A Passover Dictionary: What Do All Those Weird Hebrew Terms Mean?
Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.
During the Passover, we refrain from eating entirely chametz. Literally defined as “yeast”, the term chametz refers to products containing fermented cereals. Wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt which have been in contact with water/moisture for more than 18 minutes would be within the scope of chametz. The Torah tells us (Exodus 12:19-20) that chametz must not be found in your house nor eaten during the seven days of the Passover.
The symbolism of abstaining from chametz on Passover is rooted in the historical episode of the Exodus. When the Jewish people left Egypt, they left in a hurry without any time to allow their food supplies to cook completely in leavened bread. This did not deter the Jewish people from leaving. When we refrain from chametzwe show that despite the turmoil of life and despite the constant movement that the Jewish people have experienced through the ages, it is our deep faith in God and God’s deep love for us that has kept us strong throughout over millennia.
Bedikat Hametz – In search of leaven
On the eve of Passover (this year it will be Thursday evening, April 14), the Jewish people gather at home as the sun goes down and begin to search for whatever remains chametz. This stage of the preparation for the Passover is known as bedikat chametz. Traditionally we use a beeswax candle, a feather, a wooden spoon and a paper bag to collect everything chametz found. The next day, all found chametz is burned before the fifth seasonal hour, and the “search and destroy” process officially ends.
Respectfully, chametz represents our inflated ego that exists within each of us, and the bedikat chametz represents checking, cleansing and purifying ourselves of those negative traits that distract us from doing good. The Passover feast is considered “a moment of our freedom”. This is a unique opportunity to tap into the spiritual forces of true freedom that are more accessible at this time of year as we experience our own exodus.
The Passover Haggadah is a unique guide that the Jewish people have used for centuries to guide us through the Passover Seder. The Haggadah takes its name from the commandment in the Torah (Exodus 13:8) which states:Ve’higadita Le’vincha“- and you will say your children about the freedom that the Jewish people experienced when they left Egypt. The Haggadah includes a combination of ancient texts dating back to biblical times as well as the Talmudic era.
Arguably the most popular Jewish book, the Haggadah is a user-friendly manual meant to guide us through the 15 steps of the Seder, allowing us to live and feel as though we are leaving “Egypt” ourselves in our time. modern. Filled with holy blessings, Bible verses, Talmudic stories, mystical chants, intriguing questions, captivating answers, incredible inspiration and breathtaking drama, the Haggadah is a book with the potential to keep us awake, both physically and spiritually.
Ke’arah – The Seder plate
The centerpiece of the Seder table is the Ke’arah, the Seder plate. It is a beautiful plate used by the head of each household that contains various items that are either eaten or identified during the meal. The main components included are: 1) ze’roa – hock bone, 2) beitzah – egg, 3) funny – bitter herbs, 4) charoset – sweet pastry, 5) mei melach – salt water, 6) karpa – vegetable, and 7) Matzah – unleavened bread. There are different customs as to the exact arrangement of the various components, and each family should adhere to their custom.
The Seder Plate tries to tell us the epic story of Passover. With simple yet profound visuals in the form of different foods, each item represents a different element and aspect of the saga of the Jewish people in Egypt. All of this, however, is brought together on one organized plate, representing the fact that God has worked out his plans in an organized way, and although from our perspective things may seem random, we know that he operates the world with a true rhyme and reason, and eventually the Jewish people will prevail.
The four cups
One of the most imperative aspects of the Passover Seder is the drinking of the four cups of wine (in Hebrew, “Daled KosotWe drink wine, in particular, because after all, we celebrate our freedom, and wine is considered a royal drink. At the same time, as we celebrate our freedom, it’s important not to forget the hardships that struck the Jewish people. As such, it is best to specifically drink red wine to remind us of the Jewish bloodshed that took place in Egypt.
The four cups of wine, which are drunk at four crucial moments of the Seder, correspond to the four expressions of redemption used by the Torah (Exodus 6:6-7) to describe God’s promise to the Jewish people regarding the Exodus from Egypt. 1) Ve’hotzaiti – “I’ll take you out…”, 2) Ve’hitzalti – “I will save you…”, 3) Ve’goalti – “I will redeem you…”, and 4) Ve’lokachti – “I will take you as a nation…”.
Considered one of the most mysterious parts of the Passover night meal, Elijah’s cup (in Hebrew, “kos shel eliyahu“) is the fifth cup that is poured – but not drunk – at the end of grace after meals. Pouring this cup, we step aside from the table for a while and open the door of the house, and recite several verses , asking God to pour out his wrath on the enemies of the Jewish people.
