AS WE SIT AT THE SEDER TABLE we need to discuss how ancient liberation for the Jews can inspire liberation today for all people.
In fact, we know it is the ongoing spiritual inspiration and Jewish cultural and psychological resonance of that ancient struggle that led many Jews today to cheer on the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings against their oppressive dictatorial regimes. Yet we also know that many Jews responded with more fear than hope, a residue of the ongoing post-traumatic-stress disorder generated by 1,700 years of Christian oppression culminating in the Holocaust. The result: too often the high ethical values of the Jewish tradition can get subordinated to the fearful psychology that leads some of the most wealthy and politically powerful Jews in the world to still feel insecure and to see the world through the framework of the need to control, rather than through the religious frame of hope, love, and generosity that was a the cornerstone of Jewish consciousness for many centuries. Without putting down those who are still traumatized and fearful, our task is to rebuild and reaffirm a Judaism committed to building a global transformation toward a world of love, generosity, peace, social justice, environmental sustainability, and genuine caring for each other and for the planet. It is toward this goal that we assemble at our Passover table as we rejoice in our freedom and affirm our commitment to spreading that freedom to all humanity.
Seventy-eight percent of American Jews voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and a majority of non-Jewish Americans joined them. The message was clear: end the war in Iraq and let our troops come home, end the war on the poor and the environment, and stop favoring the rich and corporate interests.
No wonder, then, that as we sit around the Passover table in 2011 there is a widespread sense of disappointment at the way President Obama moved far away from the hope for “change we can believe in.” Some will say Obama was never who he said he was, that he was always just a clever manipulator of our hopes while actually being a centrist corporate-oriented politician, and that is why he chose advisers such as Geithner and Summers as soon as he was elected, and why he chose to retain Bush’s secretary of defense, rather than balancing his cabinet with people like Paul Krugman or Robert Reich and representatives of the GLBT, environmental, human rights, immigrant rights, peace, and women’s movements, and the other progressive movements that made his nomination possible in the first place. Others will suggest that he had no options, that he couldn’t do more than he did (and some will then say that he should have told the truth about what was happening and that he should have stopped trying to appeal to the people on his right while failing to appeal to his own base). Still others will say the whole idea of a U.S. president being able to stand up to the complex of corporate interests, military-industrial powers, insurance and health care companies, pharmaceutical firms, fossil fuel promoters, environmental polluters, and their banks and investment companies was ludicrous from the start. Some will argue that to counter such forces Obama would have needed to mobilize his own constituency, from the first moments of his presidency, into an independent movement present in the streets and in the balloting — a movement able to go door to door to advocate for a new kind of social and economic order and willing to push him away from the temptation of betraying his highest vision through backroom deals.
Well, that’s the kind of discussion that is needed on Passover this year — because Passover is not meant to be merely a celebration of the Jewish victory for liberation in our past, but is rather meant to stimulate us to extend that liberation to the whole world. Such liberation would bring an end to the destruction of the environment. It would bring an end to the cheapening of cultural life by the dominance of an ethos of “looking out for number one.” It would bring an end to rampant materialism and our society’s belief in salvation through mechanical objects and technological fixes.
It is not only a new kind of president that we need but also a new kind of movement. We need a movement that has a spiritual dimension and affirms and builds on what the 2008 election revealed: the deep yearning of Americans (and really all people on the planet) for a world in which love, kindness, generosity, ethical and ecological sanity, awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe, and commitment to a higher meaning for our lives are valued over the pursuit of money, power, sexual conquest, and fame, which have been extolled as central values by corporate media and enshrined in the workings of the global capitalist system. At the Seder table, we invite you to ask how you can help get this kind of spiritual consciousness introduced into the discourse of secular liberal and progressive social change movements, NGOs, and liberal political parties. We invite you to make this discussion a central part of your Passover Seder this year.
We are gathered here tonight to affirm our continuity with the generations of Jews who have kept alive the vision of freedom in the Passover story. For thousands of years, Jews have affirmed this vision by participating in the Passover Seder. We not only remember the Exodus but actually relive it, bringing its transformative power into our own lives.
