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Friday, April 3, 2015

What We Do on Passover

On Passover we are not allowed to eat, have, or even own any food with yeast, leaven, etc.

There are three steps to getting rid of all such food: cleaning, selling, and nullifying.

For most people, the cleaning begins sometime the week before.  We clean our houses top to bottom, back to front.  We wipe down pantries, refrigerators, counter tops, and freezers.  You get the general idea.  This year, I cleaned my room at school and did most of the freezer at home.

After we clean, we take all forbidden food and put it somewhere like the garage or the porch.  We then ritually sell it.  Usually, we turn it over to a Rabbi with written forms, and then the janitor of the synagogue or somebody like that "takes" it and hands over a penny.  It's understood that the sale will be undone and we will all get our food back at the end of the eight-day holiday.

The morning before the holiday, we nullify whatever crumbs may be remaining.  We do this by reciting a formula in Aramaic (close to Hebrew) and then repeating it in English: "All chametz [forbidden food] in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be nullified as the dust of the earth."

Now we are ready for the seder, the big ritual Passover meal that we hold each of the first two nights.  The short description is that we relive the Exodus, going from the bitterness of slavery to the sweetness of freedom through a series of regimented, ritualized steps.  I will give you the long explanation as well, just in case you're curious.
 The following is the order of a Passover seder:

  1. Kadesh: A blessing over wine or grape juice, made by whomever is leading the seder.  In our house, most years that's my father, except for one memorable year when he was in Iraq on military business and leading the seder fell to me.  (I was thirteen.)
  2. Urchatz: We wash our hands by pouring water over them--right, left, right.  We do not say a blessing.
  3. Karpas: We take a green vegetable (symbolizing springtime) and dip it in salt water (symbolizing tears or slavery).  We say a blessing and we eat it.
  4. Yachatz: The leader of the seder takes the middle matzah out of a pile of three and breaks it.  It almost never breaks evenly, so it is easy to tell the larger half.  This larger half is hidden away to be searched for later by all the children present; everybody who plans to look closes their eyes while it is hidden.
  5. Maggid: We tell the story of the Exodus with the aid of books called Haggadot.  (The Hebrew root for Maggid and Haggadah is the same, because these are the books that help us tell the story.)  In my family, we mostly read in English, going around the table and having each person who is old enough to know how to read, read a paragraph, or two if they're short.  There is also some singing in Hebrew.  A key moment comes towards the beginning of this step, when the youngest child present asks the Mah Nishtanah, the Four Questions.
  6. Rachtzah: We wash our hands again--right, left, right.  This time, we do say a blessing, and we do not talk afterwards.
  7. Motzee Matzah: Two blessings are said over the matzah: the regular blessing for bread, and a special blessing thanking God for the commandment to eat matzah.  Everyone at the table gets two pieces and eats them, and then we can talk again.
  8. Maror: Maror is the bitter herb that we eat to remember the bitterness of slavery.  We each eat a piece of it, along with a spoonful of charoset (a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine) to remember that now we are free and how sweet that is.
  9. Korech: We make a sandwich with matzah and maror.  This is a remembrance of how the Passover sacrifice was eaten in Temple times, because there is a quotation, "With matzot and maror they shall eat it."
  10. Shulchan Orech: This is dinner time! Just regular eating, good food and good conversation.  My family always serves salad and chicken soup with matzah balls as appetizers, potatoes and meat (pot roast the first night, turkey the second night) as a main course. We also have dessert, of course, and everyone eats as much as they want of the matzah and charoset, both of which are always in high demand.
  11. Tzafun: This is when the children go search for the hidden piece of matzah, known as the afikomen.  When they bring it back, everyone who looked for it gets a prize.  (In some households, only the child who finds it gets a prize, but my parents give prizes to everyone.  This year, I'm fairly certain they are planning to give Amazon gift cards.)  Pieces of the afikomen are distributed to everyone and eaten; this is the last food that we are allowed to eat for the night.
  12. Barech: We say the grace after meals.
  13. Hallel: We sing psalms and songs of praise to God.  This step ends with a little formula talking about how we have completed this seder according to custom and law...next year we should be in the rebuilt, messianic Jerusalem.
  14. Nirtzah: Our seder concludes with the singing of folk songs, in Hebrew and Aramaic.  My favorites are "Echad Mi Yodaiah," a counting song, and "Chad Gadyah," about a little goat that gets picked on by bigger and bigger adversaries, up to and including the Angel of Death himself...and then God comes and slays the Angel of Death.
Passover starts tonight...I am getting jumpy and excited just thinking about it.  This is one of my favorite holidays...I truly cannot wait.

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I am a bipolar, Jewish young adult (had my Hebrew birthday, the one I count, and turned 23 this past January) who also suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. I love life and I live for my best friends: they are my purpose and my reason for trying so hard. I remain passionately devoted to those I love; I will not let my disorders make me totally self-centered. I like to read, write, and sew. My Rabbinical school plans did not work out, and I am now hoping to go into the field of Early Childhood Education. Please note: I am currently maintaining only Carried in His Hands. Enjoy!