The holiday of Pesach or Passover celebrates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, where they were being oppressed. It is celebrated on the 15th day of Nisan, which falls between March 15th and April 30th.
The Pharaoh (possibly Ramses II) of Egypt was told a prophecy stating that one day a recently born Jew would rise up and destroy him. The Pharaoh ordered that all Jewish babies be killed. Moses' sister, Miriam, put him in a basket, and floated him down the Nile, he was found later by Batya ( Pharaoh's daughter), he then grew up in the court of the Pharaoh. Later, he left because he didn't like the Pharaoh's Leadership (the whole slavery of the Jews idea didn't sit well with him).
Years later, G-d appeared to him as a burning bush and told him to free the Jews. he returned, and used curses from G-D to convince the Pharaoh to "Let my people go". These curses came in the form of the Ten Plagues These "10 Plagues" were:
- Blood: All water in Egypt was turned into blood. The only water available was from the Jews.
- Frogs: Frogs came out of the Nile endlessly, and got into every place possible. None, though, got into the Jews' homes.
- Lice: Swarms of lice covered the land.
- Wild Beasts: Wild animals (lions, tigers, bears, ETC.) attacked the Egyptians.
- Animal plague: All domesticated and non-domesticated animals died from a disease.
- Boils: Egyptians suffered a horrible outbreak of boils.
- Meteors: Balls of ice with fire inside fell and destroyed structures.
- Locusts: A swarm of locusts swarmed over Egypt - Reducing it to a barren wasteland.
- Darkness: The first 3 days there was pitch black. The next 3 days the Egyptians could not move. It ended the 6th day.
- Death of the Firstborn: All firstborn of the Egyptians died from "G-d Himself"
The Jews left the land after, thinking that the Pharaoh had given up. They crossed the Red Sea using the power of G-d (Moses made the sea part), as they walked across the seafloor, the Pharaoh's army caught up, chasing them. They outran the army and the Red Sea closed up again, killing all of the army. According to a Midrash, Pharaoh escaped and became a traveler
When the Jews began to celebrate their escape, G-d chastised them, saying that the Egyptians who had died were G-d's children too.
In remembrance of their hasty departure when the bread did not have time to rise, the observance of the holiday includes not eating foods leavened by yeast. This prohibition requires a major change in eating habits when it comes to anything cooked or baked with wheat products. There are additional customs in each Jewish community. The most wide-spread one is that of Ashkenazic Jewry that refrain from Kitniyot (leguminous produce).
- Kadish: We make a blessing over wine and drink it.
- Orchatz: We wash our hands WITHOUT making an afterblessing.
- Carpas: We drip vegetables into salt water and eat it.
- Yachatz: We break the middle matzah into a large piece and a small piece. We then put the big piece to the side.
- Magid: We re-tell the story of the Exodus (See "The story".)
- Rachtzuh: We wash our hands again WITH an afterblessing.
- Motzi Matzah: We eat Matzah. Must NOT take extremely large amounts.
- Maror: We eat bitter herbs, dipped in "Charotzet"
- Corech: We make a "sandwich" using matzah and maror, and "Charotzet"
- Shulchan Orech: We eat the meal
- Tzaphoon: We eat the matza put aside from Yachatz. It is some people's custom not to eat or drink anything after this until morning (besides for the 3rd and 4rth cups of wine.)
- Barech: Afterblessings of the meal.
- Hallel: Songs/Psalms
- Nirtzah: The end of the sedar. Everyone says "Next year in Yerushalayim!" and the sedar concludes.
- matzah (invented when the bread was baked but could not rise)
- sponge cake
- Four cups of Wine
- matzah ball soup
- bitter herbs
- peschal lamb
- Wikipedia's article on Pesach
- AskMoses' FAQ on Pesach
- Passover on the Net
- Judaism 101's article (JewFAQ) on Passover
- Passover - Pesach : History and Meaning of Freedom in Faith