The Hebrew word for Egypt, mitzrayim, means “narrow straits.” Traditionally, mitzrayim has been understood to mean a spiritual state, the “narrow place” of confusion, fragmentation, and spiritual disconnection. Liberation requires us to embrace that which we have been taught to scorn within ourselves and others, including the split-off parts from our own consciousness that we find intolerable and that we project onto some evil Other. The Seder can also be a time to reflect on those parts of ourselves.
Israel left Egypt with “a mixed multitude”; the Jewish people began as a multicultural mélange of people attracted to a vision of social transformation. What makes us Jews is not some biological fact but our willingness to proclaim the message of those ancient slaves: ( say together ) The world can be changed, we can be healed.
Tonight we join with the millions of Jews around the world and our non-Jewish allies who celebrate our liberation from Egypt and also celebrate liberation from all forms of oppression. We rejoice this year in the uprisings in the Middle East, initiated by the immense courage of large numbers of people in Tunisia and Egypt, and pray that they may actually lead to a new democratic, human rights-observing, and peace-oriented society for all the inhabitants of those countries, and inspire tens of millions of others to take the same risks for liberation.
We are the latest embodiment of the people of Israel, and tonight we invite into our Seder all the past generations who have kept faith with the vision of a world healed and transformed. We rise now to say Kiddush — in solidarity with all the generations of Jews throughout history who have kept alive this sacred moment, retold the story, and accepted upon themselves the central mitzvah of Passover: to see ourselves as though we personally had participated in the liberation from Egypt.
Blessing over the first cup of wine.
Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam.
Shecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higyanu lazman hazeh.
We wash our hands, without saying the blessing. Each person washes the hand of the person next to her (pouring it over a bowl). Imagine that you are washing away all cynicism and despair, and allow yourself to be ﬁlled with the hope that the world could be really transformed in accord with our highest vision.
The saltwater on our table traditionally represents the tears of the Israelite slaves. The green vegetables we dip in the water suggest the possibility of growth and renewal even in the midst of grief.
The greens on the table also remind us of our commitment to protect the planet from ecological destruction. Instead of focusing narrowly on what we may “realistically” accomplish in today’s world, we must refocus the conversation on what the planet needs in order to survive and flourish. We must get out of the narrow place in our thinking and look at the world not as a resource, but as a focus for awe, wonder, and amazement. We must reject the societal story that identifies success and progress with endless growth and accumulation of things. Instead we will focus on acknowledging that we already have enough; we need to stop exploiting our resources and instead care for the earth.
We are descended from slaves, people who staged the first successful slave rebellion in recorded history. Ever since, our people has kept alive the story of liberation, and the consciousness that cruelty and oppression are not inevitable “facts of life” but conditions that can be changed.
The task may seem more overwhelming to us today than in previous moments. Today there is no longer some easily identifiable external evil force playing the role of Pharaoh. Instead, we live in an increasingly unified global economic and political system that brings well-being to some even as it increases the misery of others.
We are in the midst of a huge spiritual and environmental crisis. Our society has lost its way. Yet most of us are even embarrassed to talk about this seriously, so certain are we that we could never do anything to transform this reality, and fearful that we will be met with cynicism and derision for even allowing ourselves to think about challenging the kind of technocratic and alienating rationality that parades itself as “progress” in the current world.
The Exodus story teaches us to see that all this could be changed.
We are the community of Tikkun, the Network of Spiritual Progressives of all faiths — the religious and spiritual community formed around the ancient Jewish idea that our task is to be partners with God in healing and transforming our world. We know that the world can be healed and transformed — that is the whole point of telling the Passover story. Our task is to find the ways to continue the struggle for liberation in our own times and in our own circumstances. Some of the steps include:
a. Recognizing each other as allies in that struggle, and supporting each other even though we see each other’s flaws and inadequacies, and see our own as well.
b. Pouring out love into the world, even when we don’t have a good excuse for giving that love to others, even when it seems corny or risky to do so — breaking down our own inner barriers to loving others and to loving ourselves.
c. Rejecting the cynical view that everyone is out for himself or herself, that there is nothing but selfishness. Instead, we will allow ourselves to see that we are surrounded by people who would love to live in a world based on love and justice and peace if they thought that others would join them in building such a world.
d. Taking the risks of being the first ones out in public to articulate an agenda of social change — even though being that person may mean risking economic security, physical security, and sometimes even risking the alienation of friends and family.
e. Allowing ourselves to envision the world the way we really want it to be — and not getting stuck in spiritually crippling talk about what is “realistic.”
