What is Pesach?

Let us first give the usual translation. Pesach, as most folks know, is the Jewish name for Passover. It is called that because G-d “passed over” the homes of the Jews during the historical event of the plague of the first born. It is a holiday that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, when G-d suspended the usual laws of nature in order to punish the Egyptians and to take the Jews out from their slavery in a miraculous Exodus that would stay imprinted on the world’s conscience forever.

However, there is another meaning to the name Pesach. Peh Sach – the mouth speaks. This is the night when we start our children off on a path of complete trust and faith in G-d. We do so by telling of our history of interacting with G-d and experiencing G-d. Ve’Heegadata Le’vincha – the lesson of chinuch of inspiration has special emphasis on this night.

Did you ever wonder why assimilated Jews, no matter how far they’ve crept away from the true path of our ancestors, will still hold onto Pesach and its Seder? Since children are given the attention they need, since the Seder is all about noticing and interacting with the kids, the lessons from that Seder stay long after the children might leave other religious rites and traditions. If only we were smart enough to take the lessons of Seder night into the year and make sure to give the children the attention and explanations they need to understand our rich tradition, we would ensure that other aspects of Judaism would also be equally imprinted for life.

Peh-Sach – open your mouths this year with praise and stories and lessons for the kids. But, let us remember to keep those lessons flowing, long

Preparing Your Home

Getting Rid of Chametz

Chametz refers to the fermentation of one of five basic grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt). Any time one of these grains comes into contact with water for any length of time above 18 minutes, it is rendered Chometz. Hence, Matza is made, from start to finish, within 18 minutes.

We are forbidden on Pesach to own, find or eat Chometz. Hence, the frenzy before Pesach to get our homes “chametz free.”

Chometz is representative of illusions, imagination, bloated pipe-dreams and ego. It is about the Yetzer Harah – our worst inclinations. Matzah is bare-bones actual reality and the growth that comes from living fully cognizant of reality. Think about it. You have bread and Matzah – they both have equal amounts of flour and water. The bread doesn’t have more of a nutritional oomph to it. Ah, but it inflates itself, doubling, tripling, growing and growing in size, if you let it. Squash out all that inflated air, pop the air-bubbles inside, and your dough goes limp, back to its reality. Matzah doesn’t inflate itself. It is what it is – plain, pure flour and water.

As we remove our physical Chametz from our homes, we are told we must do the same for our emotional and spiritual Chametz forces. We must face ourselves—who are we really, when we take away our puffed-up ego and pride? Stripped of our designer duds and luxury cars, who are we, underneath it all? We must face our reality. Aren’t down-to-earth healthy marriages more stable and enjoyable than what the tinsel of Hollywood has blown into air bubbles that harm our marriages? And then there are the inflated ideas that create fights. So he said that, so what? Does it mean that much? Squash out those growing, festering air from it, and you realize there isn’t that much of a difference between you two. Once you’ve squashed out the Chametz, that is when you see how real you can be…and how great reality can make you become…for by stopping the imagination running away with illusions, we can see our way to G-d.

As Jews, we clean our homes in anticipation of being Chametz free for Pesach. No, you don’t have to whitewash your walls, although in previous times many a household did so. You MUST get rid of all the Chametz, have different dishes and pots just for Pesach and make sure no Chametz will be found in your home or business on Pesach.

First we clean. Focus on places you will be using extensively. Make sure your eating area is well-done.

After cleaning is all done, we can do something called Mecheeras Chametz. We can sell all Chametz we don’t want to destroy so that ownership is moved from us to a non-Jew for the duration of Pesach. In the contract, we get a buy-back clause, allowing the non-Jew to sell us back our Chametz after Pesach. The transaction is done by a rabbi on your behalf.

Then, after cleaning, after arranging for the sale of those things we would like to not destroy, the next step in getting rid of our Chametz is called Bee’ur & Bee’tul. The night before Pesach, we go on a Chametz hunt. We search our homes to make sure we’ve really made it Chametz-free. We declare that any Chometz still left behind is null and void, ownerless and not ours. The next morning, Erev Yom Tov, we burn any Chametz we had found the previous night, and do the declaration again.

