Chapter 1: The Beginning
Night and Day
It is important to remember that in Judaism the day begins at night. That is, Shabbos, for example, starts at night and continues to the next day until nightfall Saturday night. Holidays also begin at night.
In the Torah it says «It was night and it was day….» all throughout the six days of Creation. There was darkness before there was light. Thus, the night comes before the day. So we start our «days,» meaning that we start our 24-hour days when night begins, and it runs until the next night. So every «day» runs from night to night.
Therefore, Shabbos starts Friday evening when the sun goes down. Consequently, Shabbos ends Saturday night after the night begins.
Passover is the same way, but there’s an additional wrinkle. While the Holiday itself starts on the night of the 15th of Nisan, the day before, the 14th of Nisan, is also a semi-Holiday.
For example, on the 14th day of Nisan, we must stop eating and owning chometz a few hours after dawn, as we have learned. So that means that chometz is forbidden some time before Passover actually begins.
In addition, many types of activity are forbidden on Erev Pesach after midday. It is forbidden even to give someone a haircut at that time. It is also forbidden to wash laundry, and most types of weekday activity. It is best of all cooking is done by then, but it is certainly permitted to cook and otherwise prepare food for the Yom Tov (Jewish Holiday).
As Passover Begins
In ancient times, Erev Pesach was the busiest time of the year. We brought the Passover lamb to the Holy Temple on the day of the 14th of Nisan. It was sacrificed that afternoon, and eaten later that night. So, in other words, the Passover Sacrifice was offered, slaughtered, and so forth, on the 14th day of Nisan, during the afternoon. It was eaten the night of the 15th of Nisan.
The night of the 15th of Nisan is the first night of Passover.
To restate: on the 14th of Nisan we stop eating and owning chometz, around 9:00 in the morning. Later that night, on the 15th of Nisan, we hold the Seder. In ancient times, we ate the Passover Sacrifice, along with matzah and the bitter herb, during the Seder. Today we can’t offer the Sacrifice, so we just make the Seder and eat the matzah and bitter herb.
When the Messiah comes, we will once again bring the Passover Sacrifice each year on the 14th of Nisan.
So again: on the day before Passover begins, we have already cleaned out and destroyed any chometz from our homes and possessions. If there were a Holy Temple, we would bring the Passover Sacrifice that day, in the afternoon, and afterwards we would begin roasting them.
That night, the night of the 15th of Nisan, we would take our sacrificed Passover lambs, and bring them to the place we make the Seder. We make the Seder, we drink the Four Cups throughout the night, we eat matzah, bitter herb, (and the Passover Sacrifice when there is a Holy Temple). This is at night, the first night of Passover.
Timetable for the Holy Temple
Here it is again, in a timetable. First, when there is a Holy Temple:
Morning of the 14th day of Nisan (also known as Erev Pesach): Burn our chometz. They probably spent the rest of the morning preparing for the Seder, and finally, before noon, bringing their animals to the Holy Temple for the various Sacrifices. They were required to bring a lamb or a goat for the Korban (Sacrifice) Pesach, and another animal (lamb, goat, or cow were all permitted) for the Korban Chagigah (Holiday Sacrifice).
Afternoon of the 14th: Attend to the Pesach Goat at the Holy Temple for Sacrificing. The Kohen-priests did the actual work, of course.
Late afternoon: Roast the Pesach Goat as the Torah commands. Bake Matzos.
Cook other foods for Seder.
Evening: Attend the Priestly ceremonies of the Holy Temple.
Beginning of Nighttime: The 15th day of Nisan has begun. Once the stars have come out, take Pesach goat or lamb to Seder and begin Seder. Tell the story of the Exodus (i.e., say the Hagadah).
Night of the 15th of Nisan: During the Seder, the Korban Pesach and the Korban Chagigah would be roasting nearby. At the right time in the Hagadah, they would wash their hands, eat Matzah, and eat the Korban Chagigah for the main part of the meal. (If Erev Pesach is on Shabbos, as happens every so often, the Chagigah was not brought Erev Pesach, and therefore was not eaten at the Seder. They would eat meat that had been cooked on Friday.) Once they were no longer hungry they would eat the Korban Pesach for dessert, together with Matzah and the Bitter Herb. They would then say
the Blessings After the Meal, and drink the Third Cup of Wine. Then they finished the Seder. During the time of the Second Holy Temple, after the Blessings After the Meal they would all go up to the roof of the house and sing Hallel (Psalms of Praise), finishing the Seder on the rooftop.
