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the story of passover

Updated on April 5, 2012

Passover Dates for 2012

April 6–14
April 6–14

Ma Nishtana

Passover is an eight day holiday celebrating the Biblical liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. Passover marks the birth of the Jewish nation more than 3,000 years ago. The holiday is rich with traditions meant to help us achieve "freedom" in own own lives. The celebration begins with the seder on the evening of the 14th of Nissan. And it is on this night that the youngest at the table asks the four questions, known to Jews all over the world as 'Ma Nistanah" - and so we ask why is this night different from all the other nights.

No holiday in the Jewish calender is more complex or evocative than Passover. The spring holiday that celebrates the return of the sunlight and the first fruits of spring on the table also reflects on the profound religious themes of the autumn festivals, awakening life and death, rebirth and gratitude. The Passover story recalls critical events in the history of the Jewish people in which a group of slaves became a nation possessed of the dream of the Torah. And so on this night, we remember that once we were slaves and now we are free.



The name "Pesach" (PAY-sahch, with a "ch" as in the Scottish "loch") comes from the Hebrew root Pei-Samekh-Cheit , meaning to pass through, to pass over, to exempt or to spare. It refers to the fact that G-d "passed over" the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt. In English, the holiday is known as Passover. For it was on the night before the last of the plagues that God unleashed on the Egyptians to force Pharoah to free the enslaved Israelites. The Jews were told to smear the doorposts with the blood of a lamb. The way the story goes , the Angel of Death stopped in all the unmarked homes, taking the first born son. But wherever the Angel of Death saw the blood on the doorpost , Death passed.

For this fragment of the story to make sense, the rest of the story must be told. For it tells the history of how the Jews came to Egypt as well as the story of Moses.

This is both the message and the method of Passover - to tell the story so that is becomes part of the memory and consciousness of one generation to the next.

As It Is Said

in Exodus "and you shall love"
in Exodus "and you shall love"
On Passover we eat Matzah
On Passover we eat Matzah

The Jewish Holiday of Passover

Passover is, first and foremost a teaching holiday. Its central ritual is the seder.The word seder literally means 'order'. It is a talking feast held on the first and second nights of Passover. It is a very demanding holiday for it requires a drastic change of diet for the week long observance. Eating bread is forbidden, even owning leavened foods acts as a reminder of the times when Jews were a hunted people who did not have enough time to wait for the dough to rise before baking it.

The ritual act of preparing a house for Passover is a search for chametz. You could also think of this ritual in a symbolic way of removing the "puffiness" (arrogance, pride) from our souls. Chametz makes bread puff up, think of this as the ego. "Leaven represents the evil impulse of the heart," . We must get ego out of our lives. We should strive to be as humble as a flat piece of unleavened matzah.

Chametz includes anything made from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt) that has not been completely cooked within 18 minutes after coming into contact with water. The grain product we eat during Pesach is called matzah. Matzah is unleavened bread, made simply from flour and water and cooked very quickly. This is the bread that the Jews made for their flight from Egypt.

Passover is also a time to reflect on those less fortunate than ourselves, as well as a time to to be thankful for all the good fortunes we do have. Matzah is a symbol of affliction and poverty. The Maggid is the telling of the story of Passover, and it tells us of the hardships and suffering of that our ancestors endured.. It reminds us today of those who are in need, so we say "whoever is hungry, come share our food and celebrate Passover". To those who are poor or oppressed, we pray for them and hope that the coming year will bring a better life for all.

The Agam Passover Haggadah
The Agam Passover Haggadah

The Haggadah

The Haggadah is the "instruction manual" for the Jewish Passover seder meal and lists the rituals that have been compiled and ordered into 15 steps by Talmudic scholars roughly in the 1st and 2nd centuries C.E.. Probably the best ways of putting Passover story into context is to read the Book of Exodus. It has all the elements of an exciting story, slavery and oppression followed by freedom and redemption......with hope for the future. The Haggadah educates us about the past while it helps us to appreciate what we have today.

It encourages dialogue with our children by asking questions, giving examples and telling stories. It is also traditional of read Songs of Songs, the biblical cycle of loves poems that are filled with images of nature. Clearly it is a time of rebirth as is Springtime which emphasizes all the elements of the holiday.

