From the bondage of the diaspora to true freedom


In Jewish tradition and history, Pesach is one of the festivals noted for its diversity and many meanings. It is a festival that commemorates past slavery and the Exodus from Egypt; it is the national unity festival of our people in the melting pot of distress and salvation; the festival of the greatness of the Jewish family which knows the wonder of being together as a family; it is the spring festival in which the blossoming of nature symbolizes the renewal and awakening of a people delighting in life. Above all it is the festival of freedom, the freedom of every single Jewish individual and the freedom of the entire Jewish people.

Not with standing, it is incumbent on every one of us, teacher and educator, principal and education worker in every place, to ask ourselves once again whether we fulfill in practice, in our lives, this freedom and the exodus from bondage to salvation; are we really free? Can a Jew be completely free when he or she still dwells in a foreign country? Does not freedom mean the ability of a person to live and work in his or her country in the context of language, culture, tradition and customs, handed down from his or her forefathers, which also constitute the basic elements of true and complete freedom?

When we sit down together on the Seder night, we and our children, let us remember that only in the Land of Israel and in the State of Israel is it possible to leave the bondage of the Diaspora completely and to achieve true internal and external liberation, together with the rest of our people, who were gathered in and came from all the corners of the earth to the Promised Land, just as our forefathers did when they came out of Egypt.


From the sources:

Seven days you will eat matzoth, but on the first day you will put away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.

The first day will be a festival, and the seventh day will be a festival; no manner of work shall be done therein, save that which every man must eat, that only may you do.

Observe this day from one generation to the next by an ordinance for ever. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight you will eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month in the evening.

(Shemot, 12: 14-18)

And Moses said unto the people: Remember this day, in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from that place, and no leavened bread will be eaten. You are coming out this day in the month of Aviv. Thus, when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you will keep this service in this month. Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day shall be a festival to the Lord.

(Shemot 12, 3-6)

In the first month, on the fourteenth day at twilight will be Pesach of the Lord. On the 15th of this month you will celebrate the feast of matzoth in honor of the Lord, during seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you will celebrate a festival; you will do no work therein. You will offer to the Lord an offering made of fire during seven days. The seventh day is a festival; you will do no work therein.

(Vayikra 23: 5-8)

Rabbi Eliezer ha-Kappar said: By virtue of four things the Israelites were redeemed form Egypt: they did not change their name, they did not change their language, they did not reveal their secrets, and they did not abolish the Brit Milah.

(Midrash Sohar Tov, 114)

Rabbi Ishmael compared the exodus from Egypt to a dove which had fled from a bird of prey and was about to take refuge in a cleft of a rock, but it found that a snake had nested there. If the dove entered the cleft it would surely be bitten by the snake whereas if it retracted its step it would be caught by the bird of prey. How did it solve this dilemma? It began to make a noise and to beat its wings so that the owner of the dove-cot came to its rescue. This is how the Israelites acted in their dilemma. They could not go forward into the sea because it had not yet been split asunder, nor could they go backwards for Pharaoh was fast approaching. What did they do? (Shemot 14:10) "They were greatly afraid... and the Children of Israel cried to G-d." Immediately (Shemot 14:30), "G-d saved them on that day".

(Shir Hashirim Rabbah, 2)

At that time the ministering angels wished to sing a song before the Holy One Blessed Be He. The Holy One Blessed Be He said to them: The works of my hands are drowning in the sea and you wish to sing before me?!

(Midrash Avkir; Megillah 10)

In every generation each man must see himself as if he personally came out of Egypt. There are some people who ask difficult questions: What did the exodus bring us, for we are oppressed in other kingdoms? What is the difference between Egypt and other kingdoms? And I say, that when Israel came out of Egypt they received good in essence until they themselves were worthy of being free men by their merit. This is the world merit of Israel, that they are worthy of being free by their very merit.

(The Maharal of Prague)


Pesah - Word combinations

  • Pesach Rishon (Pesachim 9, 3)
  • Pesach celebrated on the 14th day of Nisan. It is also called Pesach Gadol. (Piskha Rabba).
  • Pesach Sheni (Pesachim 9, 3)
  • Pesach celebrated on the 14th day of Iyar by people who were ritually impure or who were at too great a distance from the Temple during Pesach and could not celebrate it on its proper date. 
    It is also called Pesach Katan (Minor Pesach) (Hallah 4:11) or: Piskha Zeira.
  • Pesach Mitzraim (Pesachim 9, 5)
  • Pesach of Egypt, the first Pesach celebrated by the children of Israel when they left Egypt.
  • Pesach Dorot (Pesachim 9, 5)
  • The Pesach festival celebrated every year.
  • Pesach Meuchin (Pesachim 64:2)
  • "Passover of the crushed and crowded", a name for one Pesach held in the time of the Second Temple. There was such an enormous crowd on the Temple Mount, that one old man was crushed there.