Can you picture thousands upon thousands of Jews, from all over the land of Israel, every one of them standing on the roofs of Jerusalem, singing Hallel! The Talmud says that it seemed like all the roofs of the city were bursting. It must have been the most glorious sight ever seen and heard!
Late Night of the 15th of Nisan: They drank the Fourth Cup of Wine, and finished the Seder.
Morning of the 15th of Nisan: Attend Priestly Ceremonies at Holy Temple.
Our Timetable Today
Now here’s how it runs today:
Morning of the 14th day of Nisan: Burn our chometz.
Afternoon of the 14th: Cook all food for the Seder (if you haven’t already — it’s best to get an early start a few days before). Set up the table for the Seder.
Late afternoon: Sleep. If you are able, attend Matzah baking. It is not required when there is no Holy Temple, but nevertheless many people bake Matzos on Erev Pesach these days. Such matzos are much preferred, spiritually.
Evening: Attend the Prayers at the synagogue. At the right time, which is before the stars come out in the sky, learn or say the passages about the «Bringing of the Passover Sacrifice.»
After the Stars Come Out: The 15th day of Nisan has begun. Pray the Nighttime Prayer. Go home and begin the Seder. Tell the story of the Exodus (i.e., say the Hagadah).
Night of the 15th of Nisan: During the Seder, at the right time in the Hagadah, eat the Afikoman to remember the Passover Sacrifice. Some people recite the «Eating of the Passover Sacrifice» to relive the Commandment.
Late night of the 15th of Nisan: Say Halel (Psalms of Praise), finish the Seder.
The First Day of Passover
Morning of the 15th of Nisan: It is the first day of Pesach, a full Holiday, no matter where you live. Attend Prayers at synagogue in the morning. Go home, eat a Festive Meal, with the short Kiddush over wine and Holiday foods. Return to the synagogue for the Afternoon Prayer.
Second Night of Passover
If you live outside of Israel:
Nighttime: It is now the 16th of Nisan, the second day of Passover, and still full Holiday. Everything tonight is the same as last night. (However, after Minchah, the Afternoon prayer, omit the recital of the «Bringing of the Passover Sacrifice».) After the stars come out pray the Nighttime Prayers the same as the first night. Go home and have the Second Seder, just as you did last night.
If you live in Israel:
Pray the weekday Nighttime Prayer, but add Yaaleh V’yavo, the special insertion that mentions the Holiday. The sixteenth of Nisan in Israel is Chol Hamo’ed, semi-Yom Tov. You may drive your car home from the synagogue, unless it also happens to be Friday night, which is the Sabbath.
Second Day of Passover
Outside of Israel:
The sixteenth day of Nisan is also Yom Tov (full Holiday). Repeat as yesterday. Morning Holiday Prayers, go home, eat a Festive Meal, with the short Kiddush over wine and Holiday foods. Pray the Afternoon Holiday Prayers. Since outside of Israel, it is still full Holiday, we pray the Holiday Prayers, and keep all the Laws of Yom Tov (Jewish Holiday). In the afternoon, return to the synagogue for the Afternoon Prayers.
It is Chol Hamo’ed, and we will discuss that in another article.
Third Night of Passover
When the stars come out, Chol Hamo’ed (semi-Holiday) has begun. Pray the regular weekday Nighttime Prayers, but add Yaaleh V’yavo, the special insertion that mentions the Holiday. Some Laws during Chol Hamo’ed are somewhat more lenient than during the Full Holiday, and more is allowed. You may drive your car, for example, and turn on and off lights. Of course, if it is Shabbat, then you may not do these things, as the Laws of Shabbat are more stringent than even the Laws of Yom Tov. The next few days will be discussed in Chapter 2.
Please note that during Passover, both during Yom Tov and during Chol Hamo’ed, starting from midday the day before Passover, it is forbidden to eat chometz! It is forbidden to eat chometz the entire eight and a half days of Passover (seven and a half days, if you live in Israel).
May Hashem rebuild the Holy Temple soon, soon, speedily, in our days!