By Eli Backman
For Mitzpeh

Here are a few insights into Passover and the Seder.

Q: How did Passover get its name?

A:  Because G-d passed over the Jewish houses during the plague of the first born.
2) Since the Seder table is usually made larger, people can’t reach for the items on the table and invariably ask others: “Could you please pass over the matzah, etc.!”

Q: What is shmurah matzah?

A: Matzah must be watched from the time the flour and water meet to ensure it does not stay that way too long and become chametz – leavened – and not kosher for Passover. Shmurah matzah is watched from the time of the cutting of the wheat to keep it dry and away from water. It is also generally handmade and round, and tastes very different than the regular store sold boxed matzah.

<bstrongQ: Why do we use three Matzah at the Passover Seder, even though on shabbat we only require two loaves of Challah?

A: We begin every shabbat and holiday meal with two loaves. On the Seder night, however, we want to be able to do yachatz the point of the Seder which we break one matzah. Half is added as a broken loaf (i.e. matzah) to symbolize the “Bread of Poverty.” The other half becomes the afikomen for later use.

Q: What symbolism is there behind the three matzahs?

A: The three matzahs remember the forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. They also symbolize how the Jewish people are divided into three groups: Cohen (priest) Levi and Israel.

Q: How is a good sermon like a piece of matzah?

A: They both should take less than 18 minutes!

(Photo: Yoninah/ Wikimedia Commons)

Q: Why do we use four cups of wine?

A: They symbolize the four expressions of freedom quoted in Exodus 6:6-7. The wine is used to express our freedom.

Q: Why is there such an emphasis during the Seder on the children asking questions?

A: It is based on a verse in Exodus 13:14, “When your child will ask…”

Q: Why do we recline at the Seder?

A:The Talmud teaches us that at the Seder, things must be done in a “way of freedom,” and reclining is an indication of royalty and freedom

Q: Why do we recline to our left side at the Seder?

A:It was the custom of ancient royalty to recline on the left and during the Seder we feel like royalty and ‘free people.’ There are two reasons:

1) Food is normally held in the right hand. Leaning toward the left leaves the right hand free.

2) Leaning on the right is a choking hazard. It can prevent the epiglottis from covering the trachea, allowing food to enter and stop the flow of oxygen.

Q: Why would I sell my chametz – and who would buy it?

A: Since it is prohibited to possess chametz on Pesach, any chametz left in your possession before Passover must be sold to a non-Jew. [Any chametz remaining in the possession of a Jew during Pesach may not be used, eaten, bought or sold even after Pesach.] Therefore, all chametz that will not be eaten or burned before Pesach and all chametz utensils that will not be thoroughly cleaned by then should be stored away.

Q: What is this kitniyot and why can I not eat them?

A: The medieval Jewish sages placed a ban on eating legumes (kitniyot) on Passover, because they are similar in texture to chametz — even bread can be made out of their flour. People might assume that if, for example, corn bread can be eaten on Passover, wheat or rye bread can be eaten too. This prohibition includes rice, beans, and corn. This injunction was only accepted by Ashkenazi Jews; Sephardic Jews continue to eat kitniyot on Passover.

Q: What is charoset?

A: A mixture of apples, nuts and wine which resembles the mortar and brick made by the Jews when they toiled for Pharaoh.

Q: Why is Moses’ name not mentioned in the Haggadah and the story of leaving Egypt?

A: First, we never want to lose focus that it was all G-d’s doing. Second, it teaches each and every one of us that we too can leave Egypt – spiritually – and we can’t say, “I will just have to wait until a leader like Moses comes along to make a difference in my life.”

Eli Backman is the rabbi at UMD Chabad and can be contacted at For any other questions about passover, visit


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