Pesah begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan. The first two and last two days of this eight-day festival serve as holy bookends, days in which we celebrate the joy of freedom with community in the synagogue. To express our miraculous exodus from Egypt, we include Hallel (celebratory psalms) in our Passover liturgy. On Shabbat Hol Ha-Moed Pesah, we read from Shir HaShirim (Song of Psalms), an allusion to the love affair between God and God’s people that has endured since Sinai.
From the Hebrew verb which means to ‘pass over,’ the word Pesah alludes to the final and most terrifying of God’s plagues against our ancient oppressors, when the angel of death “passed over” the dwelling places of the Israelites and struck down the first born sons in every Egyptian home.
Of course, Pesah itself is more than a retelling of history at our Seder tables, where we gather each year to eat matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs), tell stories about Pharoahs and redeemers, explore the psychology of four children and drink four cups of wine. To celebrate Pesah is to live history—to see ourselves, as the Haggadah instructs us, “as if each and every one of us” were freed from the bonds of slavery.
The richness of our observances and traditions enables us to live this reality more fully. The process of cleaning out our homes in preparation for the holiday serves as an opportunity to shed our attachment to the material excesses to which we have grown accustomed. By avoiding hametz, or leavened food products, and instead eating lehem oni, the “bread of affliction,” we readjust our senses to tastes much more humble and simple. By opening our homes and our pantries to the poor, we reaffirm the charge given to us by God to ensure that no one again suffer the misery of oppression and poverty. As we welcome Elijah to share in a cup of redemption, we savor a hint of the future redemption of not only the Jewish people, but all people.
Shabbat and weekday services at B’nai Jeshurun are particularly beautiful during Pesah filled with Hallel and the reading of Shir HaShirim. Typically there is a Community Seder on the second night of Pesah and, on years when this is not offered, BJ provides meal matching to help members find Seders to attend. BJ also offers a variety of resources to help plan your Seder, prepare your home, give to the needy, and enliven this powerful celebration of freedom with song and prayer.