Remembering the Exodus
Passover commemorates God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt and their emancipation as a nation under Moses’ leadership. It commemorates the story of the Exodus as told in the Hebrew Bible, particularly the Book of Exodus, in which the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt. According to traditional biblical chronology, this event occurred around 1300 BCE. Passover is a spring celebration that offers the “first fruits of the barley” during the Temple’s existence in Jerusalem, the first grain to ripen and be harvested in the Land of Israel.
Passover begins on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nisan. It lasts seven days (in Israel and for Reform Jews and other progressive Jews worldwide who follow the Biblical mandate) or eight days (for Orthodox, Hasidic, and most Conservative Jews) (in the diaspora). In Judaism, a day begins at sundown and ends at nightfall the next day; hence, the first day of Passover begins after dusk on the 14th of Nisan and finishes at dusk on the 15th of Nisan. When the sunset of Nisan arrives, the traditions peculiar to Passover begin with the Passover Seder. Passover is observed in the Northern Hemisphere in spring, as the Torah prescribes: “in the month of [the] spring.” It is one of the most frequently observed Jewish festivals.
What happened then
The Bible says that God assisted the Children of Israel to escape slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues on the ancient Egyptians before the Pharaoh would free his Israelite slaves; the tenth and deadliest of the plagues was the death of the Egyptian firstborn.
The Israelites were ordered to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a killed spring lamb, and when the spirit of the Lord saw this, he knew to pass over the firstborn in these households, hence the holiday’s English name.
When Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they were in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise (leaven). In commemoration, no leavened bread is eaten during Passover, which is why Passover is called the feast of unleavened bread in the Torah. Thus matzo (flat unleavened bread) is eaten during Passover and is a holiday tradition.
Passover, together with Shavuot and Sukkot, is one of the Three Trip Festivals (Shalosh Regalim), during which the entire kingdom of Judah made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.
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