In order that the search for Chametz (which includes a Bracha) not be for nothing, the custom is for ten pieces of chametz to be put out prior to the search so that when looking for that Chametz, ten bits are found. Bedikas Chametz instructions and Brachos.

Homes now Chametz-free, it is time to head to the crux of Pesach, which is the Seder.

Seder Night

What, Why and How

Seder, in literal translation, means order. There is an “order” to the night’s flow of tradition on the first two nights of Pesach. A 15-step program is set up for us to follow. The 15-step program is steps toward spirituality. In fact, in the Bais HaMikdash, there were 15 steps leading to the Holies. You see, in spiritual growth, just like in physical manifestations, there are ways to get someplace. It is not a big leap from point A to point B. It is a gradual ascension. You want to become someone great? Take the time to take the steps towards that greatness. We start off with Kadesh – with sanctification and purpose. We end with Nirtzah – with being beloved by G-d.

The first thing we do Pesach night is set the stage for what will be the discussions. Visual props for our teaching lessons. We are going to teach ourselves and our children, and visual teaching tools are put into place. We do this by setting up a Seder Plate that will be prominent on the table and show us what the night is all about.

Seder Plate: The Seder Plate is set up with three Matzas below a plate. The plate has six sections. There is a Zeroah, a shankbone (some folks use a chicken wing), that is roasted which is to remind us of the Pesach Karban, the Paschal lamb. There is Baytzah, an egg, that symbolizes the sacrifices brought in the times of the Temple. Them comes Marror, the bitter herbs. Charoses is a mixture made of wine, nuts, apples and ginger and made to look like mortar to remind us of the bricks made for the pyramids. Karpas is a bit of vegetable (often potato or celery is used). And the bottom place is for Chazeres – also bitter herbs. There are different customs and traditions how to place these items, but here is a link to the layout of your Seder plate according to the most widely used customs. The Seder Plate


we make the Kiddush of the night and drink Cup 1 of the 4 Cups of Wine


we wash our hands (and do NOT make a blessing)


we take a bit of vegetable (such as boiled potato or a piece of celery) and we dip it into saltwater and say the blessing on the vegetable,


We break the “middle matzah” the second Matza in the pile of three Matzos. Half gets hidden away to become the Afikomin


We recount the history of going into Egypt, starting with Father Yaakov and tell the story of how the miracles unfolded of G-d saving us. And we drink the 2nd of the 4 cups of wine.


We wash our hands again. This time we DO say the blessing Al Netilas Yadayim


We say the blessing on the Matzah


We eat the Matzah


We eat the bitter herbs dipped in the Charoses


We make a “sandwich” of matzah and marror

Shulchan Oraych

We have a wonderful festive Holiday meal


We “find” the Afikomin that was hidden away previously and eat it


We say the Birchas HaMazon, the Grace After Meals, and drink our 3rd Cup of Wine


We sing songs of praise and thanks to Hashem and drink the last of the 4 cups of wine.


We’ve gotten to the high point where we are spiritually elevated and beloved by G-d.

We are told Torah learning is a Pardes, a beautiful orchard. The letters of Pardes hint to the dimensions of each verse of Torah. There is the Pey which refers to Pshat – literal translation. Every verse in Torah has a literal translation. So, if it says, “and Avraham journeyed,” we know that literally Avraham journeyed. Then there is the next layer, the Raysh which alludes to Remez, the hints in the Torah. Torah verses hint at Oral Law and, at times, at events in history of Jewish  waiting to unfold. The next layer in Torah meaning is Daled – Drash, the deeper emotional and spiritual understandings in the verse. And the last layer is Samech which indicates Sod, the Kabbalah, hidden abstract/mystical meaning to the verse.

