Study and Theory/
Pesach

Concepts and customs

Afikoman:
The larger half of the middle matza from the three matzas on the Seder plate. After it is halved it is hidden in memory of the provisions that the Children of Israel packed when they left Egypt. Some place the Afikoman on their shoulder to recall the exodus from Egypt. It is customary that the children try to steal the Afikoman and request a gift for its return.


The Passover Haggadah:
A collection of the stories of the Sages, sections from the bible, blessings and songs prepared in order to recount the exodus from Egypt on Seder Night. The Haggadah started to be formed during the time of the Mishna after the destruction of the Second Temple. The format with which we are familiar today was formed it would seem during the era of the Gaons (the seventh century AD and onwards).


Making utensils kosher for Passover:
The daily food utensils which are used on Passover undergo scrubbing and boiling. For the main part there are Jewish homes that have a special set of Passover utensils that are stored during the year.


The names of the festival:
The festival of Passover commemorates the Lord passing over the houses of our forefathers in Egypt during the plague of the first born. 
The festival of matzas to commemorate the matzas that the Children of Israel baked because they did not have time for the dough to ferment and rise when they had to leave Egypt quickly. 
The festival of spring falls during the spring. This is customary during the ceremony of the sheaves which denotes the start of the harvesting season. At Passover “we exchange the blessing for rain with the blessing for dew during the “shmona esrei prayer”. 
The festival of freedom expresses the redemption of Israel from slavery to freedom.


The month of Nissan:
Appears in the bible [Exodus 12} as the first of the months, also called the month of spring.


Hametz:
Flour or baked goods that have fermented and risen. Examining the hametz is a ceremony for looking for crumbs of hametz, after cleaning the home. There are those that use a feather and a candle or a torch to search for the crumbs. The ceremony takes place in darkness on the eve before the festival. Removal of the hametz: cleaning all the remains of the hametz and all the crumbs of the baked goods. The hametz found is burnt on the morning of the eve of Passover. Sale of hametz in order that they shall not need to throw away the items of hametz during Passover, mainly traders and business owners. The hametz is sold jointly to a gentile and is removed from the possession of the Jews during Passover. At the end of the festival, when the gentile has still not paid his debt, the hametz is returned to its owners.


Seder Night:
Held on the first night of the festival to recall the sleepless night during the exodus from Egypt. The family sit around the table and recount the exodus from Egypt from slavery to freedom of the Children of Israel.


Second Seder:
Overseas it is customary to celebrate a second Seder on the second night of Passover, as part of the custom “the second day of the festival in the Diaspora” which is celebrated on each of the three foot festivals.


Matzas:
Baked from flour which has not fermented or risen. To commemorate the dough that did not have time to ferment during the exodus from Egypt.


Omer:
On 16th of Nissan it was customary to wave a sheaf of barley which had just been harvested. The custom was renewed with the settlement in our times. From this day it is customary to count the Omer, seven weeks until the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost).


The Seder Plate:
Serves as a religious article and undergoes artistic designs, upon which are placed several symbolic items: The lamb shank – a roasted bone, in memory of the Passover sacrifice “which is not eaten but rather in its place a hardboiled egg in memory of the celebratory sacrifice – a sacrifice that was customary during the three foot festivals – which was sacrificed during the pilgrimage.  As the egg cooks and hardens so too Israel: “the more he is tortured the more they will multiply”, bitter herbs, lettuce and horseradish: symbolize the bitter taste of slavery in Egypt. Haroset – a mixture of crushed and spiced fruit symbolizing the cement with which our ancestors built in Egypt. Celery – a celery leaf or a potato, which is dipped in salt water. Three matzas, one for eating the matza of the commandment, one for the “sandwich” with bitter herbs and one for the Afikoman. After the middle matza is halved for the Afikoman there are still two whole matzas to symbolize the double round of manna that was eaten in the desert on Friday.


Charity for the needy:
A custom of taking charity at the start of the month of Nissan from the public. The donation is distributed to the poor of the town, each according to his needs.


The Great Sabbath:
The Sabbath closest to Passover, on which it is customary to ask the public to read part of the Haggadah as preparation for Passover. Repetition of the Song of Songs: it is customary to read from the Song of Songs scroll on the Sabbath falling in the week of Passover.


Dressing for Seder Night:
The Ashkenazi Jews customarily wear white on the Seder Night, “ a kittle”. There are those who say that the head of the Seder wears white to remember the while clothes worn by the Priests. According to the  kabbalists the colour white symbolizes grace and mercy, to hint at these properties and invite poor people to the Seder, because “great is the charity that brings us closer to redemption”. Bavli, Baba Bitrei, 6:71


Many Jews from Morocco wear long white caftans on Seder Night – a symbol of freedom.


The Bukharan Jews wear splendid clothes on Seder Night,  The head of the household wears a white kaftan with gold around his waist and the women wear colourful fancy clothes and wear expensive jewellery.


 The Caucasian Jews wore fancy clothing and heard the Haggada from a sage when are armed, and the women – wore numerous silver belts.


The Babylonians Jews according to their custom prepared a colourful tablecloth to place on it the Afikoman to recall “the wrapping in their clothes” and a stick to recall “a stick in their hands”.


