What Exactly is Passover?

An Explanation for Adults.

By Renee Cohn Jones, PsyD Helping Parents Parent, LLC April 3, 2023

Passover is one of the most important holidays in the Jewish religion.  

It is a time for families to come together to celebrate the great lessons of the story and is a reminder that we were once slaves and were freed, so it is our responsibility to work for freedom for all people, everywhere.

Passover lasts for eight days, during which Jews around the world observe a variety of customs and traditions.

One of the most important parts of Passover is the seder, a festive meal that takes place on the first two nights. Families and friends come together to retell the story of the exodus from Egypt and there are many symbolic foods.

The first Passover happened over 3000 years ago when a mean, powerful king (Pharaoh) ruled Egypt.  He worried that the Jewish people would one day fight against him, so he decided to make them his slaves.  He forced them to work long hours in the extreme heat for no pay, giving them little food and water.  His soldiers whipped and beat them.

The Jews cried and prayed to G-d to help them.  G-d chose a man named Moses to help lead the Jewish people. 

Moses went to Pharaoh and told him that G-d wanted him to let the Jews go. Moses warned Pharaoh if he refused G-d, many terrible things would happen. Pharaoh refused.

G-d sent plagues to Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to let the Jews go.  The plagues included things like turning all the water into blood and being invaded by frogs, locusts, and wild beasts. 

Each time a plague would come, Pharaoh would tell Moses that the Jews could leave, as long as the horror of that plague would stop. As soon as it stopped, Pharoah would change his mind. Until the 10th plague.  

Anticipating another change of mind, the Jews left in such a hurry, they did not have time to prepare food or wait for their bread to rise.

As they ran, they heard Pharaoh’s army approaching.There was a large sea in front of them and it was too big to swim across.  The Jews prayed to G-d and a miracle happened.  The sea parted and a dry, sandy path allowed them to safely reach the other side.  As the Egyptian army approached, the sea closed upon itself and the Jews were able to celebrate freedom on the other side.

Children: Children are the stars of the Seder.  The youngest one(s) gets to ask the Four Questions which include “Why is this night different than all other nights?  On all other nights, we eat leavened food, but tonight, we eat only Matzah (unleavened food).” The rest of the evening, including all the special food, answers these questions while retelling the story of Passover.

Matzah: Many Jews do not eat anything leavened during the eight days of Passover, remembering their ancestors who fled Egypt without having time for their bread to rise.

Cleaning: Preparing for Passover is a great way to “Spring Clean” your house.  The goal is to get rid of anything leavened.  Often kitchens and dining areas are cleaned from top to bottom and special food is prepared for the duration of the holiday.

When is Passover? In 2023, the first night of Passover is April 5th.  Many families will host or attend a seder on April 5th and 6th. Jewish holidays follow the lunar calendar which is why they appear to jump around on our American (Gregorian) calendar. 

Passover Greetings: During Passover, Jews often greet each other with “Chag Sameach” (Chahg Sah-may-ach) which means Happy Holiday in Hebrew.