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The Chumash (Five Books of Moses)

Passover - Back to Back Celebrations

Question: I’m familiar with the Passover festival that begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan. Yet, the Bible (Leviticus 23:5-6 and other places) seems to indicate that Passover is on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, and it is the holiday of the matzahs that begins on the 15th of that month (and extends for 7 days). Will the real Passover please stand up!

Answer: Thanks so much for your question. In fact, there are two celebrations, both under the umbrella of the holiday we know as Pesach (i.e. Passover).

The first celebration is the sacrifice of the Passover offering. This is mandated on the 14th day of Nisan. In one sense, this was a preparation for the eating of that sacrifice later that night (on the 15th of the month). But in another very real sense, as is clear from the description of the Sages of the events of the day, it was a celebration in its own right. Imagine all the Jews gathering in the Holy Temple to offer a sacrifice on the same day, with the Levites singing Psalms in the background. The 14th day is considered a special day in its own right, and the bible in Leviticus 23:5 (among other places) describes the events on this day: The sacrifice of the Paschal offering.

The second celebration is the formal holiday that we know as Passover, also described as Chag HaMatzot (i.e. holiday of matzahs) in the Torah. It begins on the 15th day of Nisan, and is described in Leviticus 23:6 (among other places).

Now, as far as the practice today, being that we don’t have the Holy Temple, we have no option of sacrificing the Pesach offering (well, the explanation is not quite that simple, but we’ll leave it at that for now). Therefore, the celebration of the 14th has lost some of its luster. But nonetheless, the day is a special one, and not just because the holiday itself begins later that night. The Torah indicates its uniqueness by singling it out in the verse you mentioned.

As far as the holiday of Passover, which begins on the 15th of Nisan, that practice is no less binding today than it ever was, and the celebration is in full force around the world. I would also mention that Passover is celebrated outside the state of Israel just as it is in the State—the only exception is that in Israel, the holiday is bookended by one day of Yom Tov (days with Sabbath like restrictions); while outside Israel, the holiday is bookended by two days of Yom Tov (and extended from 7 to 8 days).

I hope this helps clarify things.
Rabbi Yoel Spotts

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