Ma Nishtana:

why is this Night different
from all other nights?


Deuteronomy 6: 20 When your children ask you in time to come, "What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?" 21 then you shall say to your children, "We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 The Lord displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household. 23 He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 Then the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case. 25 If we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, we will be in the right."

New Revised Standard Version



The Story of Passover

About 3000 years ago the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians under the rule of the Pharaoh Ramses II. According to the Book of Exodus - Moses, a simple Jewish shepherd, was instructed by God to go to the pharaoh and demand the freedom of his people.

Moses' plea of let my people go was ignored. Moses warned the Pharaoh that God would send severe punishments to the people of Egypt if the Israelites were not freed. Again the Pharaoh ignored Moses' request of freedom. In response God unleashed a series of 10 terrible plagues on the people of Egypt.

Lice (vermin)
Wild Beasts (flies)
Blight (Cattle Disease)
Slaying of the First Born

The holiday's name - Pesach, meaning "passing over" or "protection" in Hebrew, is derived from the instructions given to Moses by God. In order to encourage the Pharaoh to free the Israelites, God intended to kill the first-born of both man and beast. To protect themselves, the Israelites were told to mark their dwellings with lamb's blood so that God could identify and "pass over" their homes. The Pharaoh was unconvinced and refused to free the Jewish slaves. …Until the last plague.

When the Pharaoh finally agreed to freedom, the Israelites left their homes so quickly that there wasn’t even time to bake their breads. So they packed the raw dough to take with them on their journey. As they fled through the desert they would quickly bake the dough in the hot sun into hard crackers called matzohs. Today to commemorate this event, Jews eat matzoh in place of bread during Passover.

Though the Jews were now free, their liberation was incomplete. The Pharaoh’s army chased them through the desert towards the Red Sea. When the Jews reached the sea they were trapped, since the sea blocked their escape. It was then that a miracle occurred. The waves of the Red Sea parted and the Israelites were able to cross to the other side. As soon as they all reached the other side the sea closed trapping the Pharaoh’s army as the waves closed upon them. Then as the Israelites watched the waters of the Red Sea sweep away the Pharaoh’s army they realized they were finally free.

Passover celebrates this history. The first two nights of the eight-day holiday are celebrated with lavish meals called Seders in which the stories and history of Passover are celebrated. Special foods, plates, silverware are all a part of the Seder.


Maror - Bitter Herbs (usually horseradish) symbolize the bitterness of Egyptian slavery. The maror is often dipped in charoset to reduce its sharpness. Maror is used in the Seder because of the commandment (in Numbers 9:11) to eat the paschal lamb "with unleavened bread and bitter herbs." Some prefer mild horseradish at the Seder; others say that it doesn't serve its purpose (to remind us of the bitterness of slavery) unless it's hot enough to bring tears to the eyes.


Karpas - Vegetable (usually parsley) is dipped into salt water during the Seder. The salt water represents the tears shed during Egyptian slavery. The dipping of a vegetable as an appetizer is said to date back to biblical times. It may now be identified with biblical descritpion of the Hebrew slaves marking their doorposts at the time of the first Passover. A bunch of hyssop was to be dipped in the blood of the paschal lamb and used to strike the lintel and the doorposts (Exodus 12:22) so that the tenth plague (Death of the First Born) would not be visited upon their households.


Charoset - Apple, nuts, and spices ground together and mixed with wine are symbolic of the mortar used by Hebrew slaves to build Egyptian structures. There are several variations in the recipe for charoset. The Mishna describes a mixture of fruits, nuts, and vinegar, for example. In order to enhance the symbolism of mortar, it is customary in some communities to mix in a small amount of sand. The charoset is sweet because sweetness is symbolic of God’s kindness, which was able to make even slavery more bearable. According to legend, the use of apples in charoset stems from Pharaoh's decree that all male Hebrew children were to be killed at birth. Mothers would go out to the orchards to give birth, and thus save their babies (at least temporarily) from the Egyptian soldiers.


Zeroa - The Shankbone is symbolic of the Paschal lamb offered as the Passover sacrifice in biblical times. In some communities, it is common to use a chicken neck in place of the shankbone. Vegetarian households often use beets for the shankbone on the seder plate. The red beets symbolize the blood of the Paschal lamb, which was used to mark the lintel and doorposts of the houses during the first Passover (Exodus 12:22).


Pesach - Hebrew for the festival of Passover. The word pesach comes from a Hebrew root meaning "pass by" or "to spare." While the word "Pesach" appears in Hebrew on most seder plates, it is merely decorative. The word also refers to the Pesach (or Paschal) lamb which was sacrificed as a special offering in honour of the festival. The zeroa (shankbone) has its own place on the seder plate as a symbol of this sacrifice.


Beitzah - The Roasted Egg is symbolic of the festival sacrifice made in biblical times. On Passover, an additional sacrifice (the Paschal lamb) was offered as well. The egg is also a traditional symbol of mourning, and has been interpreted by some as a symbolic mourning for the loss of the Temple. Since the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 C.E., neither the festival sacrifice nor the special Passover sacrifice could be offered. It is also a symbol of spring - the season in which Passover is always celebrated. In many households, it is customary to use a brown egg on the seder plate. The egg should be baked or roasted if possible.