The word Seder incorporates three of those letters, but leaves one out. There is the Samech indicating Sod –telling us our Pesach Seder is redolent with high mystical meaning. There is the Daled signifying Drash that tells us that every step of the Seder night has deep emotional and spiritual understandings. There is the also the Raysh for Remez which alerts us there are hints and innuendos to future events yet to come for our people. But where is the Pshat – where is the literal aspect to the Seder?

The answer, my worthy friends, is WE are the Pshat on Seder night. We go through literal motions to set all the other things into place. We literally eat the Matzah. We literally drink the wine. We are the actual verse in its simple translation.

This Seder (and onward in our life) we must never forget it is we who often are asked to put the literal into being by doing the commandments. And through our being so literal, we put into motion real significant deep and mystical forces. Never shirk your duty of doing the actual literal — for, through it, so much more is put into play.

Pesach, Matza and Marror

We are told that at the Seder, the crux of the night is to remember to talk about PESACH, MATZAH and MAROR. If you don’t mention these three items and don’t explain these three items, you haven’t fulfilled your obligations of the night of Pesach. Pesach is about G-d saving us which was, in the times of the Temple, commemorated by the eating of the Paschal lamb. Matzah reminds us of the speed in which the miracles unfolded to get us out of that situation. Our Exodus was so quick, we had no time to bake bread. And Maror?! What is that doing here with those two – Maror is a symbol of the bitterness and suffering. Why is that lumped together with Pesach and Matzah…and why does it come last in the order of things?

Well, my friend, it is hard to know that at the time of suffering, but when we get past a crisis, we often do not regret having had to go through that pain. We often feel that the pain and challenges have made us better people, deeper emotional creatures, and able to appreciate the good times that much more. Therefore, after all is said and done, after the redemption of our people, we are thankful for the Maror, too.


Which brings me to a delightful old Yiddish song that talks about a lesson a Zeide taught his Jewish grandchild. The song, (in a nutshell but not an exact translation), says, ‘My grandfather Reb Yisroel told me…they kicked out the Jew from land to land and he took along his fiddle. When the heart hurts he takes “the Yidde’le, his fiddel’le, and plays a liddele/song with a lot of feeling. The fiddel’le tells that life is but a play.” And the fiddle goes on to tell him, “that Simchos [happy occasions] will yet be by the Jews and that the Jews will never disappear.”

“From here to there,” the fiddle goes on speaking from place to place, carrying the song of Jews in Diaspora and in every location.

That is the message, my folks, of the Maror, that even in the bitterest times, we carry the song, knowing we will rejoice again, someday, no matter what. As the song says, “let all our enemies know, Am Yisrael Chai!” We are alive, grateful for all our past challenges, for that is what has forged us into a beautiful people.

It is called post-trauma growth. After hard times, we often grow greater and more confident. That is why we put the Marror last, it is only after Pesach and Matza, after the redemption, that we can appreciate having gone through the hard times, too.

Download a printable version of The Pesach Haggadah

Pesach with the Rebbe of Belz

Pesach in Belz is an experience that gets engraved into the hearts and souls of anyone there and continues to inspire for many years even when celebrating the Yom Tov in another place. Witnessing age-old traditions makes one step back in time, back to the original shtetl, where life centered around Jewish tradition in the most meaningful ways.

Thousands of chasidim spend the special days of Pesach with the Rebbe. Many of them live in Yerushalayim close to the rebbe. However, many others will travel from other cities in Israel and from many other countries around the world to spend the holiday with the Rebbe Jerusalem sees an influx of committed Jews traveling to experience spirituality at the Center of the Universe.
There are also thousands of students studying in the Yeshivas who stay in Yerushalayim for Pesach to be close to the Rebbe. After all, even the most ancient of our Haggados tell the tale of the Sages of Israel teaching faith and Pesach thoughts well into the night, surrounded by their students. Here in Belz, too, the Torah scholars, sit and drink in words of Torah learning and of Emunah on Pesach.

We’ve created a pictorial, so our esteemed website viewer can also “take the journey” to Jerusalem to experience Pesach in Belz.

Visit Last Days of Pesach >>