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Pesach (Passover)


The spring holiday, pronounced “Pay-sach” and called in English “Passover.” It commemorates the freedom of the Israelites after 400 years of slavery in Egypt. It is also called Hag Ha-aviv (Spring Festival) Hag Ha-Matzot (the Matzah Festival) and Z'man Herutanu (the time of our freedom.)

 Pesach is both a historical holiday and an  agricultural one. Agriculturally it marks the beginning of the spring harvest in Israel, and the end of the rainy season. Historically it marks the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.

 The 15th of the Hebrew month Nisan, which usually falls around late March or into April. 

The book of Genesis in the Torah ends with Joseph going down into Egypt, becoming second-in-command to Pharaoh, and being a well respected Hebrew among the Egyptians. However when Joseph died, the Torah tells us a new Pharaoh (king) arose, who did not know Joseph or the friendship between the Hebrews and the Egyptians, and he was threatened by the strength and the numbers of the children of Israel. The Torah then tells the story of our liberation from slavery, beginning with the birth of the hero Moses, in the book of Exodus. 

The two most significant observances of Pesach are not owning or eating chametz (anything leavened), and the Passover Seder or special meal on the first and second nights, when we eat matzah. Matzah commemorates when the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let the bread rise, and its opposite, chametz, is a symbol of the "puffiness" (arrogance, pride) in our souls. The Seder has many special elements and rituals which are followed in a certain order (The word Seder actually means order) in a book called a Haggadah (which literally means “telling.”) There are many Haggadahs of every denomination and type on the market. The essence of the Passover Seder is to remember that we were slaves in Egypt and now we are free- therefore all humanity must be free.

Matzah, for at least the first two days (one day in Israel) but most people eat it for the whole 8 days (or 7 in Israel and in many Reform and Reconstructionist communities.) Matzah is a flat cracker which is made in under 18 minutes. There are also special foods on the Seder plate: bitter herbs, a green vegetable (like parsley), charoset (a fruit and nut mixture to resemble mortar) a roasted shankbone and a roasted egg (vegetarians use a roasted beet and/or an avocado pit.) A bowl of salt water reminds us of the tears of slavery, and three matzahs are on the Seder table on a special plate for use during the Seder. During the week we may eat whatever is not chametz- leavened, or fermented. Ashkenazi Jews add the restriction of not eating legumes during Passover (e.g.beans, soy, rice, corn).

“Chag Sameach”. Some people say “Chag kasher v’sameach” which means “may you have a happy and kosher Passover”, since there are so many special foods and food rules!



For those who have cleaned their homes of chametz on Friday and ceased eating it as of noon that day,  the question arises: what do I make motzi over on Friday night? How do I have challah on my table if I am no longer eating chametz? Can I use matzah even though we are not supposed to eat the first bite of matzah until the blessing for it at the Seder? The answer is wonderful! According to Halacha, you have 3 choices.: 1) use egg Matza for Shabbat Hamotzi, because is not considered ”real” matzah (it is called in Hebrew “matzah ashirah” or “rich Matza”); 2) or 3) use cooked matzah which is also not considered “real” matzah, so go ahead and make Hamotzi over matzah balls! Alternatively, use my mother of blessed memory’s recipe for Egg Matzah Muffins for Friday night (see recipe below) and Saturday lunch Hamotzi and enjoy!


The Laws and Customs of Pesach Food 


Exodus 13
 And Moses said to the people: “Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of bondage, how the Lord freed you with a mighty hand; no leavened bread shall be eaten. This day you came out in the month Aviv. And it shall be when the Lord shall bring you into the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall keep this service (or: practice) in this month.Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord.Unleavened bread (matzot) shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with you, neither shall there be leaven seen with you in all your quarters. And you shall tell your child on that day, saying, This is done because of that which the Lord did to me when I came forth out of Egypt...

The two main mitzvot are eating matzah (only on first two days!) and not eating chametz. Matzah is a symbol of humility, flatness,“bread of affliction” eaten in haste. Chametz is the opposite: symbol of pride, “puffed-up”.