The Seder Plate
The Seder Plate

Seder Plates on Amazon


Most Passover seder plates have six dishes for the six symbols of the Passover seder. These are:

  • Maror (bitter herbs) Bitter Herbs (usually horseradish) a reminder of the bitterness of slavery.
  • Karpas (vegetable) Vegetable a green vegetable (usually parsley) representing spring. In the course of the seder, the parsley is dipped in a bowl of salt water, a reminder of the bitterness of slavery.
  • Charoset (apple, nut, spice and wine mixture) A paste made usually of chopped apples, cinnamon, and wine, symbolic of the mortar used by the slaves for making bricks
  • Zeroa (shankbone)The Shankbone A roasted shankbone-symbolic of the pascal sacrifice.
  • Beitzah (egg) a roasted egg symbolic of the Passover sacrifices from the time the Temple was still standing. It is also symbolic of life.
  • Matzah, 3 pieces of matzah.

4 Cups of Wine on Passover
4 Cups of Wine on Passover

4 Times the Torah Commands Us to Tell the Story of the Exodus to Our Children.

Exodus 12:26, 13:8, 13:14 and Deuteronomy 6:20

In the Torah there are four different phrases used to describe how G-d saved the Hebrews from Egypt. Taken from two verses in the book of Exodus (6:6-7), they were the rabbinic basis for establishing the obligation to drink four cups of wine.

When it comes to Passover, Four is a Lucky Number

We drink 4 Cups of Wine

Each cup corresponds to the four statements made by God in Exodus 6:6-7:

  • Freedom ~ "I will bring you out."
  • Deliverance ~ "I will deliver you."
  • Redemption ~ "I will redeem you.
  • "Release ~ "I will take you."

The seder table also has a cup of wine for Elijah, it is there on the table as a symbol of hope for redemption and a healed world. Some people may put an empty cup there and pass it around so that everyone may add a little of their wine symbolizing that we all must work together to bring harmony and world peace.

Passover Has 4 Names:

  • Chag HaPesach (the festival of Passover)
  • Chag HaMatzot (the festival of matzah)
  • Chag Ha'Aviv (the festival of spring)
  • Z'man Cheiruteinu (the time of our freedom)

Ma Nishtana
Ma Nishtana

The Four Sons.

  • The Wise
  • The Wicked
  • The Simple
  • The Young

Some look at these sons as symbolic of the four types of Jews and their attitude towards their religion. The Wise son refer to the Jews who are observant, the Wicked son represents the Jews who are not respectful to their heritage and religion and reject them altogether, the Simple son is the one who is indifferent to all the religious activities and do not even try to understand them while the Young one represents the Jews who are ignorant of their culture and traditions.

Others may look at the sons as them representing four qualities within each of us.It is a good time to reflect on each one of the sons own strengths and weaknesses. The Four Sons live in all of us. Sometimes we are genuinely searching, other times we are rebelling; sometimes we connect through our heart first, then our head, and other times we are just too tired, stressed or burned out to care anymore. The lesson of the Four Sons is to appropriately nurture that spark for learning that lives within all of us.



One of the most important rituals to be followed at Seder is those of four questions that are customarily asked by the youngest child capable of memorizing the words. The main objective, however, of the Ma Nishtanah is to train the child in asking questions, because only through questions does one truly learn. Each question leads to more questions, and the answers to each of these succeeding questions leads to greater and greater knowledge.

The four questions that are asked are given here along with some basic answers:

1. Why do we eat only Matzoh on Pesach and not all kinds of breads and crackers like other nights?

When Pharaoh finally ordered Jews to get out of Egypt after the tenth plague, they were in such a hurry to get away from slavery that they hadn't time to let their dough rise and bake their bread. Thus, they took the raw dough with them on their journey and baked it into hard crackers in the hot desert called Matzoh. Thus, we eat only Matzoh on this day to remind us of their struggles.

2. Why do we eat bitter herbs or Maror at our Seder?

Maror or the bitter herbs are eaten to remind us of the bitterness of slavery and harsh and cruel ways in which Jewish people were treated as slaves under the Pharaoh in Egypt.

3. At our Seder, why do we dip the parsley in salt water and the bitter herbs in Charoset?

Parsley represents new life and Spring while salt water represents tears of Hebrew slaves. Parsley dipped in salt water thus represents new life that emerged from the tears and hardship of the Jewish slaves. Bitter herbs dipped into Charoset represent the bitter days of slavery. Charoset has a coarse texture like clay used to make bricks for the Pharaoh's buildings.

