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Sunday, March 25, 2012

What's This Passover Holiday? More Than Matzah and Kneidlach?

Most Jewish Holidays are spoofed as:
"They tried to kill us.
We won.
Let's eat."
Does that apply to Passover aka Pesach?

The background of the Passover story starts with food.  The Pharaoh (King/ruler) of Egypt dreamt about food.
In his dream Pharaoh saw seven kine, well-favored and fat-fleshed, come up out of the Nile, and they all together grazed peaceably on the brink of the river, In years when the harvest is abundant, friendship reigns among men, and love and brotherly harmony, and these seven fat kine stood for seven such prosperous years. After the fat kine, seven more came up out of the river, ill-favored and lean-fleshed, and each had her back turned to the others, for when distress prevails, one man turns away from the other. For a brief space Pharaoh awoke, and when he went to sleep again, he dreamed a second dream, about seven rank and good ears of corn, and seven ears that were thin and blasted with the east wind, the withered cars swallowing the full ears. He awoke at once, and it was morning, and dreams dreamed in the morning are the ones that come true.
Pharaoh's wisemen couldn't explain the dream, which had him very worried. His butler recommended the imprisoned Hebrew slave/servant Joseph as a dream maven.  And as we all must have heard by now, Joseph so expertly interpreted Pharaoh's dream that he was appointed viceroy of Egypt to administer food stock during the years of plenty and the subsequent years of famine.  In Joseph's position, he reunited with his family, when they came to buy food.  Pharaoh invited them to live in Goshen, a very fertile area in Egypt.  After Joseph's death, policy changed and the Jewish People became salves to Pharaoh in Egypt.  Pharaoh's  wisemen warned him that the Jews were a danger, and he should have all Hebrew male babies killed.  Moses's mother gave birth to him during that time, hid him, and then had his sister Miriam float him in the Nile where Pharaoh's daughter rescued him and he eventually became the Jewish leader who took them out of Egypt and to the Promised/Holy Land.  (long story very short)

The Jewish People have been celebrating this great event for thousands of years. Yes, like all of our other Holidays, we're commanded to eat. But unlike those other Holidays, this one has a required menu.  We must eat matzah and there's a long systematic menu and ceremony.
And this day shall become a memorial for you, and you shall observe it as a festival for the L-RD, for your generations, as an eternal decree shall you observe it. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove the leaven from your homes ... you shall guard the unleavened bread, because on this very day I will take you out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day for your generations as an eternal decree. - Exodus 12:14-17
 No, kneidlach isn't universally eaten by Jews all over the world.
  • Kaddesh,
  • Urechatz,
  • Karpas,
  • Yachatz,
  • Maggid,
  • Rachtzah,
  • Motzi,
  • Matzah,
  • Maror,
  • Korekh,
  • Shulchan Orekh,
  • Tzafun,
  • Barekh,
  • Hallel,
  • Nirtzah
Now, what does that mean?
1. Kaddesh: Sanctification

