Passover Day 1 – 5783
Exodus 12:21-51, Numbers 28:16-25
Rabbi Baht Yameem Weiss
On Rosh Chodesh Nisan, I was driving home from work, and I looked up at the sky and saw a beautiful crescent moon. It was striking. I remarked to myself how cool it is that both Judaism and Islam follow the lunar calendar. Ramadan had just begun, and the Hebrew month of Nisan was beginning, the month that holds one of our most important and observed holidays, Passover. Yikes, I thought-a crescent moon—Passover is only two weeks away!
We know that Passover starts on the 15th of Nisan—right in the middle of the month but when does it end? How many days does Passover last? Is it seven days or eight days long? We hear conflicting views. The answer is, it depends. It depends on which tradition you follow.
In the Torah we read in Exodus:
Ex. 12:15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.
Numbers 28: 17
On the fifteen day of this month, a festival [begins] you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days.
According to the Torah, we eat Matzah and celebrate Passover for seven days, but of course, Judaism always makes things more complicated than they first appear Personally, after seven days, of matzah, I have had enough!
But the reason for the creation of an eight day is interesting. Just as when I was caught by the beauty of that crescent moon, I find great spirituality in Judaism’s connection to nature. Back when the months of the Jewish calendar was determined by the observations of the new moon, eyewitnesses would bring their testimony to the rabbinical court in Jerusalem and the court would sanctify the new month based on this testimony. Since a lunar month is about 29 ½ days, a Hebrew month can last 29 or 30 days. So, the court then had to get the world out to the rest of the Jewish world about which day had been declared the first day of the month, so that everyone could observe the holidays on the same days. When this method didn’t appear to be trustworthy, the rabbis started sending messengers to the outlying Jewish communities to deliver the message in person. Locations within two weeks of travel in Jerusalem had no problem knowing when the month began because Passover begins on the 15th day of the month and there would be plenty of time to get the message. On the other hand, in faraway Diaspora communities it could take longer to get the message. As a safeguard, the rabbis started observing yom tov (the holiday when we refrain from work—the first and seventh day) for two days so that one of the days would be the correct date for the holiday. Yom Tom was now not just the first and seventh day as mentioned in the Torah, but an eight day was added, and Passover became an eight-day holiday outside of Israel.
Reform Jews and Jews in the land of Israel observe Passover for seven days, following the biblical commandment. But outside of Israel the two-day (eight day) custom remained. Nowadays we use a mathematical calendar so the practical reasoning for the extra day doesn’t apply. However, The Babylonian Talmud (Betziah 4b) advised Diaspora Jews to maintain minhag avoteichem, the custom of our ancestors and to continue the practice.
This explains the discrepancy and why many Reform Jews grew up, like I did, only having one night of Seder, not two. It is interesting to understand the reasoning behind the seven verses eight-day observance so that each of us can make an educated decision about how long we want to observe.
Personally, I find it a challenge to refrain from eating bread for the seven days, especially with young children whose diet mostly consists of mac and cheese and breaded chicken. Thank goodness for Kosher l’Pesach chicken nuggets (yay for matzo meal). But in all seriousness, I keep seven days of Passover because it makes me feel connected to the Torah—as these are the words we read-for seven days we observe. I know when Passover begins and when it is time for it to end. I think it’s important for Reform Jews to feel justified and proud of a seventh day observance and important for us to know that we are, indeed following the Torah in its strictest form.
This year I know it can be especially difficult to keep Passover on spring break when people are traveling. I remember going on many family vacations with a box of matzah in hand. I even remember eating matzah in Istanbul…and maybe hiding it under that table because we weren’t sure how people would react. Today, I proudly travel with my box of matzah or just enjoy eating lots of salad 😊. Passover is a spiritual and religious cleanse for me that helps me remove the “chametz”- the leven that weighs me down. Not only do we clean the bread out of our home, but we also try to organize our space, and take less heaviness into the days ahead. I try my best to let go of all that doesn’t serve my well-being.
May Passover be a time of freedom for each of you—for the Jewish people, for all people, both physically and emotionally.