Chametz=leavened, fermented

For Ashkenazim, add kitniyot (legumes but literally means “small”). Kitniyot= rice, beans, (green beans?) corn (corn syrup) but corn oil is ok! peas, peanuts, lentils, chickpeas, soy/tofu 2) forbidden grains= wheat, barley, oats, spelt or rye (except for special”watched”grains used for making matzas)
Foods that require no Kosher L’Pesach label: Fresh fruit and vegetables, (remember: no peas). The following foods are permitted unmarked if they are in unopened packages or containers bought before Passover: Natural coffee, sugar, tea, salt and pepper, milk with no additives.

Seder foods:

 1) MarorBitter herbs; use grated fresh horseradish or leaves of bitter greens (endive/ romaine); symbolizes the bitterness of servitude. 2) Haroset=Fruit and nut mixture (allergy note: you can leave out the nuts) made into a spread, symbolizing the mortar and bricks made by Hebrew slaves.3) Zeroah=Roasted bone or chicken neck to symbolize the sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem and the paschal sacrifice in particular.Vegetarian note: Use a roasted beet. 4) Beitzah=Roasted hard-boiled egg, to symbolize the roundness of life and rebirth. Vegan note: Use an avocado pit. 5) Karpas= greens. Use celery, parsley, curly lettuce to symbolize spring. 6) Three matzahs, covered with or enclosed in a matzo cloth reserved for the occasion. To symbolize G-d Torah and Israel or Cohen, Levi, and Yisrael. 7) Salt water for dipping, to symbolize the tears of slavery. 8) Four glasses of wine or grape juice; any colour or sweetness. 9) Hazeret- the “extra” marking on some Seder plates. Here's why: maror is mentioned in the Torah as something bitter, but we don't really know what maror was exactly. Later, the Talmud mentions 5 kinds of plants that could be used as maror- none are horseradish, and one is called "hazeret." Sephardic Jews have always used bitter lettuce for maror, but Ashkenazim used horseradish but they added a space on the Seder plate for a bitter lettuce. BUT Hazeret in modern Hebrew actually means "horseradish!" SO... some people put horseradish on the hazeret space and bitter lettuce on the maror space; but some still put horseradish on the maror space and bitter lettuce on the hazeret space. Suggestion: raddicio, endive, wild chicory.


Bonnie Stern's Passover Chocolate Bark


Bonnie writes, "My colleague Leonie Eidinger and I came up with this Passover version of our favourite chocolate bark. We like it best with potato chips but matzah works well too."

1 lb bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups miniature marshmallows
1 1/2 cups broken potato chips or chopped matzah
8 oz coconut macaroons, chopped
1 tsp flaky sea salt (eg Maldon)

1. Place chocolate in a stainless steel bowl set in a skillet of very hot water. Stir until almost melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth.
2. Combine marshmallows, chips, macaroons and salt in a large bowl and add melted chocolate. Stir to coat everything well.
3. Spread on a 9"x13" baking pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate a few hours or until set. Lift out of pan with the paper. Cut into chunks.
Makes approximately 36 pieces

Terry Goldstein’s (Rabbi’s mom) Egg Farfel Muffins

Makes a dozen muffins

1-3/4 cups matza farfel or egg matza crushed into farfel-size pieces
3 eggs
2 TBL melted margarine or butter cooled, or neutral oil
1 or 2 TBL sugar (depends on how sweet or savoury you want them to be- 2 TBL makes them very sweet like dessert)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup golden raisins

Place the farfel in a glass bowl and pour boiling water or hot milk over it and soak until it is very soft. In a second glass bowl crack the 3 eggs and beat with a fork, add the sugar, salt, cinnamon, and melted margarine or butter. Strain the farfel, pour the liquid egg mixture into the strained farfel and mix well. Add raisins (as few or as many as you like) and spoon into paper muffin cups or into a greased muffin tin, 3/4 full for each muffin. Dot the top of each muffin with a small pat of margarine or butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or sugar for a sweeter muffin. Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes until top are brown. You can serve these warm with your choice of margarine, butter, jam, and/or cream cheese.