The story of Passover is about our people learning to overcome the “realistic” way of looking at the world. Tonight we want to affirm our connection with a different truth: that the world is governed by a spiritual power, by God, by the Force of Transformation and Healing, and that we are created in Her image, we are embodiments of the Spirit, and we have the capacity to join with each other and transform the world we are in.
Affirming that, we dip the greens on our Seder plate in joy at the beauty and goodness of this earth and its vegetation, and recommitting ourselves to do all we can to stop those processes in our society that are contributing to the destruction of the earth.
Dip the greens in saltwater and say blessing.
( from this point on you can eat anything on the table that is a vegetable or vegetable-based)
We break the matzah and hide one part (the Aﬁkomen). We recognize that liberation is made by imperfect people, broken, fragmented — so don’t be waiting until you are totally pure, holy, spiritually centered, and psychologically healthy to get involved in tikkun (the healing and repair of the world). It will be imperfect people, wounded healers, who do the healing as we simultaneously work on ourselves.
The Bread of Afﬂiction
Raise the middle matzah so that everyone can see it and say:
This is the bread of affliction. Let everyone who is hungry come and eat. But when saying that traditional line — let all who are hungry come and eat — we must also recognize the stark contrast between the generosity of the Jewish people expressed in this invitation, and the actual reality in which we live. In the past year the U.S. Congress has passed tax legislation that would return hundreds of billions of dollars to the well-to-do, and yet our country has no money to deal with the needs of the poor, the homeless, and the hungry. We should be taking those hundreds of billions of dollars and using them to rebuild the economic infrastructures of the impoverished all around the world, and providing decent housing and food for those who are in need. Instead, we live in a world in which we try to build barriers to protect ourselves against the poor and the homeless, which demeans them and blames them for the poverty they face.
So when we say “hah lachmah anya — this is the bread of affliction, let all who are hungry come and eat,” we remind ourselves that it is this spirit of generosity that is the authentic Jewish spirit. It is meant to be a contrast to the messages of class society, which continually try to tell us “there is not enough” and therefore that we can’t afford to share what we have with others. We are the richest society in the history of the human race, and we may be the stingiest as well — a society filled with people who think that we don’t have enough.
We who identify with Tikkun and are part of the Network of Spiritual Progressives proudly proclaim: there is enough, we are enough, and we can afford to share.
Tell the story of the Exodus, and identify the Pharaohs in your life today.
Blessing over the second cup of wine.
We are descended from slaves who staged the first successful slave rebellion in recorded history. Ever since, our people has kept alive the story of liberation, and the consciousness that cruelty and oppression are not inevitable “facts of life,” but conditions that can be changed.
The oppressive ancient Egyptian regime in which Jews lived as slaves was overthrown. The Passover story reminds us that in every age we must continue the struggle for liberation, which Jews first experienced on the first Passover some 3,200 years ago.
The Haggadah reminds us that the primary obligation of Passover is to experience ourselves as though we personally went out of Egypt. So now, let someone at the table tell the story of our enslavement, of the genocide against the firstborn Hebrew males, of the way Moses was saved and grew up in the palace and then came to identify with his own people the slaves. Let someone tell of how Moses killed an Egyptian policeman who was beating an Israelite slave and then fled to Midian, how Moses heard God’s voice through a fire that was burning inside him and returned to Egypt, how his demand to “let my people go” was met by the Pharaoh with an escalation of oppression of the Israelites, how his own people shunned him as a trouble-maker who was only making things worse, and how God brought forth a set of environmental disasters. Let someone tell of how Moses was able to convince the Israelites and the Pharaoh that these disasters were intentional plagues from God, how the Israelites eventually came to accept that they could use those plagues as cover to leave Egypt, how 80 percent of the slaves couldn’t make that leap and so decided not to leave with Moses, and how joyful a celebration it was for those who did leave by making a huge leap of faith in believing that transformation was really possible. While this story is being told, let all the other people at the table keep their eyes closed and try to imagine that it is you who are going through this experience, you who have the doubts about Moses and the possibility of a radical transformation, and you who finally is able to take that leap of faith. And allow yourself to feel what that must feel like when you can do that in your own life today!
