This book is a Haggadah which means “telling.” Tonight we will be participating in a Seder which means, “order”. Through this traditionally ordered ritual meal we will retell the story of the Israelites’ journey out of Egypt, eat foods that symbolize Pesach's many messages, and teach each other the traditions of Pesach, first celebrated more than 3,000 years ago.
An ancient rabbinic text instructs us, “Each person in every generation must regard himself or herself as having been personally freed from Egypt” for the Seder to be successful.
Tonight’s Seder is not just the retelling of an ancient story. Rather, we are asked to actually experience and acknowledge the bitterness of oppression and the sweetness of freedom so we may better understand the hope and courage of all people of all generations in their quest for liberty and human rights.
Nothing on the Seder table is selected randomly; each item has it’s purpose and often it’s specific place. The Seder plate holds the ritual items that are discussed during the Seder: the shankbone, maror, charoset, karpas and a roasted egg.
One of the most striking symbols of Passover is the roasted lamb shankbone (called zeroah), which commemorates the paschal (lamb) sacrifice made the night the ancient Hebrews fled Egypt. Some say it symbolizes the outstretched arm of HaShem (the Hebrew word zeroah can mean “arm”). Many vegetarians use a carrot instead. This isn’t a new idea; the great Biblical commentator Rashi suggested it back in the eleventh century.
MAROR (BITTER HERB)
Bitter herbs (usually horseradish) bring tears to the eyes and recall the bitterness of slavery. The Seder refers to the slavery in Egypt, but people are called to look at their own bitter enslavements.
There’s nothing further from maror than charoset (“cha-ROH-set”), the sweet salad of apples, nuts, grape juice or wine and cinnamon that represents the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to make bricks.
Karpas is a green vegetable, usually parsley (though any spring green will do). Karpas symbolizes the freshness of spring. Some families still use boiled potatoes for karpas, continuing a tradition from Eastern Europe where it was difficult to obtain fresh green vegetables. We dip the karpas in salt water before eating them to remind ourselves of the bitter tears that were shed by the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt.
The roasted egg (baytsah) is a symbol in many different cultures, usually signifying springtime and renewal. Here it stands in place of one of the sacrificial offerings which was performed in the days of the Second Temple. (So glad we don't do that anymore!)
The tradition of putting an orange on the seder plate in is a response to a rabbi who told a young girl that a woman belongs on a bimah as much as an orange on a Seder plate. The orange is now said to be a symbol of the fruitfulness of all Jews, whether they be gay, straight, male or female.
Some Jews have begun putting an olive on the seder plate to symbolize the hope that one day soon Israeli and Palestinian will be able to live side-by-side in peace.
Judaism gives us many holidays to celebrate throughout the year and they are all times for self reflection, gently guiding us to a better path in life. We are each given a chance to reflect on our past year; to think about where we have been and how we will live our lives in the year to come. We reaffirm our commitment to lead good and meaningful lives, promoting peace wherever we can.
Chametz is made from one of these five grains: wheat, barley, oats, spelt or rye. Matzah MUST be made from one of these five grains. The word chametz חָמץ is derived from the common Semitic root H-M-S, relating to bread, leavening and baking. It is cognate to the Aramaic חמע, "to ferment, leaven" and the Arabicحمض ḥ amu ḍ a, "to be sour", "to become acidic".
The Torah has several commandments governing chametz during Passover:
Exodus 12:15 "Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; howbeit the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel."
טו שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, מַצּוֹת תֹּאכֵלוּ--אַךְ בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, תַּשְׁבִּיתוּ שְּׂאֹר מִבָּתֵּיכֶם: כִּי כָּל-אֹכֵל חָמֵץ, וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל--מִיּוֹם הָרִאשֹׁן, עַד-יוֹם הַשְּׁבִעִי
From the moment that water touches the flour made of these grains, the matzah must be rolled out and baked within 18 minutes.
What is the reason we eat matzah? Because there was insufficient time for our ancestors' dough to become leavened as they left Egypt. As it says: "The dough, which they brought out of Egypt, they baked into unleavened bread, because they were driven out from Egypt and they were not able to delay, and they had not prepared any provisions." (Exodus 12:39)
But why is matzah so basic to the celebration of Passover? Why is Passover called Chag HaMatzos, "the Holiday of Matzos" by the Torah? Why is this simple food a foundation of Jewish experience and ideology? Why has matzah come to symbolize human freedom?
Matzah has many aspects. It is the "bread of affliction," poor man's bread, eaten by slaves. It is also the bread of liberation and freedom. Let's attempt to plumb its many meanings.