Passover with Children


Before the actual Seder, there are a number of books and craft activities that can enhance the Seder experience for young children and their familites: 
* Bedikat Hametz (looking for Hametz);
* Sponge painted Matzah cover;
* Stained glass kiddush cup;
* Seder plate/Matzah plate;
* Afikomen bag;
* Tablecloth;
* Learn Mah Nishtanah (the Four Questions);
* Cook together;
* Make placecards;
* Colouring books;
* Make a Pesach mobile;
* Prompting cards; and,
* Sculpting clay (fimo).

Seder Suggestions
Leading up to or during the Seder itself:
* Choose a Haggadah that’s right for your family;
* Make a family Haggadah;
* Make a touch-feel Haggadah;
* Encourage questions;
* Use puppets/masks or costumes;
* Use paper tablecloth & crayons;
* Run simultaneous stuffed animal/doll seders;
* Create a Pesach play room;
* Read Pesach story books;
* Animate the Seder with puppets;
* Have building blocks on the table (for pyramid building);
* Watch Pesach videos; and,
* Make origami frogs (lots of origami websites include instructions for frogs at different levels of complexity- from simple to intermediate)- almost all the plagues can be made from origami. Prepare sheets and instructions and they can be made at the Seder!

Pesach Games
Play games with a Pesach theme:
* Memory Game: matching picture cards or arranging cards in order;
* Quizzes: Who said to Whom;
* Who (What am I);
* Charades;
* Pictionary;
* Scavenger/Treasure hunt;
* Word scrambles;
* Crossword puzzles; and,
* Pesach Mad Libs created by Baruch Sienna:

Print this page out. Ask children/guests for the missing words (noun, adjective, etc.) and fill them in the spaces. Then, read the resulting humourous story for all to enjoy.

___________ (number) years ago, the Israelites were slaves to the ___________ (adjective) Pharaoh of ___________ (name of country). He made them build ___________ (adjective) ___________ (plural noun) and ___________ (plural noun). They cried out to God, and God heard their ___________(plural noun). So God sent ___________ (person in room) to Pharaoh to say, "Let my people ___________ (verb). But Pharaoh wouldn't listen so God sent ___________ (number) ___________ (plural noun) to punish the Egyptians and to free the Israelites. First, the water turned to ___________ (liquid), then ___________ (animals) came out of the Nile, and ___________ (animals) infested the Egyptians. After ___________ (number) plagues, was the slaying of the ___________ (family member - cousin, brother etc.). The Israelites dipped a ___________ (plant) into the ___________ (liquid) of a ___________ (animal) and painted it on the ___________(part of a house) of their houses. Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go- but because they left in such a hurry, they didn't have time to bake ___________(food), and ate ___________ (Pesach food) instead. The Israelites borrowed ___________ (household item) and ___________ (household item) from their neighbours and journeyed to ___________(geographical place). The Egyptians chased after them and God saved them by ___________ (verb ending in -ing) the ___________(noun). When the Egyptians were in the middle of the sea - God made the waters cover them. The Israelites were free, so every year we remember this story of Pesach by eating ___________ (Pesach food) and ___________(Pesach food). 



You are what you eat and don't eat: 5 tips to SIMPLIFY Passover

From Rabbi Elyse Goldstein:
The weeks before Pesach I see countless Facebook posts lamenting how much people “hate” Passover, and what a hassle it all is. Pesach is often so overwhelming that cruises and hotels offer Seders so we can get away from home at this special time of year.

Taping shut the closets, turning on the house alarm and going far, far away is one alternative to the cleaning, kashering, expense and—dare I say it—obsession over Pesach food. Passover bagels, spongecake mixes that literally taste like sponges, and the worst excuse for breakfast cereal I have ever seen feel like some kind of slavery. 