PESACH (the Bone or Beet): Our Seder plate includes a symbol of the ancient Passover sacrifice, which was brought each year to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban, which comes from the root meaning “near.” What could bring you closer to your highest spiritual self?
MATZAH: The Torah tells us that the Israelites had to take the uncooked dough with them, “for they had prepared no provisions for the way.” Symbolically, the matzah reminds us that when the opportunity for liberation comes, we must seize it, even if we do not feel fully prepared — indeed, if we wait until we feel prepared, we may never act at all. If you had to jump into such a struggle tomorrow morning, what would you have to leave behind?
The matzah also stands in contrast to chametz (Hebrew for the expansive yeast that makes bread rise), which symbolizes false pride, absorption in our individual egos, and grandiosity.
MAROR (the Bitter Herbs): The suffering of the Jews in Egypt has been matched by thousands of years in which we were oppressed as a people. Our insistence on telling the story of liberation and proclaiming that the world could be and should be fundamentally different has angered ruling elites. These elites often tried to channel against the Jews the anger that ordinary people were feeling about the oppression in their own lives. But Jews are not the only ones to have suffered oppression and violence. We think of the genocide against native peoples all around the world, including in the United States. We think of the enslavement of Africans, and the oppression of Armenians, homosexuals, women, and many others. Yet, tonight it is appropriate for us to focus also on the suffering of the Jewish people and to affirm our solidarity with victims of anti-Semitism through the ages. Anti-Semitism still persists in our own time in the use of double standards in the judgment of Jews, in acts of violence against Jews, and in refusing to acknowledge the history of Jewish suffering as equal to the suffering of other victims of oppressive social regimes in Christian, Islamic, and some secular societies, as well. Meanwhile, we Jews need to acknowledge the ways that this suffering has at times distorted our consciousness and made it hard to fully grasp the pain others feel. We must evolve a Global Judaism that compassionately embraces the Jewish people and all other peoples.
Now we eat and enjoy a tasty meal. After you have eaten, dance to some music — or move around the table and talk to people whom you don’t know.
The Haggadah says, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” Traditionally, this is understood to mean not only literally feeding the hungry, but also offering spiritual sustenance to those in need. Both must go hand in hand. We live in a society of unprecedented wealth, yet we turn our backs on the hungry. Even the supposedly liberal and progressive political leaders are unwilling to champion any program to seriously address world hunger and homelessness.
There is also a deep spiritual hunger that must be fed. Though the cynical proclaim that those who accumulate the most toys win, our tradition teaches that money, power, and fame cannot sustain us. Our spiritual tradition teaches us to be present to each moment; to rejoice in all that we are and all that we have been given; to experience the world with awe, wonder, and radical amazement; and to recognize that we already have enough and are enough.
Not just during the Seder, but also at every meal, it is incumbent upon us — the Jewish tradition teaches — to speak words of Torah, to study some section of our holy books, or to in other ways make God feel present at our table. Try this every night as you eat: bring God and God’s message of love, generosity, peace, social justice, ecological sanity, and caring for others into every meal that you eat.
Enjoy the meal. Following the meal, say a blessing expressing thanks to God for the food and by expressing a commitment to do what you can to redistribute food on this planet so that everyone will have enough.
Of course, as you know, the Seder is only half ﬁnished — the second half begins after we ﬁnd the aﬁkomen and begin the after-dinner section of the Haggadah. Meanwhile, have a very good meal, be’tey’avon!
We pause in our celebration to remember the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Holocaust, and the ways that those in the present who choose to testify to the possibility of transformation become the focus of everyone’s anger and displaced frustrations, and eventually their murderous rage. Being a spiritual or moral vanguard is risky. No wonder it’s easier to assimilate into the celebration of money and cynicism about the contemporary world.