Passover enables us to undergo a personal exodus from Egypt by transcending our individual limits. Accordingly, HaShem gave us the mitzvah of eating matzah to help us internalize that experience. For our food is assimilated into our bodies, becoming part of our flesh and blood. Eating matzah thus converts the experience of self-transcendence into an integral part of our beings.
The Sages taught that the "puffed up" nature of chametz symbolizes the character trait of arrogance and conceit. The flat, unleavened matzah represents total humility. Humility is the beginning of liberation and the foundation of internal growth. Only a person who can acknowledge his shortcomings can free himself from his own limitations. When we eat matzah, we internalize the quality of humility. By not eating chamtez, we rid ourselves of arrogance and self-centeredness.
Wine is considered a royal drink, one that symbolizes freedom. It is the appropriate beverage for the nights when we celebrate our freedom from Egyptian bondage.
Many reasons are given for drinking four cups of wine. Here are some of them:
When promising to deliver the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery, HaShem used four terms to describe the redemption (Exodus 6: 6-8): a) "I shall take you out..." b) "I shall rescue you..." c) "I shall redeem you..." d) "I shall bring you..."
We were also liberated from Pharaoh's four evil decrees: a) Slavery b) The ordered murder of all Hebrew males by the Hebrew midwives c) The drowning of all Hebrew boys in the Nile by the Egyptians and d) The decree ordering the Israelites to collect their own straw for use in their brick production.
Although there is a long tradition of drinking wine for celebrations if one has found that drinking does not make them joyous it is perfectly fine to drink grape juice instead.
The following Seder is for a weeknight. (On Shabbat we add the words in parentheses)
רָיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי. וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאַָם. וַיְכַל אֱלֹקִים בַּיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה. וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אוֹתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר בֶָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת
(Vay'hi erev vay'hi voker yom hashi-shi. Vay'chulu hashamayim v'ha-aretz v’choltzva’am. Vay’chal Elohim bayom hashvi’i, m'lachto asher asah, vayishbot bayom hashvi-i, mikol-mlachto asher asah. Vay'vareich Elohim, et-yom hashvi’i, vay'kadeish oto, ki vo shavat mikol-mlachto, asher-bara Elohim la-asot.)
(“And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Now the heavens and all their host were completed. And on the seventh day G-d finished His work of creation which He had made. And G-d blessed the seventh day and made it holy, for on that day G-d rested from His work and ceased creating.)
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָפֶן
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei p'ri hagafen.
Praised are you, Adonai, Lord our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who has created the fruit of the vine.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר בָּנוּ מִכָּל עָם וְרוֹמְמָנוּ מִכָּל לָשׁוֹן וְקִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו. וַתִּתֶּן לָנוּ יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ בְּאַהֲבָה (שַׁבָּתוֹת לִמְנוּחָה וּ) מוֹעֲדִים לְשִׂמְחָה, חַגִּים וּזְמַנִּים לְשָׂשׂוֹן, אֶת יוֹם (הַשַׁבָּת הַזֶה וְאֶת יוֹם) חַג הַמַצוֹת הַזֶה, זְמַן חֵרוּתֵנוּ (בְּאַהֲבָה), מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ, זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם. כִּי בָנוּ בָחַרְתָּ וְאוֹתָנוּ קִדַּשְׁתָּ מִכָּל הָעַמִּים, (וְשַׁבָּת) וּמוֹעֲדֵי קָדְשֶךָ (בְּאַהֲבָה וּבְרָצוֹן,) בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְשָׂשׂוֹן הִנְחַלְתָּנוּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי, מְקַדֵּשׁ (הַשַׁבָּת וְ) יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהַזְּמַנִּים.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher bachar banu mikol’am, v'rom'manu mikol-lashon, v'kid'shanu b'mitzvotav, vatiten-lanu Adonai Eloheinu b'ahavah (shabatot limnuchah u) moadim l'simchah, chagim uz'manim l'sason et-yom (hashabat hazeh v'et-yom) chag hamatzot hazeh. Z'man cheiruteinu, (b'ahavah,) mikra kodesh, zeicher litziat mitzrayim. Ki vanu vacharta v'otanu kidashta mikol ha’amim. (v'shabat) umo’adei kod’shecha (b'ahavah uv'ratzon) b'simchah uv'sason hinchaltanu. Baruch atah Adonai, m'kadeish (h’shabbat v') Yisrael v'hazmanim.
Praised are you, Adonai, Lord our G-d, Ruler of the universe, Who has chosen us from among all people, and languages, and made us holy through Your mitzvot, giving us lovingly [Shabbat for rest] festivals for joy, and special times for celebration, this [Shabbat and this] Passover, this [given in love] this sacred gathering to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. You have chosen us, You have shared Your holiness with us among all other peoples. For with [Shabbat and] festive revelations of Your holiness, happiness and joy You have granted us [lovingly] joyfully the holidays. Praised are you, Adonai, Who sanctifies [Shabbat], Israel and the festivals.
