What Is the Meaning of Passover? The Story of Exodus Explained

The story of Passover is traditionally told over the Passover Seder and is sprinkled with lots of singing, reclining, wine drinking and gefilte fish-eating. The tale depicts the Jewish people's enslavement in Egypt and their eventual escape, and is told with the help of a guidebook called a Haggadah.

Below is a very rough outline of the story. Biblical scholars will argue about the details, but as long as you get the overarching plot and themes, you'll be prepared for a Seder.

The story begins before the Jews were slaves in Egypt, when Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel, worked as an adviser to the Pharaoh.

Joseph was able to predict an oncoming famine, which gave the Pharoah time to prepare and save his people. Because of his deed, when Joseph's family came to Egypt they were invited to stay and live in peace for a number of generations. The descendents of his family came to be known as the Israelites.

But as the generations multiplied, and Joseph and the Pharaoh passed away, the agreement was forgotten. The new Pharaoh became alarmed at the large numbers of Israelites in Egypt, and decided to enslave them. He later issued a decree to drown all newborn Israelite boys in the river.

One Hebrew couple, Yocheved and Amram, put their baby son in a basket and placed it in the Nile, hoping that he would escape death. The baby was quickly discovered by the Pharaoh's daughter and adopted. The princess named the boy Moses, or "he who was drawn from the water."

Moses grew up with the Pharaoh, and was raised as a member of the royal family until he witnessed an Egyptian beating up an Israelite slave. Full of outrage, Moses beat the Egyptian to death and was cast out from Egypt as punishment.

After a bit of wandering, Moses settled East of Egypt, married and became a shepherd. Meanwhile, the Israelites' situation in Egypt worsened and they called to God for help. He responded by reaching out to Moses.

While tending his flocks one day, Moses heard a voice coming from a flaming bush. The voice identified itself as God and told Moses to go and save his people, and to tell the Pharoah to "Let My people go, so that they may serve Me."

A Jewish man transfers the Matzoth (unleavened bread) to be baked on March 25 at a bakery in Kfar Habad near Tel Aviv. To commemorate their ancestors' plight, religious Jews do not eat leavened food products throughout Passover. JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Moses set off with his brother, Aaron, and appealed to the Pharaoh who refused to listen and worsened the conditions for the Israelites.

After several more unsuccessful diplomatic attempts, God began to send a series of plagues, including blood, frogs, lice, flies, cattle-plague, boils, hail, locusts and darkness onto the people of Egypt, but none of them convinced the Pharaoh to set the Israelites free.

Finally, the Israelites were told to bring a "passover offering" of a lamb or goat to God and to put its blood on their doorposts because those homes would be passed over when he inflicted the final plague, the killing of the firstborn children.

The harshest of plagues worked in convincing the Pharoah to let the Israelites go. But Moses wasn't convinced of the Pharoah's conviction, and instructed his people to pack their things and leave as quickly as possible. The Israelites left in such a rush that they didn't have enough time to properly rise their dough, and for this reason Jewish people eat flat bread, or Matzah, on Passover.

When the Israelites reached the Red Sea, they realized that they had been tricked by the Egyptians and were surrounded by Pharaoh's soldiers. God instructed Moses to raise his staff toward the sea, and it parted, allowing their escape. When the Israelites were safely through, the sea closed, drowning the soldiers chasing them.

The story of Passover is a tradition handed down from one generation of Jews to the next through reading the Haggadah, and is often paired with a speech relating the story of Exodus to recent news events or national affairs. In this way, the story is kept alive and relevant to the current day.