Passover (Pesach) 101
The central ritual of Pesach is the seder, a carefully choreographed ritual meal that takes place either in the home or in the community. A number of symbolic foods are laid out on the table, of which the most important are the matzah, the unleavened "bread of affliction," and the shankbone, which commemorates the Pesach sacrifice in the Temple. The seder follows a script laid out in the Haggadah, a book that tells the story of the redemption from Egypt and thanks God for it. Although the Haggadah is a traditional text, many people--particularly in the modern world--add to it and revise it in accord with their theology and understanding of God's redemptive actions in the world.
Although the focus of Passover observance is on the home, it should not be forgotten that Pesach is a holiday, on the first and last days of which traditional Judaism prohibits working. There are special synagogue services, including special biblical readings, among which one finds Shir ha-Shirim, "The Song of Songs" and Hallel, Psalms of praise and thanksgiving for God's saving act in history. The last day of Passover is one of the four times a year that the Yizkor service of remembrance is recited.
The overarching theme of Passover is redemption. After all, this is the holiday that celebrates God's intervention in history to lead the Israelites from slavery to freedom. It is a time to celebrate God as the great liberator of humanity. The divine redemption of the Israelites thus becomes the blueprint for the Jewish understanding of God and divine morality and ethics, which can be seen in Jewish participation at the forefront of movements for social justice.
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