Laws and Customs:

It is customary to begin studying the laws of Pesach thirty days before the festival.

(Ramah, "Hilkhot Pesach")

It is a custom in Israel to guarantee that the poor lack for nothing at Pesach. In particular wheat and flour are provided, for the baking of matzoth. This is called "wheat money" or "kimkha de-Piskha"

("Ozar Dinim u-Minhagim")

It is customary to impose a tax on the congregation for purchase of wheat, to give to the local poor for Pesach.

("Or Zaru,a").

In preparation for Pesach, all chametz is removed from the home. On the evening before Pesach, a thorough search of the house is made to ensure that no chametz remains. There is a tradition of distributing ten pieces of bread throughout the home. The head of the household collects this bread into a special small bag and sweeps up the crumbs using a feather. The search for chametz is made by candle-light, paying special attention to crevices and places where chametz is usually to be found. After the search, the head of the household recites the following declaration: "Any leavened bread or leaven which is in my possession and which I have not seen, nor disposed of, nor did I know of it, may it be considered as null and as ownerless like the dust of the earth." On the following day, the crumbs are burnt together with the bag and the feather.

("Hilkhot Pesach").

Prior to Pesach all the chametz utensils are concealed and those that can be kashered are kashered. How are the utensils kashered? Utensils used for cooking are kashered over a fire. Utensils that have been used for cold food are soaked in cold water.

("Orah Hayyim")

Chametz that cannot be disposed of is sold to a gentile, and repurchased after Pesach. All the members of the community sell their chametz to the rabbi, who in turn sells all the chametz to a gentile on the eve of Pesach.

("Ozar Minhagim")

Matzoth are baked usually in the 30 days prior to Pesach. Those who are particularly meticulous bake all the matzoth on the eve of Pesach. Each person would bake his own matzoth, or participate in making the matza, since the Jews have always cherished the mitzvoth. It is customary, when the matzoth are being baked, for the neighbors and close relatives to recite the following blessing: Thus shall you do next year, to bake Kosher matzoth.

("Sefer Matamim").


Words related to the holiday and linguistic sources:




The verb "pasach" (passed over) is close in meaning to the better known word "pas'a", which means to go, to step. However, there is an interesting difference between these two verbs: every step is in fact a passage from the place where the one foot was positioned to the place to which the second foot arrives. The verb expressing this action can emphasize the actual passage from one place to the other, but it can also express the idea, that the given area now remains behind, since the man has passed and gone forward.

The verb "pas'a" emphasizes mainly the passage, for instance -

"There were twelve steps there and Moshe took them in one stride"

(Tractate Sotah, 13)

Or -

"That they not take a large stride upon the altar"

(Shemot Rabbah 30).

From this came the expression "pas'a pesi'a gasa", he took a large stride, namely he walked quickly, took large steps.

On the other hand, the verb "pasach" relates mainly to the matter of the place remaining behind, for they jumped, and passed over it. This is the way in which the verb appears in the Bible, in the book of Shemot, in relation to Pesach:

"And the blood shall be for you for a token on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt".

Or -

"... and when He sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come into your houses to smite you"

(Shemot, 12)

This is strengthened by the exclusive use of the preposition "al", over - "pasach al" (passed over), whereas the verb "pas'a" can be used with or without the preposition "al", for instance "pas'a bederech" (walked along the road).

From the verb "pasach" also comes the noun "pesach", meaning salvation and rescue caused by the passing over, since the Bible tells us that the Lord passed over the houses of the Jews and did not harm them, when He killed the Egyptian firstborn.

The second noun related to this verb is "poseach", a lame man, a man whose legs do not properly fulfill their function, and who cannot walk normally, but limps. Clearly, however, this noun was created, since a man who limps does not walk like ordinary men, but jumps or skips from time to time.