On Saturday night include the following section:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא מְאוֹרֵי הָאֵשׁ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַמַבְדִיל בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְחֹל, ין אוֹר לְחשֶׁךְ, בֵּין יִשְׂרָאֵל לָעַמִּים, בֵּין יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לְשֵׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה. בֵּין קְדֻשַּׁת שַׁבָּת לִקְדֻשַּׁת יוֹם טוֹב הִבְדַּלְתָּ, וְאֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִשֵּׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה קִדַּשְׁתָּ. הִבְדַּלְתָּ וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ אֶת עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּקְדֻשָּׁתֶךָ. ,בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי הַמַּבְדִיל בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְקֹדֶשׁ
( Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei m'orei ha-eish.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, hamavdil bein kodesh l'chol bein or l'choshech, bein Yisrael la-amim, bein yom hashvi-i l'sheishet y'mei hama-aseh. Bein k'dushat shabat likdushat yom tov hivdalta. V'et-yom hashvi-i misheishet y'mei hama-aseh kidashta. Hivdalta v'kidashta et-am'cha yisra-eil bikdushatecha. Baruch atah Adonai, hamavdil bein kodesh l'kodesh.)
(Praised are You Adonai our God Lord of the universe who created the lights of fire.
Praised are you, Adonai, Lord our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who makes a distinction between the holy and profane, light and darkness, Israel and the nations, Shabbat and the six workdays. You have made a distinction between the holiness of Shabbat and the holiness of the festival, and You have sanctified Shabbat above the six work-days. You have set apart and made holy Your people Israel with your holiness. Praised are you, Adonai, who distinguishes between degrees of sanctity.)
Say this Shehechiyanu blessing the first Seder night only:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶה
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam,
she’hecheyanu v'ki'manu v'higi-anu laz'man hazeh.
Praised are you, Adonai, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe,
who has sustained us, maintained us and enabled us to reach this moment in life.
Slaves eat quickly, stopping neither to wash nor to reflect. Tonight, we are free. We wash and we express our reverence for the blessings that are ours.
Pass a bowl of water, a small cup and a towel around the table. Everyone pours three cupfuls over their fingers. There is no blessing over this washing.
Passover, like many of our holidays, combines the celebration of an event from our Jewish memory with a recognition of the cycles of nature. As we remember the liberation from Egypt, we also recognize the stirrings of spring and rebirth happening in the world around us. The symbols on our table bring together elements of both kinds of celebration.
We now take a vegetable, representing our joy at the dawning of spring after our long, cold winter. Most families use a green vegetable, such as parsley or celery, but some families from Eastern Europe have a tradition of using a boiled potato since greens were hard to come by at Passover time. Whatever symbol of spring and sustenance we’re using, we now dip it into salt water, a symbol of the tears our ancestors shed as slaves. Before we eat it, we recite a short blessing:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree ha-adama.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruits of the earth.
There are three pieces of matzah stacked on the table. In a moment we will break the middle matzah into two pieces. We recognize that liberation is made by imperfect people, often fragmented and broken. Moses himself had led a life rife with difficulties and did not feel he was up for the task HaShem asked of him. What if Moses had never gone back to Egypt?
We eat matzah in memory of the quick departure of our ancestors from Egypt. As slaves, they had faced many false starts before finally being let go. So when the word of their freedom came, they took whatever dough they had and ran with it before it had the chance to rise, leaving it looking something like matzah.
Uncover and hold up the three pieces of matzah and say:
Ha lachma anya d’achaloo avhatana b’ara d’meetzrayeem. Kol dichfeen yay-tay vi’yachool, kol deetzreech yay-tay viyeesfsach. Hashata hach. Li’shana ha-ba-aa bi’arah di’yeesrael. Hashata av’day, li’shana ha-ba a bi’nay choreen.
This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and celebrate Passover. Today we are here. Next year, in the land of Israel. Today we are slaves. Next year, we will be free!
Written in Aramaic, this statement begins the narration of the Seder by inviting the hungry to our table. Aramaic, Jewish legend has it, is the one language which the angels do not understand. Why then is Ha Lachma spoken in Aramaic? To teach us that where there is hunger, no one should rely upon the angels, no one should pray to the heavens for help. We know the language of the poor, for we were poor in the land of Egypt. We know that we are called to feed the poor and to call them to join our celebration of freedom.