A blessing over wine in honor of the holiday. The wine is drunk, and a second cup is poured.
Urechatz (in Hebrew)2. Urechatz: Washing
A washing of the hands without a blessing, in preparation for eating the Karpas.
Karpas (in Hebrew)3. Karpas: Vegetable
A vegetable (usually parsley) is dipped in salt water and eaten. The vegetable symbolizes the lowly origins of the Jewish people; the salt water symbolizes the tears shed as a result of our slavery. Parsley is a good vegetable to use for this purpose, because when you shake off the salt water, it looks like tears.
Yachatz (in Hebrew)4. Yachatz: Breaking
One of the three matzahs on the table is broken. Part is returned to the pile, the other part is set aside for the afikomen (see below).
Maggid (in Hebrew)5. Maggid: The Story
A retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the first Pesach. This begins with the youngest person asking The Four Questions, a set of questions about the proceedings designed to encourage participation in the seder. The Four Questions are also known as Mah Nishtanah (Why is it different?), which are the first words of the Four Questions. This is often sung. See below.
The maggid is designed to satisfy the needs of four different types of people: the wise one, who wants to know the technical details; the wicked one, who excludes himself (and learns the penalty for doing so); the simple one, who needs to know the basics; and the one who is unable to ask, who doesn't even know enough to know what he needs to know.
At the end of the maggid, a blessing is recited over the second cup of wine and it is drunk.
Rachtzah (in Hebrew)6. Rachtzah: Washing
A second washing of the hands, this time with a blessing, in preparation for eating the matzah
Motzi (in Hebrew)7. Motzi: Blessing over Grain Products
The ha-motzi blessing, a generic blessing for bread or grain products used as a meal, is recited over the matzah.
Matzah (in Hebrew)8. Matzah: Blessing over Matzah
A blessing specific to matzah is recited, and a bit of matzah is eaten.
Maror (in Hebrew)9. Maror: Bitter Herbs
A blessing is recited over a bitter vegetable (usually raw horseradish; sometimes romaine lettuce), and it is eaten. This symbolizes the bitterness of slavery. The maror is dipped in charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine, which symbolizes the mortar used by the Jews in building during their slavery. (I highly recommend it -- it's the best tasting thing on the holiday, and goes surprisingly well with horseradish! My recipe is included below.)
Note that there are two bitter herbs on the seder plate: one labeled Maror and one labeled Chazeret. The one labeled Maror should be used for Maror and the one labeled Chazeret should be used in the Korekh, below.
Korech (in Hebrew)10. Korekh: The Sandwich
Rabbi Hillel was of the opinion that the maror should be eaten together with matzah and the paschal offering in a sandwich. In his honor, we eat some maror on a piece of matzah, with some charoset (we don't do animal sacrifice anymore, so there is no paschal offering to eat).
Shulchan Orech (in Hebrew)11. Shulchan Orekh: Dinner
A festive meal is eaten. There is no particular requirement regarding what to eat at this meal (except, of course, that chametz cannot be eaten). Among Ashkenazic Jews, gefilte fish and matzah ball soup are traditionally eaten at the beginning of the meal. Roast chicken or turkey are common as a main course, as is beef brisket.
Tzafun (in Hebrew)12. Tzafun: The Afikomen
The piece of matzah set aside earlier is eaten as "dessert," the last food of the meal. Different families have different traditions relating to the afikomen. Some have the children hide it, while the parents have to either find it or ransom it back. Others have the parents hide it. The idea is to keep the children awake and attentive throughout the pre-meal proceedings, waiting for this part.
Barech (in Hebrew)13. Barekh: Grace after Meals
The third cup of wine is poured, and birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals) is recited. This is similar to the grace that would be said on any Shabbat. At the end, a blessing is said over the third cup and it is drunk. The fourth cup is poured, including a cup set aside for the prophet Elijah, who is supposed to herald the Messiah, and is supposed to come on Pesach to do this. The door is opened for a while at this point (supposedly for Elijah, but historically because Jews were accused of nonsense like putting the blood of Christian babies in matzah, and we wanted to show our Christian neighbors that we weren't doing anything unseemly).
Hallel (in Hebrew)14. Hallel: Praises
Several psalms are recited. A blessing is recited over the last cup of wine and it is drunk.
Nirtzah (in Hebrew)15. Nirtzah: Closing
A simple statement that the seder has been completed, with a wish that next year, we may celebrate Pesach in Jerusalem (i.e., that the Messiah will come within the next year). This is followed by various hymns and stories.
It's not enough just to eat some matzah and drink wine with a regular meal. We really ought to go through the steps and read the Hagaddah in a language we understand.  And we must discuss what the story signifies for us as individuals and as a People. 

The Jewish People is like no other.  We are the same Jewish People who were enslaved in Egypt.  We have been observing the Holiday of our release for thousands of years.  We have been observing all of our Holidays for thousands of year and reading the same Torah that was given to us by G-d thousands of years ago. 

We, the Jewish People, are in the Land we had been in thousands of years ago.  Jews today live in Beit El, Beersheva, Jerusalem, Shiloh, Hebron and many more of the locations mentioned in our Bible.  NO OTHER PEOPLE HAS A CONTINUOUS HISTORY; ONLY THE JEWISH PEOPLE ARE THE SAME PEOPLE WITH THE SAME RELIGION!

That is what we're celebrating, and that's why it's so important to concentrate on the actual Seder, order and text in a classic Passover Hagaddah.  This is not a "universal" holiday.  It's a very important JEWISH HOLIDAY!

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