Pasach al shtei ha-seifim - "to halt between two opinions"

This well-known expression, based on the verb "pasach", is used to indicate someone who hesitates or wavers, and does not know what to choose or how to decide. This is like a bird that hops back and forward between two branches. (the word "sa'ef" means a branch).

The source of the expression is Biblical:
I Kings, 18, 21, tells of the meeting between the Prophet Elijah and the priests of Baal. Elijah tells the people that they must clearly decide where they stand:

"How long will you halt between two opinions ("Ad matai atem poschim al shtei seifim")? If the Lord is G-d, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word."


The word Afikoman refers to part of the middle matza, that is hidden beneath a cushion on the Seder night and eaten at the end of the meal. Its source, apparently, is Greek, and it means the feast held after the meal, in which wine is drunk, sweetmeats are eaten, and songs are sung.

In ancient times, it was customary after the meal to go from one group to another and to continue drinking and rejoicing.

Thus the halakha in the Mishna, Tractate Pesachim, rules:

"After the paschal lamb no desert must be added".

In other words, no such party is to be held after the Pesach Seder.

It should be noted that there are other explanations for this word.




The Motif of four in the Pesah Haggada and in the Festival

The number four appears frequently, and in different contexts in the Pesach Haggadah and in the writings of HAZAL [our Sages] on Pesach and on traditions related to the festival. This number constitutes a kind of pivot around which subjects, ideas, sayings and commentaries on verses are cited.

  • Arba Kosot (the four cups of wine)

    The drinking of four cups of wine on the Seder night apparently derives from two Biblical Sources.

    The first is the four repetitions in the book of Bereshit (40:13, 11):

    "And Pharaoh's cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand... and you will deliver Pharaoh's cup into his hand, after the former manner when you were his butler."

    The bondage in Egypt commenced with the sale of Joseph, and this can be paralleled to the slavery of the children of Israel; likewise his liberation from jail symbolizes the redemption of the children of Israel from the house of bondage in Egypt.

    Therefore the Sages ordained the drinking of four cups of wine on Pesach for the four times in which the word "cup" is mentioned, since drinking of the cups of wine symbolizes salvation from trouble, as it is written in Psalms (116:13):

    "I will lift up the cup of salvation".

    The second source is in the book of Shemot (6:6-7), where four different terms of deliverance are cited:

    "...and I will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from your bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments. And I will take you to me for a people..." ("vehotzeti, vehitzalti, vega,alti, velakachti"),

    - for each type of deliverance one cup is drunk.

    There is also a well-known discussion in the Gemara in later sources, as to whether a fifth cup should be drunk for the term of deliverance that follows the four terms mentioned above -

    "And I will bring you to the land..." ("veheveti")

    (Shemot 6:8)

    Some rabbis, such as Rabbi Tarfon, used to drink a fifth cup on recitation of the Hallel in Eretz Israel, in Babylon and in Europe. Today we pour out a fifth cup, which is the cup of Elijah, who is associated with the hopes of redemption of our people.

    According to one version, the drinking of the four cups was introduced during the Second Temple period in order to denote Israel's salvation from the four kingdoms which oppressed us: Egypt, Babylon, Greece and Rome.

    The four cups are also likened to the four seasons. The month of Nisan, which is the first month according to the Bible, is the appropriate month for drinking one cup of wine in honor of each season. According to Abarbanel, the four cups are drunk, the first for Kiddush, the second on conclusion of the main part of the Haggadah that concludes with the "Ge'ulah" (Redemption) benediction, the third at the end of the Grace after Meals, and the fourth at the conclusion of the "Nishmat" hymn

    ("Birkat ha-Shir").

  • The Four Questions

    Four questions were intentionally inserted in the Haggadah we know today in order to stress the number four. Four questions do appear in the Mishna, but they differ partly from our questions: matza, maror, the paschal lamb and dipping (Tractate Pesachim, Babylonian Talmud).

    On the other hand, in the same tractate in the Jerusalem Talmud there are only three questions, brought in a different order: dipping, matza and the paschal lamb. The question on the eating of "maror" (bitter herbs) does not appear at all.

    Maimonides established five questions: dipping, matza, paschal lamb, maror and reclining. The questions appearing in our Haggadah were established by the Sages, who decided that only four questions should be asked.

  • The Four Sons 

    (For more iconography on the Four sons, see the Hartman Haggadah Site)

    An allusion to the four sons' questions is already found in the Torah: "And when your son asks you in time to come, saying: What is this?"

