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Passover begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. It is the first of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Shavu’ot and Sukkot). Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel, but little attention is paid to this aspect of the holiday. The primary observances of Passover are related to the Exodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery.
The name “Passover” refers to the fact that God “passed over” the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt. The holiday is also referred to as Chag Ha-Aviv (the Spring Festival), Chag Ha-Matzoth (the Festival of Matzahs), and Zeman Herutenu (the Time of Our Freedom).
Probably the most significant observance related to Passover involves the removal of chametz (leavened bread) from our homes. This commemorates the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise.
Chametz includes anything made from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt) that has not been completely cooked within 18 minutes after coming into contact with water. We may not eat chametz during Passover; we may not even own it or derive benefit from it. We may not even feed it to our pets or cattle. All chametz, including utensils used to cook chametz, must either be disposed of or sold to a non-Jew.
The process of cleaning the home of all chametz in preparation for Passover is an enormous task. To do it right, you must spend several days scrubbing everything down, going over the edges of your stove and fridge with a toothpick and a Q-Tip, covering all surfaces that come in contact with foil or shelf-liner, etc. After the cleaning is completed, the morning before the seder, a formal search of the house for chametz is undertaken, and any which remains is burned.
The grain product we eat during Passover is called matzah (unleavened bread, made simply from flour and water and cooked very quickly). This is the bread that the Jews made for their flight from Egypt.
The day before Passover is the fast of the firstborn, a minor Fast for all Firstborn males, commemorating the fact that the firstborn Jewish males in Egypt were not killed during the final plague.
On the first night of Passover (first two nights for traditional Jews outside Israel), we have a special family meal filled with ritual to remind us of the significance of the holiday. This meal is called a seder, from a Hebrew root word meaning “order.”
Source: Bard, Mitchell G. Jewish Holidays: Passover, 1998