Passover Facts, Traditions and Trivia

Many scholars think that RAMESES II, whose likeness is found in many of the great ruins and artifacts of ancient Egypt, was probably the Pharaoh of Exodus 12.

 

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There is a Jewish legend about Moses’ slowness of speech and tongue mentioned in Exodus 4:10. When the infant Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, Pharaoh feared the child might grow up to usurp his throne. Pharaoh’s advisors suggested that he test the child by setting before him two bowls, one filled with gold and the other filled with glowing red coals. If the child reached for the gold, it would indicate that he was a threat to Pharaoh. Moses, being a bright child, reached for the gold, but God sent an angel to push his hand toward the coals. Bringing his hand with the live coal to his mouth, Moses burned his tongue. His life was saved, but he was left with a permanent speech impairment.

 

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Among Orthodox Jews, the day before Passover is a fast day, when every firstborn Jewish male is to fast to commemorate the original deliverance of the firstborn sons on that first Passover eve.

 

Some attribute the institution of this practice to Rabbi Judah, the Prince, editor of the Mishnah, who is known to have fasted on the eve of Passover. Others, however, say that he fasted not with the intention of commemorating the deliverance of the firstborn, but because he had a delicate constitution and wanted to approach the commanded feast with a keen appetite.

 

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The Passover holiday has three names: Pesach, literally the Passover sacrifice; Hag Hamatzot, Feast of Unleavened Bread; and Zeman Heirutenu, the Season of our Freedom. This last title is not found in Scripture, but was given by the rabbis. They deliberately refrained from titling the holiday “Season of our Joy” because it recalls the destruction of the Egyptians, a fact that detracts from the complete joy of the occasion.

 

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Although Moses is the leading human figure in the Passover account, he is mentioned only once in the Passover Haggadah.

 

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At the Passover seder, traditionally, nothing is to be eaten after the afikomen. The given reason is that the afikomen represents the Passover sacrifice, which takes precedence over all else at the feast and therefore ought to be savored and remembered above all else. Some Yemenite Jews have taken this a step further. By an acrostic, they show the word afikomen to represent nuts, fruits, wine, roasted things, meat, water and spikenard, all of which are not to be eaten after the afikomen.

 

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In Vilna, Poland, during World War I, when it was very difficult to find kosher wine, the rabbinical authorities issued a special edict to allow sweet tea in the seder ceremony instead of the traditional four cups of wine.

 

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In some eastern European villages the very Orthodox Jewish women not only cleaned their houses and dishes of all leaven, but even sterilized the needles to be used in sewing up the stuffed fowl for the festive meal. The needles were passed through fire until they reached the red heat stage. (Cutlery was to be placed in water that was brought to a boil, and glazed ware was to be soaked in cold water. These procedures were based upon Numbers 31:23 which describes the cleansing of captured Midianite goods: “Everything that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean; . . . and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water.”)

 

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The baking of the matzo or unleavened bread always takes place under very guarded conditions. There was an ancient ruling among the very Orthodox that the water used in the baking of the unleavened bread had to be drawn from a well and allowed to stand overnight before being used. This was to insure that the water would be cool, because warm water might cause the flour to ferment. They theorized that the sun, when it set every night, went under the earth and heated the water in the wells. The resultant tepid water was more likely to ferment any dough in which it was used.

 

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Centuries ago, Jewish people who lived in the Sahara used to abandon their fortified villages at Passover and march into the desert in memory of that first Passover when the ancient Israelites left Egypt to follow Moses to the Promised Land.