    (Shemot 13:14)

    The four sons appearing in the Haggadah represent the four main types of people, a wise man, a wicked man, a simple man, and a man who does not know how to ask. The wise man relates to the laws of Pesach in order to learn them; the wicked man dissociates himself from the community of Israel and disdains the laws of Pesach; the simpleton wishes to know generally what is special about Pesach; and it is our duty to explain and interpret to he who does not know how to ask.


  • The Number Four - Stylistic Repetition

    In various places in the Haggadah we find four successive phrases, all relating to the same idea. 
    1. In the passage commencing with the words "Avadim Hayinu" (We were slaves): And even if we were all wise, all men of knowledge, all old men and all knew the Torah... 
    2. In the passage beginning with the words "Vayotzienu Ha-Shem mi- Mitzraim" (And the Lord brought us forth from Egypt"): I myself, and not an angel, I myself and not a seraph, I myself, and not a messenger. I am the Lord.


  • The Four Matriarchs

    In the well known song "Ehad Mi Yodea" (Who knows One?), the word combination "Arba Imahot" (the Four Matriarchs) appears.

  • The Four Names of Pesach

    The Pesach festival has many names, but the four most well-known are the following:

    Hag ha-Pesach ("the Feast of Passover") Hag ha-Matzot ("the Feast of Unleavened Bread") Hag ha-Herut ("the Feast of Liberation") Hag ha-Aviv ("the Feast of Spring")


  • The Aggadah of Four

    "By virtue of four things the Israelites were delivered from Egypt:

    They did not change their name They did not change their language They did not reveal their secrets and they did not abolish the Brit Milah".

    The Aggadah stresses that over thousands of years of Jewish history, the people retained their name - Am Israel, their language - the Hebrew language, did not reveal their secrets and preserved the mitzvah of the Brit Milah.


  • The Aggadah of the Four Months

    In a well known Aggadah appearing in Midrash Rabbah (Bemidbar Rabbah, 3), Rabbi Akiva recounts that the Holy One Blessed Be He brought the Israelites out of Egypt only in a month appropriate for the exodus.

    He did not bring them out in Tamuz - because of the hot and dry weather. He did not bring them out in Tevet - because of the cold weather. He did not bring them out in Tishri - because of the rains. But He brought them out in Nisan - because it fell in spring, in good traveling weather.


  • Four Ways of Eating the Matza of the Mitzvah


    Eating the matza in order to make the "motzi" beracha. Eating the matza in order to make the "achilat matza" beracha. Eating matza with the maror in memory of Hillel, as it is said: "on unleavened bread and bitter herbs shall they be eaten"

    (Bamidbar 9: 11)

    Eating the matza of the Afikoman.


  • Four Types of Foods on the Seder Plate

    Karpas Maror Matza Maror between two matzoth (in memory of Hillel)


  • Four Benedictions

    The beracha [blessing] - "boreh peri ha-adamah" - on the karpas The beracha - "hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz" - on the matza The beracha - on eating matza The beracha - on eating maror.





Mah Nishtana

Match Column I and Column II:

Column I Column II

1. On all other nights we eat 1. On this night only maror. leavened and unleavened bread.
2. On all other nights we eat 2. On this night we all lean. all kinds of vegetables..
3. On all other nights we do not 3. On this night only leavened dip even once. bread..
4. On all other nights we eat 4. On this night twice. sitting or leaning.


The four sons:

Match the words on the right to the definitions on the left

1. The simple son 1. You must begin..
2. The wicked son 2. What are the testimonies, statutes and judgements ? .
3. He who does not know how 3. What do you mean by this to ask. service?.
4. The wise son 4. What is this?

Symboles of the Seder

Write the words appearing in the two columns in the right order

Column 1 Column 2

1. Kadesh 1. Korech.
2. Karpas 2. Matza.
3. Magid 3. Barech.
4. Motzi 4. Nirtzah.
5. Maror 5. Urhatz.
6. Shulchan 6. Rahtza.
7. Tzafun 7. Yachatz.
8. Hallel 8. Orech


Contact: Rafi Banai


Jewish and Israeli Holidays: Material for teachers and students in the diaspora. Written and edited by Dr. Aviv Ekroni - Rafi Banai and, In: "HETZ", Journal of the Department for Jewish Education and Culture in the Diaspora



Share           PRINT   
30 Jun 2015 / 13 Tamuz 5775 0