The cup of Elijah, which is the fifth cup, corresponds to the fifth expression of redemption used by the Torah (Exodus 6:8): Ve’heveti – “I will bring you to the Land…” Unlike the other four expressions of redemption, this last one is an allusion to the ultimate messianic redemption which will take place at the End of Times, and will be inaugurated by Elijah the Prophet. Although we celebrate our freedom at Passover, Elijah’s Cup reminds us that we are not yet completely free, for we are still awaiting final redemption, let it be soon.
The thin, crusty unleavened bread that Jews eat at Passover is called matzah. Matzah is the main symbol of the Passover holiday; in fact, the Torah (Exodus 23:15) refers to the Passover feast as the “matzah festival” (in Hebrew, “Chag Hamatzot“). On the one hand, matzah is a symbol of redemption and freedom, because it was the food that the Jewish people ate when they left Egypt. On the other hand, matzah is called the “bread of ‘affliction’, or bread of the poor, since it is a food eaten by slaves, thus symbolizing our servitude in Egypt.
These two ideas go hand in hand. Unlike fully baked bread that ferments and rises, making it look bigger than it really is, matzah is all about simplicity. What you see is what you get. It’s simply a combination of cold water, wheat, and a little heat. True freedom is experienced when one lives simply, with humility and recognition of a greater Being. The simple matzah serves as an icon of the faith and humility of the Jewish people.
maror – Bitter herbs
In order to be able to taste and experience the freedom of Egypt, it is important that we first taste and experience the hardships and bitterness of life in Egypt. maror, one of the elements of the Seder plate, is a bitter herb – usually in the form of horseradish or romaine lettuce – that we eat during the Passover night meal, which allows us to feel some of the pain that the Jewish people suffered in Egypt. The Torah (Exodus 1:14) tells us that the Egyptians soured life (in Hebrew, “Va’yemararu and chayeihem“) of the Jewish people with atrocious labor activities. The consumption of maror is meant to remind us of the bitter subjugation we experienced in Egypt.
Word charoset comes from the Hebrew word “dear“, which means clay. The thick, sweet and delicious relish – usually made from grated apples, walnuts, cinnamon and red wine – is used during the Passover evening meal to sweeten the bitterness of the maror (therefore, we dip the maror in the charoset). The thick texture and cloudy color of charoset dip reminds us of the clay and mortar the Jewish people used to make bricks in Egypt.
Sweet apples in the charoset are reminiscent of the infamous apple trees in Egypt, where Jewish women heroically give birth under the trees so that Egyptians won’t find out if and when a Jewish boy is born. Ironically, although many Jewish children were horribly used as “bricks” by the Egyptians, the charoset reminds us to remember the great efforts and courage of Jewish women to give birth under the apple trees. For the rest of history, this display of heroism would strengthen us as a people to never give up hope for a better future.
Although any vegetable can be used, the common custom is to eat a small portion of a potato for the karpa stage of the Easter evening meal. The letters of karpa in Hebrew, can be rearranged to spell: “Samech Perech“, an allusion to the 60 myriads of Jews – the 600,000 Jewish men over the age of 20 – who were enslaved to hard labor (in Hebrew, “perech“) in Egypt.
We make the blessing (“Borei Pri Ho’adama“) on the karpa and soak the karpa in salt water – representing tears – and eat it. It reminds us of the intense work that the Jewish people experienced in Egypt.
Word afikoman has etymological roots in Greek and Aramaic, and refers to the food at the end of the meal, aka dessert. When the Holy Temple was standing, there was a biblical command (Exodus 12:8) to eat the paschal lamb (in Hebrew, “korban pesach“) on Passover night. The paschal lamb was eaten with Matzah. Today, due to our current state of exile, although we do not have the paschal lamb, we continue to eat the matzah – what we call, afikoman – at the end of the Paschal evening meal to remind us of the Paschal Lamb.
During the Passover Seder, it is customary for many (married) Jewish men to wear a white robe/tunic, called (in Yiddish) a kitten. The purity of the white-colored robe conveys the message that we are indeed holy, pure, and free from our bondage in Egypt. At the same time, the kitten reminds us of the day of the death, because it looks like shrouds. This thought humbles us so as not to allow the freedom of the night – with all the fancy utensils and the abundance of food – to make us feel haughty.
Enjoy your Seder!