Simplifying Pesach is another answer.

I'd like to share with you 5 tips for an easier and meaningful Passover this year. Take what you like and throw the rest away with your left-over matza.

1. First and foremost: Let's build the "festival of liberation" into what we buy. Here's one easy way: many of us go through dozens of eggs during Passover. Buy them free-range so at least you know the laying chickens have some measure of freedom. Yes they are more expensive than factory-farmed white eggs from chickens with beaks clipped, stacked in pens on top of each other. Fair-trade coffee and tea, closed and fresh for the holiday, is about as kosher as you can get from an ethical standpoint: it keeps us from purchasing the products of child and slave labour. Isn't that the very essence of Passover?
2. Skip all processed food. Your food bill will be cheaper and you will feel less overwhelmed in the store aisles. Do you really need duck sauce for one week? Kosher-for-Passover noodles that you keep promising you’ll never buy again because you end up throwing out most of the gloopy mess? Enjoy the produce of spring: isn't that the very essence of Passover?
3. Learn which foods need to be marked with a label and which don’t. Don’t get sucked into the kosher-for-Pesach product vortex. Jewish knowledge: isn't that the very essence of Passover?
4. Let's talk about kitniyot—the legumes that Ashkenazi Jews “do not eat on Passover” like rice, beans, chickpeas. I was once a triumphalist kosherer-than-thou ethnocentric Askenazi Jew about this, believe me. I wouldn’t even eat green beans—which are a vegetable and not a bean—because of their name. But if it’s good enough for the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, it’s good enough for me. The Conservative movement ruled that Ashkenazi Jews may eat kitniyot. The Reform movement said it was ok way back in the 1880's. In Israel, many religious Ashkenazi Jews eat kitniyot— so much so that it's become a kind of "minhag Yisrael" or Israeli custom. There is even an Orthodox “Kitniyot Liberation Front!” Jewish unity: isn't that the very essence of Passover?
5. Go outside every single day and walk, blessing the budding trees you see. Each day of Pesach try and experience one measure of freedom. Let your sense of wonder at the flowers and sun energize you after the post-Seder sluggishness that arises from simply too much heavy food. Practice gratefulness: isn't that the very essence of Passover?

What can be more meaningful than celebrating spring, freedom, family, community, knowledge, gratefulness, and Jewish unity? Don't let the food get in the way! Embrace the challenge and enjoy a change of diet for a week. Did you know you don't "have to" eat matza at all except for at the Seders?

Tips for "Surviving" The Seders

  1. Do Song Parodies
  2. Autographs: each guests signs the inside cover of their haggadah. That way, you have an ongoing record of who shared the holiday with you in past years. It’s also fun to see who used your haggadah before you.
  3. Have each guest bring a different haggadah and offer insights from “their” haggadah.
  4. Fond Memories: Go around the table and share your fondest memory of Passover as a kid.
  5. Assign parts to each guest (e.g. 4 questions, 4 chldren) and tell them to come prepared with a song, a skit, a question, an activity for that section.
  6. Ask interesting questions throughout. Examples: If you were a film director and could hire any actors you wanted, who would you have star as Moses, Miriam, Pharaoh? If you could invite anyone in the world to this Seder, who would you invite and why?
  7. Iron Chef charoset: have each guest bring a different ethnic charoset and have a “contest.”
  8. “New” Seder plates: what would today’s symbols of slavery be and who are the oppressed? Example: chocolate, coffee, etc.
  9. Do Torah study at “Arami oved avi.”
  10. Don’t use a haggadah at all- write up the “rubrics” and improvise!