(Break the middle matzah and place the smaller piece back in between the two unbroken matzah. Place the larger piece in a cloth or Afikomen bag and place it on your shoulder and recite:
In haste did we go out of Egypt!
Now hide the Afikomen (literally “dessert” in Greek). After dinner, the children will have to hunt for the afikomen in order to wrap up the meal… and win a prize.
Pour the second glass of wine for everyone.
The Haggadah doesn’t tell the story of Passover in a linear fashion. We don’t hear of Moses being found by the daughter of Pharaoh – actually, we don’t hear much of Moses at all. Instead, we get an impressionistic collection of songs, images, and stories of both the Exodus from Egypt and from Passover celebrations through the centuries. Some say that minimizing the role of Moses keeps us focused on the miracles HaShem performed for us. Others insist that we keep the focus on the role that every member of the community has in bringing about positive change.
בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ, כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרָֽיִם
B’chol dor vador chayav adam lirot et-atzmo, k’ilu hu yatzav mimitzrayim.
In every generation, everyone is obligated to see themselves as though they personally left Egypt.
The seder reminds us that it was not only our ancestors whom God redeemed; God redeemed us too along with them. That’s why the Torah says “God brought us out from there in order to lead us to and give us the land promised to our ancestors.”
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who redeemed us and our ancestors from Egypt, enabling us to reach this night and eat matzah and bitter herbs. May we continue to reach future holidays in peace and happiness.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Drink the second glass of wine reclining!
The formal telling of the story of Passover is framed as a discussion with lots of questions and answers. The tradition that the youngest person asks the questions reflects the centrality of involving everyone in the seder. The rabbis who created the set format for the seder gave us the Four Questions to help break the ice in case no one had their own questions. Asking questions is a core tradition in Jewish life. If everyone at your seder is around the same age, perhaps the person with the least seder experience can ask them – or everyone can sing them all together.
מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילות
Ma nishtana halaila hazeh mikol haleilot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכלין חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלּוֹ מצה
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin chameitz u-matzah. Halaila hazeh kulo matzah.
On all other nights we eat both leavened bread and matzah. Tonight we only eat matzah.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין שְׁאָר יְרָקוֹת הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מָרוֹר
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin shi’ar yirakot haleila hazeh maror.
On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight we eat bitter herbs.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אֵין אָֽנוּ מַטְבִּילִין אֲפִילוּ פַּֽעַם אחָת הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה שְׁתֵּי פְעמים
Shebichol haleilot ain anu matbilin afilu pa-am echat. Halaila hazeh shtei fi-amim.
On all other nights we aren’t expected to dip our vegetables one time. Tonight we do it twice.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין בֵּין יוֹשְׁבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִּין. :הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלָּֽנוּ מְסֻבין
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin bein yoshvin uvein m’subin. Halaila hazeh kulanu m’subin.
On all other nights we eat either sitting normally or reclining. Tonight we recline.
The answers provided to the four sons are found in four separate parts of the Torah. Four times we are told to relate the story of the Exodus to our children, and in each place we are told to tell it differently in response to a different style question (or in one instance, no question at all). The authors of the Haggadah, therefore, understood these passages as guidance in relating to four types of children.
Here are the sources in the Torah:
The wise son is found in Deuteronomy 6:20-23. Note the lengthy and detailed question and answer: " What are the testimonies, the statutes, and the ordinances, which the L-rd ourG‑d has commanded you?" You shall say to your son, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the L-rd took us out of Egypt with a strong hand. And the L-rd gave signs and wonders, great and terrible, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon his entire household, before our eyes. And he brought us out of there, in order that He might bring us and give us the land which He swore to our fathers... "
The wicked son is addressed in Exodus 12:26-27. Note the aloof terseness of his question and his sarcastic tone: "What is this service to you?" removing himself from the matter:
And it will come to pass if your children say to you, "What is this service to you?" You shall say, "It is a Passover sacrifice to the L-rd, for He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, and He saved our houses."
The simple son's question, and the appropriate simplistic response, is found in Exodus 13:14. Note the simple exchange:
And it will come to pass if your son asks you in the future, saying, "What is this?" You shall say to him, "With a mighty hand did the L-rd take us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
The son with whom the parent must initiate the discussion is addressed in Exodus 13:8
And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, "Because of this, the L-rd did [this] for me when I went out of Egypt."
Once upon a time our people went into exile in the land of Egypt. During a famine our ancestor Jacob and his family fled to Egypt where food was plentiful. His son Joseph had risen to high position in Pharaoh’s court interpreting dreams, and our people were well-respected and well-regarded, secure in the power structure of the time.
