The holiday of Passover has four names in Hebrew; each of its names teaches us important lessons about this special time. It is “Chag Ha-Aviv,” the holiday of the spring. Passover affirms for us that there is always a new season, a new spring, a chance for new growth and rebirth. The name, “Chag Ha-Matzot,” reminds us that the most essential ritual of Passover is the eating of matza (and refraining from eating leavening). The Torah instructs us to observe the festival in this way:
In the first [Hebrew] month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month….No leaven shall be found in your houses. (Exodus, chapter 12)
We are taught that the Israelites were in such a rush leaving Egypt that the dough they had prepared had to be baked quickly, with no time for it to rise; thus, the creation of ‘matza.’ The commandment to eat matza links us today to the experience of our ancestors in an immediate and ‘consuming’ way.
Passover tells of our journey from Egypt back to our homeland, from a life of slavery to a life of freedom. Thus, one of the names is “Z’man Cherutenu,” the time of our freedom. Throughout the Torah and so much of our tradition, we are reminded that we, as a people were strangers and slaves in Egypt; because of this experience, we are taught to welcome strangers and to care for them in our lives today.
Finally, the Hebrew word, “Pesach,” is most literally translated as “Passover.” This refers to the sacrifices made in ancient days. It also refers to God “passing over” the homes of the Israelites when the Egyptian homes experienced the tragic plague of slaying of the first born children. Though we are taught not to celebrate the pain of the Egyptians, this event is also a spiritual reminder of the protection we have received from God.
At Temple Beth David, we observe Passover at congregational worship on the first morning of the festival and on the last morning, when Yizkor is recited. The women of Sisterhood, along with their daughters, mothers and other women, gather for a “Women’s Seder” led by Rabbi Klafter and Cantor Halpern, prior to the holiday itself as well.