Learning the halachos of Pesach.
It is nearly impossible for a person to properly observe the Pesach holiday without studying at least some of its numerous laws and customs. The Sages – and indeed the Torah itself – instruct us to study the halachos (laws) of all of the Yomim Tovim. When should we study them? 1) For starters, we should study them during the Yom Tov days themselves, as stated in Gemara Megilla 32: “Moshe ordained for the Jewish People that they should question and delve (Heb. ‘sho’alin v’dorshin’) into the laws of Pesach on Pesach, the laws of Shavuos on Shavuos and the laws of Sukkos on Sukkos.”
2) There are two special Shabbosos (plural for Shabbos) during the year, during which a rabbi is obligated to give a public address (and the congregation is obligated to attend!): “Shabbos Shuva” (lit. the Shabbos of “return” - the Shabbos between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, at which he should discuss the halachos of Teshuva, Yom Kippur and Sukkos) and “Shabbos HaGadol” (“The Great Shabbos” - the Shabbos before Pesach, at which he should discuss the complex halachos of Pesach. If Pesach begins on a Motzei Shabbos, the “Shabbos HaGadol Drasha (lecture)” is pushed back to the previous Shabbos. (Ed: I did not mean to imply that one does not have to attend the weekly drasha that the Rav gives in shul every Shabbos!)
3) If you are wondering: How is it possible to squeeze all of the myriad laws of a Yom Tov into one lecture – and certainly by leaving them for the Yom Tov itself, by which time it’s a bit too late to first be learning anyway?! The answer is: the Sages instituted a longer pre-Yom Tov learning period as well. For Pesach, it begins thirty days before (actually beginning on Purim day itself!) For Sukkos, some authorities require thirty days as well, while others do not place a specific time-frame on it. For Shavuos - whose laws are relatively few – some say that one need only begin on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, while others require even less. (Ed. Remember: There are also the halachos of Yom Tov - which we recently completed with MBY - that must be learned and reviewed as well!)
Contributing to ‘Kimcha d’Pischa’ (lit. “flour for Pesach” - a.k.a. ‘Maos Chitim’).
Helping the needy to obtain basic Pesach necessities – particularly matzah - is an ancient custom which dates back to the Talmud. It was a mitzvah for which community members held each other accountable! Originally, people would donate bundles of wheat, which the recipients would then grind and make into flour. Later, the custom was advanced to the distribution of actual flour. Quantities were assessed based on the needs of the recipient and his family for the entire holiday, not just the Sedarim. (Ed. Today, Maos Chitim funds are routinely collected in the form of cash donations and distributed with discretion and sensitivity, by shul rabbis and other organizations.)
Changes in Tefila. ‘Tachanun’ (see Artscroll Siddur, p. 125/6) is not recited during the entire month of Nisan! Linked with the omission of Tachanun is ‘Tzidkascha Tzedek’ at Shabbos Mincha (p. 524/5), ‘Yehi ratzon’ on Monday and Thursday mornings (p. 146/7), ‘Keil Maleh Rachamim’ (the memorial prayer on p. 144/5) and the ‘Tziduk hadin’ that is normally recited at a funeral (see p. 798/9). It is customary (but not obligatory) for individuals to recite the Torah verses which correspond to the twelve ‘Nesi’im’ (tribal princes) and the gifts they gave during the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) during the first twelve days of Nisan the year following the Exodus. (See the Torah reading for Chanukah on pp. 948-952.) In fact, the reason Tachanun is omitted during the entire month, and not just during the days of Pesach, is because since the first twelve days are festival-like due to the Mishkan dedication, together with Pesach, it emerges that the majority of the month is a festival!
Also during the entire month, ‘hesped’ (eulogizing) is diminished in length and mood, and communal fasts (during times of duress) are not declared. (Note: Concerning an individual fast, one should not observe a yahrzeit fast during the month of Nisan. However, a ‘Ta’anis Chalom’ – i.e. to ameliorate a disturbing dream - may be permitted, and a Rav should be consulted on the matter.)
During Pesach itself (actually beginning on Erev Pesach), the following tefilos are omitted: ‘Mizmor l’Soda’ (Psalm #100, p. 64/5), ‘Keil Erech Apayim’ (p. 138/9) and ‘Lam’natzeiach’ (Psalm #20, p. 152/3). One should arise early to daven on Erev Pesach, because the time to eat chametz and attend to its burning is limited. The day following Pesach (as well as the other two festivals) is called ‘Isru Chag’ (lit. ‘tie the festival’ with cords), and one should celebrate these days by eating and drinking a bit more than usual. On ‘Isru Chag’, ‘Tachanun’ (and those tefilos which are linked to it, as listed above) is omitted (i.e. even after Shavuos and Sukkos, when Tachanun is not omitted for the remainder of the month.)