Passover begins tonight: Here’s what you need to know

April 5, 2023  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

Approximately a 4-minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Passover, or Pesach, is an eight-day Jewish holiday that begins at sundown tonight.
  • The story of Passover is rooted in the Book of Exodus and commemorates the Israelites’ fight from their enslavement under the Pharaoh in Egypt.
  • Should any patient request a visit from a Spiritual Care chaplain during Passover or any other holiday, call 734-936-4041, page the on-call chaplain or email

Tonight marks the first night of Passover 2023, and many across the Michigan Medicine community will sit down to a seder, a ritual meal traditionally held on the first two nights of the eight-day Jewish holiday.

Passover – Pesach in Hebrew – is a commemoration of the Israelites’ fight from their enslavement under Pharaoh in Egypt, and their journey from slavery to freedom.

“The story is rooted in the Book of Exodus,” said Rabbi Sara Adler of Michigan Medicine’s Spiritual Care Department. Exodus is part of the Torah, the principal sacred text of Judaism.

“With the celebration of Pesach, there are a series of rituals and traditions that accompany the telling of the story,” Adler explained. “We celebrate this festival of freedom by having a meal that is literally a journey through the story of the Exodus.”

The seder

The seder features specific foods intended to remind participants of elements of the story. The most well-known of these is matzah, which represents the unleavened bread gathered by the ancient Hebrews in their haste to leave Egypt. 

In commemoration of this, Jewish law forbids eating (or, for some, even possessing) any food that contains leavened grains. For traditional Jews, a major part of preparing for Passover is the deep-clean (or kasher) of their kitchens to remove any trace of leavened grains.

Other symbolic foods on the seder plate are maror, the bitter herbs (such as lettuce or horseradish) to evoke the hard years of slavery; charoset (a mixture of apples, nuts and wine) symbolizing the mortar used when the Israelites were enslaved; a roasted egg to symbolize mourning for the destruction of the Temple; karpas, (parsley, celery or another green vegetable) symbolizing the green of spring; a shank bone to represent the sacrificial lamb offered on the eve of the Exodus; and four cups of wine (or grape juice) to celebrate freedom.

The full seder ritual is outlined in a Haggadah, a guide which outlines the Pesach meal for the participants, and usually includes stories, songs and prayers. There are many different versions of the Pesach Haggadah available in print and online, and some people even create their own custom version.

Why is this night different?

“There is a tradition of the youngest child at the seder starting us off by the asking of the traditional Four Questions,” said Adler. The questions are meant to contrast the differences between this meal and all other meals of the year, and include the reasoning behind why participants recline, dip certain seder plate elements into others and eat certain types of food.

“In reality, each and every one of us is encouraged to ask questions because it’s in the asking of questions that we have discussion and go deeper into the story,” Adler said.

“We try to get to the core of what it means to be free,” Adler continued. “With injustices in the world around us, how do we, as a Jewish people, take it upon ourselves to help correct some of the injustices that we see, based upon our own experience of having suffered in history as slaves.”

Pesach as a metaphor

For Adler, the Pesach story is not only commemoration of a people’s liberation from bondage. It carries strong parallels to her work as a chaplain.

“There’s a particular understanding of the Hebrew word for ancient Egypt, mitzrayim, which translates to: ‘in a narrow space, a place of being constricted.’ And our hope is that we go from being in a place of narrowness, of being constricted, into a space of openness, wideness and abundance.

“So, as we’re thinking about the experience of illness or chronic issues that bring patients into our health care system,” continued Adler. “It’s possible that someone may experience Passover in terms of how they relate to their own body, and the things that limit them from being fully free. And in the context of Exodus, perhaps the journey to find healing is another expression of seeking abundance, hope and freedom.”

Passover is a holiday in which families and friends often gather in celebration. For patients who are ill or hospitalized and unable to connect with their people, holidays can often contribute to feelings of loneliness or isolation. The Michigan Medicine Department of Spiritual Care chaplains are available to offer spiritual and emotional care and support to those in need.

Adler can help facilitate prayerbooks and non-perishable Passover supplies for interested patients and their families.

This year, Passover runs from sundown tonight, April 5, to sundown on April 13.

Should any patient request a visit from a Spiritual Care chaplain during Passover or any other holiday, call 734-936-4041, page the on-call chaplain or email