypt that was made bitter by the Egyptian captors.

Elijah — Guest or stranger you welcome in who represents the stranger Moses welcomed in and gave food and drink to. During Passover an extra chair or place is set to represent Elijah.

Happy Pesach!

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