4. Why do we lean on a pillow while eating tonight and do not sit straight like other nights?

Leaning on a pillow signifies the comforts of freedom. As slaves, our ancestors had little comforts. Thus, we lean on a pillow to assert that we are free now and can sit straight or lean on a pillow as much as we like.

The Exodus

Happy Passover
Happy Passover
Passover Facts
Passover Facts


Interesting Passover Facts

  • Passover, the popular Jewish holiday, is celebrated in remembrance of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt.
  • There is no fixed date of the Passover. The date of this festival is dependent on the phases of the moon.
  • The term, Passover, specifically refers to the passing over of the first-born Jewish males, when the death plague hit Egypt.
  • "Seder" meal takes place on the first, sometimes even second, night of Passover, and comprises of a festive family meal.
  • Even if Moses is the most important human figure in the Passover story, he is mentioned only once in the Haggadah.
  • During World War I, in Vilna, Poland, when it was very difficult to find kosher wine, the rabbinical authorities made a special announcement to allow sweet tea in the Seder ceremony, instead of the traditional four cups of wine.
  • "Haggadah" is the name of a religious Jewish text, explaining the complete story of Passover.
  • A popular and traditional Hebrew song performed during Passover is called "Dayeynu" This means "Enough" This song lists the miracles that G-d performed in freeing the Jewish people. Dayenu literally means "it would've been sufficient for us"
  • During the seven or eight days of Passover, only unleavened bread is eaten and foods containing yeast are strictly avoided.
  • It is believed that festival of Passover has some connection with Bible, as it refers to the Biblical story of the 10th Plague.
  • Matzoh is the name of the unleavened bread that is eaten during the seven or eight days of Passover.
  • Among Orthodox Jews, the day before Passover is a fast day, when every firstborn Jewish male has to fast, to commemorate the original deliverance of the firstborn sons on the first Passover eve.
  • Passover usually coincides with the Christian holiday of Easter.
  • Many centuries ago, Jewish people who lived in the Sahara used to abandon their fortified villages on the Passover day and march into the desert, in memory of the first Passover, when the ancient Israelites left Egypt to follow Moses to the Promised Land.

Seder Plate
Seder Plate
Always expect a Miracle on Passover
Always expect a Miracle on Passover


The traditional phrase that ends the seder is "l'shana haba-a b'Yerushalayim" - meaning "next year in Jerusalem "

To me that has always been a statement that expresses the hope that next year all will be free and no one will be a slave to anyone or anything.



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    • hobbynob profile image


      6 years ago

      Interesting hub -- I just wrote one on the nutritional aspect of the original seder meal if you're interested. This is a great source of info on the history.

    • r jayanthi profile image

      r jayanthi 

      6 years ago from india

      Thanks wavegirl,I was wondering what Passover actually ment. I am so glad to know about it in your very informative hub. It was fascinating!

    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from New York, NY

      well we both know where it all started. . :)

    • ReuVera profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      I've just posted a comment here, but it disappeared... strange....

      Anyway, I just wanted to say that though Purim is coming next week, I enjoyed again re-reading your Passover hub! I've just posted a comment on a hub about Easter, where the author wrote (quot):"To the Jews, it is part of the Passover"

      It's amazing how little they know about our traditions, but how much they want to mix them with theirs. :-)

    • ReuVera profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      :-) Though Purim is coming next week, but again I enjoyed re-reading your hub, especially that today I posted a comment on a hub about Easter, because the author of the hub wrote (quote): "To the Jews, it is part of the Passover". Hehe. How little people know about our traditions, but how much they want to mix them with theirs.

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      I can imagine! My diet has been much less interesting - tons of Chinese food! ;-) (rice, rice stick noodles, chow fun, etc.)

    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from New York, NY

      Livelonger - chag sameach to you too! Just about ready to go eat some matzah lasangna. . wish I could send you a piece . its actually quite delicious:)

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Love rereading this today - a timely repost. Chag sameach!

    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York, NY

      Dave- that was just about one of the nicest comments anyone has ever written, thank you for warming my heart today!


    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 

      8 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      wavegirl22, it is said that we learn something new every day and today is no different for me. Thank you from a Christian believer seeking to learn more.


    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York, NY

      Faybe Bay - you are so sweet and I thank you for your words! I am so glad that you came here again to share this. And you are so right in all you say!