  1. Personalized Mats: Use large, white poster board or construction paper to create place mats decorated with Passover games and age-appropriate questions. 
  2. A maze (children can use their fingers to trace their way from slavery to freedom).
  3. Matzah Man, and other silly stuff: Draw a blank square and say it’s a piece of matzah. Or give each child a square of matza. See if the child can imagine ten, twenty or thirty different ideas as to what the square could become. Matzah Man? A matza house? etc.
  4. Purchase some dollar store “prizes” for kids. When they ask a good question (which is the point!), they get a prize.
  5. Build “tents in the desert” out of sheets etc and let the children climb in, have time out, come back in. Stock the tents with toys and even sand to play in!
  6. Paper bag drama: Gather together various household items (a tennis ball, a sponge, a timer, a remote control, a sock, a light bulb, a bar of soap, etc.) together into a bag.  At various points during the seder, invite someone to pull an item out and offer an explanation of how the item fits into the Passover story!
  7. Passover “mad libs”
  8. Passover “taboo”- make cards with Passover themes (e.g Pharoah, charoset) and the person has to describe them without using hint words (e.g. leader, apples) while others guess what they are.
  9. Have children walk around and “wash” everyone’s hands at Urchatz.
  10. Afikomen: have the children hide it and adults have to find it!!


Counting the Omer

In the Torah, in Leviticus chapter 23, all of the Biblically commanded festivals and holy days and their basic observances are listed. There, just after the details of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Pesach) we are commanded to count the days, beginning with the second night of Passover, and continuing until the end of seven full weeks. The next day, the fiftieth day after Passover, is Shavuot. This period is known as Sefirat Ha-Omer or the Counting of the Omer. An omer is a unit of measure for grains, best translated as a "sheaf". On the second day of Passover, in the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering. 

Every night during this period, a blessing is recited and the number of the day of the omer is pronounced, in both weeks and days. For example, on the 18th day, you would say "Today is the eighteenth day of the counting of the Omer; that is two weeks and four days of the Omer."

Here is the blessing: Barukh atah adonai, elohenu melekh ha'olam, asher kidshanu bemitsvotav, vetsivanu al sefirat ha-omer. 
You are the Source of all blessing, Eternal One, our God, Sovereign over space and time, who has sanctified us through Your commandments, and commanded us to count the omer.

(A very nice calendar for the Omer from the Pedagogic Centre in Jerusalem is available online, and in the spirit of the Simpsons, a fun calendar for the counting of the "Homer" can be found here.) 

The ritual of counting the Omer connects the themes of Pesach and Shavuot and connects us with the seasonal and agricultural foundation of Jewish ritual time. According to Nogah Hareuveni, a leading scholar in the field of Israel’s botany and Bible, this period of sefirat ha’omer coincides with Israel’s spring in April and early May. This brief transitional season between the rainy winter and the hot, dry summer is a season of erratic and unpredictable weather. One day can bring scorching winds from the desert, the next day, thunder, lightning, and heavy rains. During this spring season, seven critically important varieties of grain and fruit (Israel's 'seven species') are all particularly at vulnerable stages of development. The olive, grape, pomegranate and date flowers need several successive days of hot weather to open and be pollinated. Wheat and barley, on the other hand, need cool, moist air. The fiery hamsin typical of this season can parch and completely destroy the entire grain crop if it comes before the kernels have filled with starch. The same rains that benefit the wheat and barley during their last stages of ripening can devastate the fruit crop. In order to survive, people needed both the grain and the fruit. Not surprsing, then, that this period would be one of high anxiety and trepidation.

Lag B'Omer
Since Talmudic times, this period has also been considered a time of partial mourning, recalling a horrible plague during the lifetime of Rabbi Akiba that claimed the lives of thousands of his students. As a result, the omer is similar to other periods of mourning in that weddings, parties, dancing and other forms of entertainment are not held. Some also refrain from having their hair cut during this time. Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, is observed as a minor holiday, commemorating the one day of the plague when no one died. Mourning practices are suspended on that day and it has evolved as a day of celebration during an otherwise bleak period.

What's the spiritual side of all this counting?


  • Remember to count your blessings each day.
  • "Teach us to number our days that we may get us a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12)
  • Counting is a measure of enthusiasm- count down!
  • God is "counting" on us.
  • How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...


Tue, February 27 2024 18 Adar I 5784