The Passover Seder

Leading up to the first night of Passover, the home is cleaned and cleared of all yeast foods, called hametz. All hametz is either eaten before Passover begins or "sold" to non-Jewish neighbours and friends. The rules surrounding Passover are strict and many, with only special foods, utensils, and dishware allowed. Kitchen utensils and dishware normally used in the home are not be used during Passover. Special dishes and utensils for the Passover holiday are taken out of storage, cleaned and used. Only foods that are "Kosher for Passover" are allowed. No leavened (containing yeast) foods or grains are eaten. In their place matzoh and foods containing matzoh are eaten. This is to commemorate the Israelites who fled quickly into the desert with no time for their breads to rise and were forced to bake the dough into hard crackers in the desert sun. All foods prohibited during Passover must be disposed of the morning of the first night of Passover.

With its Passover dishware and silverware, the Seder table is different than the regular dinner table. The centrepiece of which is the Seder plate, a special plate containing the five foods that remind us of the struggle of the Israelites in their quest and journey to freedom.

Three pieces of matzoh are placed in a Matzoh Cover (a cloth sleeve or envelope) and placed in the centre of the Seder table. Before the meal begins the middle matzoh is removed and broken in half. One half is returned to the Matzoh Cover, the other - the Afikomen - is hidden, to be hunted by the children at the end of the Seder meal. The child who finds the Afikomen wins a special prize. Some homes break the Afikomen in to many pieces assuring that each child present can find a piece and receive a prize. The Seder plate contains foods that have special meaning for this holiday: Haroseth, Parsley (dipped in salt water), Roasted egg, Shankbone and Bitter herbs


Haroseth - A mixture of chopped walnuts, wine, cinnamon and apples that represents the mortar the Jewish slaves used to assemble the Pharaoh's bricks.


Parsley - Symbolizing Springtime, it is dipped in salt water to remind us of for the tears of the Jewish slaves.


Egg - Another symbol of Spring.


Shankbone - Symbolic of the sacrificial lamb offering, the bone can come from whatever the family is eating, such as the leg bone of a roasted turkey.


Bitter herbs - Freshly grated horseradish reflects the bitter affliction of slavery.


During the Seder four glasses of wine are poured to represent the four stages of the Exodus: (1) Freedom, (2) Deliverance, (3) Redemption and (4) Release. A fifth cup of wine is poured and placed on the Seder table. This is the Cup of Elijah, an offering for the Prophet Elijah. During the Seder the door to the home is opened to invite the prophet Elijah in.


Ma Nishtana:

why is this Night different
from all other nights?


The Questions…

It is important for Jewish children to be and feel involved in the celebration of Passover. Much of the ceremony is based on the commandment in the Bible that says, "And thou shalt tell thy son." At the Seder the Haggadah, the Book of Exodus, is read and the history celebrated with its stories, songs and prayers.

Why is this night different?


Why do we eat such unusual foods as Matzoh, the unleavened bread, and Maror, the bitter herbs? Why do we dip green herbs in salt water?

At the Seder it is the youngest at the table that asks the questions asked at Passover.


On all other nights we eat all kinds of breads and crackers. Why do we eat only matzoh on Pesach?

Matzoh reminds us that when the Jews left the slavery of Egypt they had no time to bake their bread. They took the raw dough on their journey and baked it in the hot desert sun into hard crackers called matzoh.


On all other nights we eat many kinds of vegetables and herbs. Why do we eat bitter herbs, maror, at our Seder?

Maror reminds us of the bitter and cruel way the Pharaoh treated the Jewish people when they were slaves in Egypt.


On all other nights we don't usually dip one food into another. At our Seder we dip the parsley in salt water and the bitter herbs in Charoset. Why do we dip our foods twice tonight?

We dip bitter herbs into Charoset to remind us how hard the Jewish slaves worked in Egypt. The chopped apples and nuts look like the clay used to make the bricks used in building the Pharaoh's buildings. We dip parsley into salt water. The parsley reminds us that spring is here and new life will grow. The salt water reminds us of the tears of the Jewish slaves.


On all other nights we eat sitting up straight. Why do we lean on a pillow tonight?

We lean on a pillow to be comfortable and to remind us that once we were slaves, but now we are free.





A special feature of Holy Week will be the



Ma Nishtana:

why is this Night different
from all other nights?


Wednesday in Holy Week

While this is a meal, it is first and foremost an educational resource. Symbolic foods as outlined in this brochure will be featured. Participation in the Seder will help you better understand the shape of our pattern of worship Sunday by Sunday. Twelve people will make up the "extended family" on this occasion. If more than twelve people show an interest then we will divide the numbers equally between two or three homes. Resource materials will be shared with the hosting homes. In any event, we are limited in space and need a head count for this shared event. Let the Rector know your intention on attending so adequate preparations may be made. We need firm numbers. A modest charge will be made to cover costs.


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