      Sending Hugs right back to you. And we are off in a challenge like none other!!!

    • Faybe Bay profile image

      Faye Constantino 

      8 years ago from Florida

      The most moving part, and I think everyone should hear it was the bitter herbs, eating the bitter herbs to remind us of the bitter suffering of slavery. This could so easily be brought into every day life, to teach our children the bitter taste of human suffering, so that they would grow up to fight tyranny and suffering, instead of having our eyes and minds closed, thinking there is nothing we can do, but follow the masses, like sheep. I just read it again, as it is Easter, and we should ponder the message of bitter suffering.

      Big Hugs! Great fortune to you and yours, and great luck with our challenge!

    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York, NY

      Faybe Bay - you have just sent chills up and down. I love to hear things like this. It makes you feel like there is hope that this crazy world we live in does have so much good to share! Thank you for sharing that with me!

    • Faybe Bay profile image

      Faye Constantino 

      8 years ago from Florida

      Oh, Wavegirl, I love this! A church I attended once had a Passover Seder, with a Jewish Congregation they shared the grounds with until the Synagogue could be built. It was the most beautiful moving ceremony I have ever been a part of. Two different religions( our church was Presbyterian) sharing a meal and a heritage, that most of us would never see or feel or hear otherwise. I will never forget that meal. Now, with this hub, I can savor the memory over and over again.Thank you!

    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York, NY

      glad you stopped by this one pretty. .. teaching our kids is always a great tradition! thanks for the thumbs up. . and always a treat to see you ;)

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      8 years ago from US

      Thank you wave! Now I know more about it. I like it when you say giving examples to children and telling stories as well, Interesting story and great tradition! GO GIRL, Maita

    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York, NY

      all is well in the world of the waves my friend. . .thanks for the pesach visit. . it just would not have been complete without you stopping by .. thanks for that ;)

    • MordechaiZoltan profile image


      8 years ago

      Remember that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Hope all is well in your world Wavegirl!

    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York, NY

      Hypno - I am so happy that before you read this you knew nothing of this wonderful holiday of Passover - And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words;) You already know how much I love when you come to visit me &hearts

    • hypnodude profile image


      8 years ago from Italy

      I knew nothing about Passover so I've found your hub very interesting, extremely well researched and full of information and simply great pictures. What else can I say, you write well on every subject. Rated and stumbled. :)

    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York, NY

      livelonger - it is the history of Judaism that I think I love the most. Just knowing that the prayers and the traditions that we keep today have not changed over time. That to be Jewish today means what it meant yesterday and a thousand years ago. I too know very little Hebrew. And what I do know I too have learned on the internet. What amazes me the most is that each letter has a meaning in and of itself and a number that it correlates too. Hmmm.....I think you just gave me the best idea for a series of Hubs!

      Thank you so much for taking the time here, it really means alot to me:))

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Haha, actually I converted Reform and they are very accepting (provided you have a sincere interest). Most of my studies actually focused on history, since, as my rabbi said, Jews are a people of history (undoubtedly true). I learned only very little Hebrew but I'm learning a lot through osmosis... ;-) Fortunately, the Internet is a great resource for continuing education, and your Hub certainly enjoys being part of that.

    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York, NY

      ~ anglnwu - lol the close up was there for you. . but it was killing me hahah I hope your seder went as well as the Presidents. . I am dreaming of your charoset!! Forget next year in Jerusalem. . it going to be next year in SD!!!

      ~ livelonger - Mazel Tov!! So did the Rabbi turn you down the obligatory 3 times before you began your studies?? What an amazing feat to have converted. I admire you and would love to pick your brain a little for all that you had to learn to complete that task. . most converts that I have met know more about the religion than those who were born into it! Personally I was raised in a very assimilated family, so anything I know has been self taught. And I have always found it interesting that my Hebrew name is Sarah - the name all women who convert take on ;) Someday my goal is to be a Bat Mitzvah . .what a great Hub that is going to make!!!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing this wonderful holiday with me.

