When we first started celebrating Passover, I found it helpful to learn a few Hebrew words, as they were often used in things I was reading. I thought you might enjoy this, so here’s some ideas of things you could do to learn a little. What you choose will depend on your familiarity with the Passover terms already, how old and how involved your children are and if you’ve already done Hebrew as part of other studies.
I’ve split this part of the workshop into Letters, Words and Blessings, so you can pick which is most interesting for you to explore, as each section has some activity ideas.
Hebrew has its own alphabet. It’s quite different to English, and the sounds don’t have direct English versions, so when we read English versions of Hebrew words, often the same Hebrew letter is represented by different English letters.
Activity idea: Learn some Hebrew letters.
You might want to learn the ones which make the Hebrew word Pesach, which means Passover or see if you can write your name in Hebrew. If you’re planning a Passover meal, you could write the name of each person who is coming and use them as place markers or place mats. Or you could see if you can use the letters phonetically to write coded messages to each other! I’ve collected some links to the Hebrew alphabet here.
Activity idea: Look into a particular word or phrase in Hebrew
Is there a word or phrase which has jumped out at you while exploring the Exodus story? Look it up in an interlinear Bible (like this one) and learn the letters in that word.
One thing which intrigues me in Hebrew is how each letter is also a word. For example the letter ‘b’, which is said ‘bet’ means home, house, dwelling place, domain or you could say sphere of influence. It’s possible to look at words with the letter ‘b’ in them, especially those where it’s the first letter, and see how sometimes the meaning of the letter overlaps or connects in some way with the meaning of the word. For example, the word ‘Bet’ means house or home, as is Bet-Lechem, or Bethlehem, where lechem means bread and so Bethlehem means House of Bread. You can read more about this here.
Activity idea: Research the words associated with certain letters
(using this link) and see how that informs your understanding of the whole word.
When looking at words, remember Hebrew reads from right to left (opposite to English) and that Biblical Hebrew doesn’t contain vowels. In later versions these have been added (the dots and dashes around the letters in some Hebrew are the vowels), but as the originals didn’t have vowels, many words are translated different as it’s possible to create different words from the same set of consonants.
Activity idea: Learn some Hebrew words for Passover
Here is a list of words I thought might be handy when you’re reading about and exploring Passover. You might like to use it as reference, or see if you can learn them. I’ve even made a little quiz so you can see how many you know. (NB This should be fun! If it’s not, maybe do one of the other activities.)
- Pesach Passover
- Matzah bread made without yeast
- Seder Literally meaning ‘order’, it refers to the ceremonial order used during the Passover meal.
- Haggadah Literally meaning ‘telling’, it the name of the book read at the seder.
- Karpas vegetable
- Beitzah egg
- Z’roa lamb shank bone
- Maror bitter herbs
- Haroset A sweet mixture of nuts, apples, and wine on the seder plate
- Afikomen a piece of the middle matzah broken, hidden and found by the children
Got those? Try the quiz
Still wanting more?
- Mitzrayim Egypt
- Maggid The telling of the Exodus story as part of the seder
- Arba Kosot Four cups
- Chametz leaven, anything not allowed to eat during Passover festival
- Dayeinu It would have been enough for us
- Hallel the Psalms of praise which are sung as part of the seder
- Kaddesh The first blessing over the wine
- Yahatz When a piece of matzah is broken in half as part of the seder
- Lechem panim Bread of the Presence (literally Bread Face)
- A zissen Pesach — Have a sweet Passover! (Yiddish)
Here’s the second quiz
Activity idea: You could learn some Hebrew with an app like Duolingo
During a traditional Passover seder, there are lots of blessings and prayers. You might like to learn one or two of these in Hebrew. The first one I learnt was the blessing over the wine which is said four times, which means everyone gets a chance to join in each time.
Here is the blessing:
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam borei p’ri hagafen.
In English it reads: We bless You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
You can read it in Hebrew and see a translation here
I learnt it using an audio version like this one, which is nice and slow with the text in Hebrew and transliterated (Roman script).
Here’s one for the hamotzi – the blessing over the bread:
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, maMotzi lechem min haaretz.
(Notice that in this blessing, we bless God for bringing bread from the earth. I wonder if Jesus used this prayer, and if He did, was He thinking of this when He said “I am the bread of life”… which God will bring from the earth ie from the grave. I wonder…)
Activity idea: Learn a new song
… in Hebrew! I love this one: How great is our God by Joshua Aaron