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Passover or "Pesach" is the mostly widely celebrated holiday amongst the Jewish community, and has been celebrated since approximately 1300 BC. It is one of the most important holidays of the Jewish faith, commemorating the historical freedom of the Children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, as led by Moses.

The word "Pesach" comes from the Hebrew root meaning to pass through, to pass over, to exempt, or to spare, and is also the name of the sacrificial lamb made in the Temple on this holiday. The title refers to God's "passing over" or the "sparing" of Jewish households during the slaying of the firstborns in Egypt commanded by the Pharaoh.

Passover is also celebrated for its historical and agricultural significance, as it marks the beginning of the harvest season in Israel.

The Passover Story

The Book of Exodus contains the story of Passover from which the ceremonial rituals practiced on this holiday are derived. These rituals are based directly on the words of God:

    For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove the leaven from your homes ... you shall guard the unleavened bread, because on this very day I will take you out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:14-17)

God had made a promise to free the Children of Israel from over 200 years of slavery in Egypt by visiting ten plagues upon Egypt and the Pharaoh in order to demonstrate his power. These ten plagues are remembered during the Passover celebration or seder:

  • Blood: the waters of the Egyptian Nile were turned to blood
  • Frogs: these creatures swarmed across Egypt
  • Lice: or Gnats infested people, animals, and households
  • Flies: appeared in Egypt in copious numbers
  • Livestock: caused the spontaneous death of Egyptian livestock
  • Boils: or inflammations appeared on the skin of people and animals
  • Hail: storms affected crops and causing death
  • Locusts: devoured the remaining crop after the hail
  • Darkness: covered Egypt for a period of three days

The final plague which caused the Pharaoh to free the Israelites under the leadership of Moses was the Plague of the Firstborn. The Israelites marked their doorframes with the blood of an unblemished lamb. An angel then appeared at midnight and killed all the firstborns in Egypt. The marked households of the Israelites were spared due to the lamb's blood with which they had marked their doorframes.

Upon this tenth plague, the people of Egypt pleaded with the Pharaoh to release the Israelites, resulting in the Exodus.

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