Tonight we remember our six million sisters and brothers who perished at the hands of the Nazis and at the hands of hundreds of thousands of anti-Semites — many of them Germans, Poles, Croatians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Romanians, Hungarians, Austrians — who assisted those Nazis throughout Europe. We remember also the Jewish martyrs throughout the generations — oppressed, beaten, raped, and murdered by European Christians. And we remember tonight with pride the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the tens of thousands of Jews who resisted, fought back, joined Partisan units, or engaged in acts of armed violence against the oppressors.
It is not fashionable to speak about these atrocities, particularly because some reactionary Jews use these memories to legitimate human rights violations against Palestinians — as though they were still fighting the Nazis, as though shooting Palestinians angered by expulsion from or Israeli occupation of their homeland could somehow compensate for our own failure to have taken up arms soon enough against the Nazi oppressors. Others use the violence done to us as an excuse to be insensitive to the violence done to others — as though our pain was the only pain — or to legitimate a general “goyim-bashing” attitude based on a total distrust of non-Jews. But though the memories of past oppression are sometimes misused to support insensitivity to others, it is still right for us to talk about our pain, what was done to us, how unspeakable, how outrageous.
Permitting ourselves to articulate our anger — rather than trying to bury it, forget it, or minimize it — is the only way that we can get beyond it. So, tonight it is appropriate to speak about our history, about the Holocaust, and about the ways that the American government and peoples around the world failed to respond to our cries and our suffering. What was done to us was wrong, disgusting, an assault on the sanctity of human life and on God.
It is with righteous indignation that Jews have traditionally called out “Shefokh Chamatkha ha’goyim aher lo yeda’ukha” — pour out your wrath, God, on those people who have acted toward us in a way that fails to recognize Your holy spirit within us as it is within all human beings. Tonight we reaffirm our commitment to the messianic vision of a world of peace and justice, in which inequalities have been abolished and our human capacities for love and solidarity and creativity and freedom are allowed to flourish, in which all people will recognize and affirm in each other the spirit of God. In that day, living in harmony with nature and with each other, all peoples will participate in acknowledging God’s presence on earth. We remain committed to the struggles in our own time that will contribute to making that messianic vision possible someday.
Al nah tomar heeney darkee ha’achrona
Et or ha yom heesteru shmey ha’ananah
Zeh yom nichsafnu lo od ya’al veyavo
Umitz adeynu ode yareem ANACHNU POE
Do not say that we have reached the end of hope
Though clouds of darkness makes it hard for us to cope
The time of peace, justice and loving is still near,
Our people lives! We proudly shout that WE ARE HERE.
WELCOMING THE POSSIBILITY OF THE MESSIANIC AGE
We open the door for Elijah — the prophet who heralds the coming of the Messiah and a world in which all peoples will coexist peacefully — acknowledging the Image of God in one another. To deny the possibility of fundamental transformation, to be stuck in the pain of past oppression, or to build our religion around memories of the Holocaust and other forms of suffering is to give the ultimate victory to those who oppressed us. To testify to God’s presence in the world is to insist on shifting our focus from pain to hope, and to dedicate our energies to transforming this world and ourselves. We still believe in a world based on love, generosity, and openheartedness. We continue to affirm the Unity of All Being.
Eliyahu ha navee Eliyahu HaTishbee Eliyahu
Eliyahu Eliyahu HaGeeladee
Beem heyrah beyameynu, Yavoe eyleynu eem
mashi’ach ben David
Miriyam Ha nivi’ah Oz vezimrah beyadah
Miriyam Miriyam le taken ha’olam
Beem heyrah beyameynu Tavoe eileynu eem
Now let us build together a communal vision of what messianic redemption would look like.
Close your eyes and let some picture of messianic redemption appear in your minds. Then, open your eyes and share with others your picture of the world we want to build together.
Imagine there’s all kindness, it’s easy if you try
No Hell below us, above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for, and no oppression too.
Imagine all the people, living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us…and the world will be as one.
Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger, a sisterhood of man.
Imagine all the people, sharing all the world
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.
Imagine love is flowing, no scarcity of care
Holiness surrounds us, the sacred everywhere
Imagine awe and wonder, replacing greed and fear.
You may say we’re all dreamers, but we’re not the only ones
Tikkun and Spirit soaring, and the world will live as one!
Blessing over the fourth cup of wine.
Sing songs of liberation!