According to the stories, the Jewish people left Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to wait for the bread they had been baking to rise. To mark this, during Passover they now eat only unleavened bread. The night before Passover they cleanse the house of all leavened bread, including crumbs.
A special meal called a Seder is eaten, and they lean on cushions as a symbol that they are no longer slaves. The meal also represents the escape from slavery. The first item on the plate is the lamb bone. This is not eaten, but symbolises the lambs that were sacrificed for the original Passover. The roasted egg is also a symbol of sacrifice, as well as of springtime (when Passover takes place) and new beginnings. The green vegetables are for the humble origins of Jews and these vegetables are dipped in saltwater for the tears they have shed. Bitter herbs (usually horseradish) are for the bitterness of slavery, and a dish called Charoset (a mixture of apple, walnut and wine) symbolises the mortar used for building in Egypt during the time of slavery.
The youngest child asks four questions, beginning “Why is this night different from all other nights?” to prompt the retelling of the story of the story of the escape from Egyptian slavery.
During the evening, four toasts are made – one for each of the four expressions God used to describe the escape from slavery, and a glass of wine is also poured for the prophet Elijah. The doors are left unlocked and sometimes open so that Elijah can enter in case this is the day he chooses to return.
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Passover, or Pesach, is one of the most important festivals in the Jewish calendar. It celebrates the Jews leaving Egypt and slavery behind them, and being led to freedom by Moses.
The Pharaoh at the time refused to set the Jewish people free, and so according to the stories God sent ten great plagues.
The first was that the water of the Nile turned to blood, killing everything that lived in it and making the water undrinkable. The second and third were frogs and bugs, which invaded every corner of the land, and the fourth was a horde of wild animals which trampled over the land, destroying everything in their path. The fifth was a pestilence which killed the Egyptians’ domestic animals, and the sixth was a painful plague of boils. When the pharaoh still refused to set the Jews free, there followed plagues of hail and locusts. The ninth plague was a darkness which fell on the land for several days, filling the Egyptians with fear.
Moses told the Pharaoh that if he did not free the Jewish people, God would send the worst plague of all. The Pharaoh still refused to set them free.
The Jews were then instructed to take a lamb for each household. On the 14th day of the month, they were to kill and eat it, and to mark their doors with the blood from the lamb. That night the first born of all the Egyptians died, but the Jews were kept safe because the lambs’ blood on their doors marked them as households where death should pass over them.
At last the Pharaoh agreed to let them go. They packed hurriedly and followed Moses out of Egypt. Jews celebrate this event every year as the Passover.
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