The Great Sabbath – the origin of the name:
The Great Sabbath is the Sabbath prior to Passover. The origin of the name is found in the verse at the end of the Haftara of the Sabbath prior to Passover: “Here I am sending to you Elijah the Prophet before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day” Malachi 3:23.
There are other opinions as to the origin of the name; we shall note some of them:
The Sabbath before any great festival is known as the Great Sabbath, that is the Sabbath of the great festival. In an ancient prayer book according to the custom of Corfu it says: “the order for the Great Sabbath of Shavuot (Pentecost).”


The Children of Israel were ordered in preparation of the Sabbath, before leaving Egypt, to take “a lamb to the home of our fathers and a lamb to their home” And the Children of Israel said; “They will see us making the sacrifice and will not let us go”, the Holy One Blessed be He said to them: Now you will see a a great miracle that I shall do. And indeed a miracle occurred and the Egyptians did not harm the Children of Israel when they sacrificed the Passover sacrifice, and therefore this day is called the Great Sabbath to remember the great miracle.


Rabbi David Ben Yosef Aboudram, one of the Jewish sages in Spain in the 14th century says in his book “Interpretation of the blessings and prayers” the following reason for why it is called the Great Sabbath. This is the first Sabbath following this great miracle, which was carried out on the Sabbath prior to the exodus from Egypt, and is called “the Great Sabbath”, Bavli, Shabbat, Paz 72, Addenda Shemot Rabba, the bible portion Come


There are those who connect the name of the custom that was prevalent in Jewish communities to bake large loaves of bread, from the leavened flour that remained, in preparation of the Sabbath prior to Passover. The large loaves of bread were distributed to the poor. 


There are those who think that the origin of the name is in the main sermon of the Great Rabbi in the town, on matters of Passover, on the Sabbath prior to Passover. In the Ashkenazi communities it is customary to prepare for the Seder Night on the Sabbath before Passover and read from the Haggadah “We were slaves” until “to atone for our sins”. There are those who suppose that this Sabbath is sometimes called the Haggadah Sabbath and throughout the generations it was turned into the Great Sabbath.


The Mimuna – the origin of the festival:
The promise promised to Rabbi Yoself Ben Hayam, one of Sages of the town, must be fulfilled and visit him on the festival. This time the Sage receives him in the living room: there are also many guests in the house. He is not a priest and therefore he blesses him with the blessing of our Father Yaakov: “May G-d keep you as Ephraim and Menashe”. Here the conversation discusses the custom of the Mainuma, about which I asked Rabbi Yosef, because who better than him is able to explain it.
The Sage gave me four reasons:


a. Maimuna – from the root in Hebrew to believe. As the first redemption, so too the last redemption; in Nissan the Children of Israel were redeemed, in the future Nissan Babylon will be redeemed,  Rosh Hashana 11:72---and here there have been many months of Nissan and still the redemption has not come; therefore Jews celebrate the Maimouna, with joy and faith that they shall be redeemed in Nissan.


b. “On four chapters the world is judged” – Mishnah, Rosh Hashana !:2 .. “At Passover the crops are harvested”. Therefore vines and crops are harvested and they are blessed and we enjoy the fruit and goodness of Israel.


c. The happiness is not complete at Passover, as when the festival takes place we do not complete Hallel and this because it is written “the creations of my hands are drowning in the sea and you are singing – Bavli Sanhedrin 39:72 – and therefore we have the Maimouna to complete the joy of the festival.


d. On the day after Passover Rabbi Maimon, the father of Maimonides, died and as it is not possible to go to the public celebration – hundreds visit the grave of the holy one, alike the public celebration for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai – in the month of Av, the Maimouna comes as a kind of substitute for the public celebration. The rabbinic judges noted: only after the festival did the Children of Israel have the time to look at the plunder that they took in Egypt and in the sea, and therefore we bless each other with the words: achieve and succeed. Rabbi Yosef Ben Nayam showed me in an ancient festival prayer book from the city of Aleppo in Syria in which it was written that the celebrations for the Maimuna were customary throughout Syria and indeed I found that the Jews of Kurdistan also celebrated similar customs to the customs of the Maimouna. I asked how they celebrate the Maimuna in other towns in North Africa? They said to me, they have special customs in different places. In Tetouan they place a bowl of water with live fish. In Oran in Algeria they put on the table gold and silver plates. In the coastal regions they go to the water and walk through the water in a shallow area. In Marrakech on the eighth day of the festival in the afternoon they go to one of the ancient olive trees and bless it so that it bear a lot of fruit. In the evening they sing and bless and everyone goes out until the morning to one of the springs, which is also sacred to the Muslims. The women approach first, whisper blessings and bathe their feel in the water that is drawn from the spring. There are those who believe that this is a sign of a blessing and those that say this is a sign of purity. Afterwards all the family members enter the spring, fill dishes with water and return happily to their homes.

Prof. H. Herschberg / 1953 5713


Playing with nuts at Passover – what is its origin?
The game of nuts for children – is an ancient game and mentioned in the Midrash.
“A nut is a game for babies”  Song of Songs Rabbah)
Rabbi Akiva used to distribute roasted seeds and nuts to children on Seder Night who did not sleep, so that they would be occupied with the game and cracking the nuts and keep them awake and so that they did not disturb the others during the Seder.


Moses said to the Holy One Blessed by He: You say to me: go and take out the Children of Israel, where will they sleep in summer under the sun and in winter from the cold? How will I supply them with food and drink? How many animals do they have? How many pregnant women? How many babies?  How much food have you given them to live? How much softness have you given the pregnant women and how many seeds and nuts have you given to the babies? (Midrash Shemot Rabba)

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