Pesach in Israel - The Spring Festival

"Observe the month of spring, and keep the Passover for the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 16:1). In Israel, Pesach is always celebrated in the spring, towards the end of winter and the rainy season, which is limited to the winter months. Due to the discrepancy between the solar and lunar calendars, we add an additional month (the second Adar) once every few years, to ensure that Pesach will in fact be celebrated when it is spring in Israel.

Although Pesach is observed for eight days outside of Israel, in Israel, it is observed for seven days, commencing on the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Nissan.  The first and last days are full festivals (outside Israel - the first two days and the last two days), while the days in between are the “intermediate days” on which work is permitted. In Israel, we only observe one seder!

As the other two pilgrimage festivals (Succot and Shavuot), Pesach has historical meaning and agricultural significance.  Historically, the festival marks the Exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the Children of Israel from servitude.  From an agricultural point of view, it is the Spring Festival, marking the beginning of the barley harvest.
 

Spring in Nahal Jilabun in the Upper Galilee. (Photo: Yoav Devir, KKL-JNF Photo Archive)


The festival has a number of names, each denoting a different aspect of its significance:

The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag Ha-Matzot): 
This name derives from the commandment to eat unleavened bread (matzah) and the prohibition against the eating of leaven, as a reminder of the hasty departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt, when their dough did not have time to leaven.  The prohibition on leaven applies throughout the festival but the commandment to eat unleavened bread refers literally only to the first evening.

Passover (Pesach):  
This name is associated with the Biblical account of the Angel of Death who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel when slaying the first-born of Egypt (Exodus XII, 27).  This term denotes the sacrificial lamb (korban pesach) which used to be offered on the eve of the festival.  As stated in the Torah, each family was commanded to prepare a lamb four days before the departure from Egypt and then, on the eve of the Exodus, the Children of Israel were to slaughter the lamb and splash its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their homes as a sign for the Angel of Death to pass over these houses en route to smite the first-born of Egypt.  Then they had to roast the lamb and eat it hastily that night together with matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs). Seder night reminds us of this ritual.
 

Children eating matza in Biriya Forest. (Photo: Malca Barkay, KKL-JNF Photo Archive)

 
The Time of our Freedom (Zman HaCheirut):
This name of the festival marks the liberation of the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage and their becoming a free people.  Throughout the generations and in all Diaspora communities, this festival has strengthened in Jewish hearts the aspirations for the future redemption, and identification with the hope that one day all people will be free.

Freedom is not, however, only a political concept. The Hassidic masters taught us that Pesach is a time for focusing on freeing ourselves from being slaves to our habits and mechanical ways of behavior. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, can also be translated as "the narrow, constricted place" (meitzar). Pesach is therefore a time for seeing where we are internally constricted and not able to realize our full potential. We ask ourselves who our inner "Pharaohs" might be. Leaving Egypt can be seen as a process of freeing ourselves from our inner prison and opening up to new growth, just as nature in Israel is being renewed.

The Spring Festival (Chag HaAviv):
As we mentioned earlier, this name refers to the season of the year when Pesach is observed in the Land of Israel. In former times, a sheaf of barley was brought to the Temple on the second day of Pesach, initiating the counting of the Omer, which concludes fifty days later on the holiday of Shavuot.

Besides eating matza and refraining from eating any type of leavened food during the holiday, Pesach is a time when Jewish families all over the world get together to celebrate the seder. The “Pesach Seder” is the ceremony held at home on the first evening of the Festival of Passover (outside Israel – on the first two evenings).  The purpose of the Seder is to remember and celebrate the redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage.  Symbolism, ceremony, thanksgiving and joy are intertwined with a festive meal and four cups of wine. In Israel, close to 90% of the Jewish population participate in the seder every year! It is a time for families to be together, but also to remember those who are in need and to reach out to them, either by making certain that everyone has their basic needs for the holiday or by inviting them to one's family seder.

In Israel, most people have vacation from work for the entire week of Pesach. After the huge seder meal, what could be more appropriate than going outdoors to enjoy the beauty of nature? This, too, is a form of "going out of the Egypt" of our jobs and homes. Every year, KKL-JNF invites everyone to its parks and forests, along with providing special activities suitable for the entire family. Close to a million people take advantage of this perfect time of year to hike and bike, or to have a forest barbecue in one of the hundreds of picnic sites built by KKL-JNF with the help of its friends all over the world.