Passover 2018 begins on March 30! Learn more about the meaning behind the Jewish holiday and why it’s celebrated every year.
1. Passover commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. The holiday begins on the 15th of Nisan, the day in the Jewish lunar calendar on which the Israelites were freed from slavery and left Egypt with Moses. In 2018, Passover begins on March 30 and lasts eight days. In the Torah, Moses warns the pharaoh that God would send 10 plagues to Egypt, including death of the first-born sons, if he did not free the slaves.
The name Passover comes from the warning Moses received from God — that the Israelites should make their doorposts with lamb’s blood so God would “pass over” their homes and spare them from the plagues. Passover has been celebrated since approximately 1300 BC, and usually coincides with the Christian holiday, Easter.
2. Passover begins with Seder. Maybe the most important part of Passover is the Seder, a service and meal held the night before the holiday begins. Seder consists of a carefully curated meal that represents the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. The menu includes:
Maror: bitter herbs, representing the bitterness of slavery
Salt water: the tears of the slaves
Charoset: a sweet paste made of fruit and nuts, symbolizing the mortar the slaves used to build the pyramids
Zeroah: lamb shank bone, representing the Passover sacrifice (vegetarian observers can use a slice of beet as a substitute)
Beitzah: a hard-boiled egg, symbolising life and birth associated with the spring
Karpas: a leafy green vegetable that stands for hope and redemption
Four cups of wine
3. Unleavened bread is also a key component of Seder. Why? the Israelites were forced to flee Egypt in such a hurry that their bread didn’t have time to rise. Thus, Jewish persons eat unleavened bread, matzah, to represent that struggle.
4. Families sometimes prep for weeks before Passover. Observant followers prepare for Passover by cleaning their homes from top to bottom to remove all leaven. This includes bread, rice, flour, and yeast. Leftover leavened food is burned before the holiday begins.
5. Save a seat for Elijah. Passover is considered a “guarded night,” in which Jewish persons believe that God will protect them fully. Thus, the door is left open during dinner. An open door is an invitation for the prophet Elijah to visit. Families traditionally leave a symbolic seat open for the prophet and pour a glass of wine that they do not drink. “This fifth cup whose status is in doubt is dubbed ‘Elijah’s Cup,’ in anticipation of the insight he will shed on the matter,” says Chabad.
“The four cups correspond to the four ‘expressions of redemption’ promised by G‑d: ‘I will take you out from the suffering of Egypt, and I will deliver you from their bondage; I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to Myself as a nation…,” Chabad explains. “The fifth cup corresponds to the fifth expression of redemption, which comes in the following verse: ‘I will bring you to the Land…’ This expression, however, is an allusion to the future messianic redemption, which will be announced by Elijah. This is also why we do not drink, ‘enjoy,’ the fifth cup—as we have not yet experienced this redemption.”