      ~ dohn121 - and Shalom to you my dear dear friend! Yes this one was a work in progress for a few weeks .. so much to tell and as the Passover holiday is all about 'order' it is sometimes a harder task then it seems!!! Thank you for your kind words as always-


      ~ Ann Nonymous - glad you stopped by for a little time with me on this Passover - So true tragic and miraculous is a theme of the Jewish Holidays, and always something I love to learn about and share. Message is always in the truth of what was and in the hope for tomorrow ;)

    • Ann Nonymous profile image

      Ann Nonymous 

      8 years ago from Virginia

      Well done, Wavegirl. The beginning of passover until now holds many tragic yet miraculous stories. Thank you for a great hub with so much truth!

    • dohn121 profile image


      8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      This was so well written Shari! I can tell that you spent a great deal on this and went through great pains (symbolically?) to write this one. Your passion for you heritage shines here. Wonderful work as always. I really enjoyed reading this very much. Thank you. Shalom! (((HUGS)))


    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Great hub. I converted to Judaism last year and hosted my first Seder last night. We had a great time. :)

    • anglnwu profile image


      8 years ago

      Shari, what happened to the close-up? Anyway, you look good no matter! Thought you may find this interesting--was reading about seder being served at white house. Had a chuckle or two--you may want to check it out:

      Enjoy Passover--I'm cooking the whole deal tomorrow!

    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York, NY

      ~ D.A.L. - Passover is not an easy Holiday to condense in one Hub but I was hoping to convey the spirit if the holiday in this one, and from your comment I feel good that I have succeeded! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing this wonderful holiday with me:)

      ~ entertianmentplus - thank you so much coming by and sharing this with me. Its always nice to hear good things:)

    • entertianmentplus profile image


      8 years ago from United States

      Awesome hub.

    • D.A.L. profile image


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      wavegirl22, what a fantastic well researched and well written hub.I have been taught a great deal by reading this.Thank you for sharing.

    • wavegirl22 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York, NY

      ~ drbj - you have no idea how much I appreciate your comment. You hit closer to home than you can know ;) Thanks for the thumbs up!

      ~ Sandyspider - it is truly a part of Passover to share and retell the story. I am so happy that you stopped by and helped me fullfill a 'mitzvah' on this special night

      ~Mystique1957 - Many blessing sending right back to you. The spirit of this Passover holiday is truly one of hope and renewal . . .In this upside down and crazy time we are living we do need to be reminded of where we have come from and how far we need to go in harmony and together. Thank you for sharing this story with me.

      ~ Jai Warren - how you always make me smile with your thoughts and comments! And I bet you just thought the Angel of Death was saved for my Giants and your Cowboys . . heheheh

      As Always thanks for coming by and sitting for a spell with me:)

      ~anglnwu - when I left my parents tonight. .that is exactly what they said. . next year in SD! And I knew you would notice the close up . It was put there 'special' just for and like you!

      Happy Pesach..and I am looking forward to your charoset next year!!!!!

      ~Cags - one does not need to be into Passover. . and I understand where you are coming from . . what is important is that we remember that no one anywhere should ever be a slave to anyone or anything. . . Peace and harmony are what we should strive for. I am overjoyed that you did learn something and even happier to hear you liked my explanation of it all.

      I too enjoy being your stalker/fan/follower ;))))

    • Cagsil profile image


      8 years ago from USA or America

      Hey Shari, I like your presentation and it's a well written hub. I'm not into Passover or recognize it as of anything, but I did like your way of explaining it. Thank you very much. I did learn something, just to let you know. :) Glad to be your fan(stalker/follower)LOL :P :)

    • anglnwu profile image


      8 years ago

      Shari, very well-done with interesting details. Love Pesach and i always make it a point to commemorate it. I can make very good charoset (i think). Next year, in SD?

      Thanks for obliging me with a close-up--you look absolutely beautiful! Happy Pesach!

    • Jai Warren profile image

      Jai Warren 

      8 years ago from Dallas, Deep Ellum, Texas

      What a revelation! I knew about the Angel of Death but didn't realize it's also metaphorically a reference to spring and rebirth. Thanks Shari, this really gives us a clearer understanding of Passover. In honor, I will lean on a pillow while eating dinner tonight. All the best. Peace!

    • Mystique1957 profile image


      8 years ago from Caracas-Venezuela

      My Dear Shari...

      Thank you for sharing such wonderful story. It is time people started to close into the spiritual side and begin to pray for world peace! Thank you you very much!

      Thumbs up!

      Warmest regards and infinite blessings,


    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Thanks for sharing this story.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Congrats, wavegirl, you obviously did a lot of research on this interesting hub and it shows.


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