Generations passed and our people remained in Egypt.
In time, a new Pharaoh ascended to the throne. This Pharaoh did not know Joseph.
And this Pharaoh said, "Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, and they will join those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land." So taskmasters were appointed over them and compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously. They made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more Pharaoh afflicted the Hebrews, the more they multiplied.
So Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives Shifrah and Puah to kill all newborn male Hebrew babies. But the midwives defied Pharaoh’s orders telling him, “The Hebrew women are so strong they give birth before we even arrive!”
So then the Pharaoh commanded, "Every Hebrew son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive."
But through the courage of the midwives a boy survived. The midrash tells us he was “radiant with light”.
Fearing for his safety, his family placed him in a basket and he floated down the Nile. He was found, and adopted, by Pharaoh’s daughter, who named him Moshe (Moses) because min ha-mayim m’shitihu, from the water she drew him forth. She hired his mother Yocheved as his wet-nurse. Thus he survived to adulthood, and was raised as Prince of Egypt.
Although a child of privilege, as he grew he became aware of the slaves who worked in the brickyards of his father. When he saw an overseer mistreat a slave, he struck the overseer and killed him. Fearing retribution, he set out across the Sinai alone.
HaShem spoke to him from a burning bush, which though it flamed was not consumed. The Voice called him to lead the Hebrew people to freedom. Moses argued with G-d, pleading inadequacy, but G-d disagreed. Sometimes our responsibilities choose us.
Moses returned to Egypt and went to Pharaoh to argue the injustice of slavery.
He gave Pharaoh a mandate which resounds through history: “Let my people go!”
Pharaoh refused, and Moses warned him that Mighty G-d would strike the Egyptian people.
These threats were not idle: ten terrible plagues were unleashed upon the Egyptians. Only when his nation lay in ruins did Pharaoh agree to our liberation.
Fearful that Pharaoh would change his mind, our people fled, not waiting for their bread dough to rise. For this reason we eat unleavened bread as we take part in their journey. Our people did not leave Egypt alone; a “mixed multitude” went with them. From this we learn that liberation is not for us alone, but for all the nations of the earth.
The midrash tells us even Pharaoh’s daughter came with us, and traded her old title ( bat-Pharaoh, daughter of Pharaoh) for the name Batya, “daughter of G-d.”
Pharaoh’s army followed us to the Red Sea. Moses raised his arms and G-d parted the waters so we could escape on dry land as the Egyptians pursued us. When we had safely made it to the other side the Moses lowered his arms and the waves came crashing down on Pharaoh’s army. We mourn, even now, that Pharaoh’s army drowned: our liberation is bittersweet because people died in our pursuit.
To this day we relive our liberation, that we may not become complacent, that we may always rejoice in our freedom.
Five rabbis, living under the Roman oppression in the second century, gather for a Seder and lose track of the time, until reminded by their students that dawn has come. Some scholars suggest that they used this Seder, with its themes of liberation from oppression, to plan a revolution. With their students posted as look-outs to warn of the approach of Roman authorities, the debate raged all night long:
Pacifism or militant revolt? Is there a right time to take up arms against an enemy? Do the ends of revolution justify the means of violence? Is war ever justified? Does Judaism require political freedom, political power to survive? May we step away from the world of politics and practice our spirituality, oblivious to the material conditions of human existence? Or is our spirituality tied intimately to the real lives of our people? Perhaps it was the passion of their teachers in debate, that moved the students to exclaim: Dawn has arrived!
A story is told of Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Akiba, and Rabbi Tarfon, who were sitting at a Seder in B'nay Brock. All night long, they told the story of the Exodus from Egypt until their students came and said to them: “Our teachers, dawn has broken, it is time to say the morning prayer!”
As we rejoice at our deliverance from slavery, we acknowledge that our freedom was hard-earned. We regret that our freedom came at the cost of the Egyptians’ suffering, for we are all human beings made in the image of G-d. We pour out a drop of wine for each of the plagues as we recite them.
Dip a finger or a spoon into your wine glass for a drop for each plague.
These are the ten plagues which God brought down on the Egyptians:
Blood | dam | דָּם
Frogs | tzfardeiya | צְפַרְדֵּֽעַ
Lice | kinim | כִּנִּים
Beasts | arov | עָרוֹב
Cattle disease | dever | דֶּֽבֶר
Boils | sh’chin | שְׁחִין
Hail | barad | בָּרָד
Locusts | arbeh | אַרְבֶּה
Darkness | choshech | חֹֽשֶׁךְ
Death of the Firstborn | makat b’chorot | מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת
The Egyptians needed ten plagues because after each one they were able to come up with excuses and explanations rather than change their behavior. Could we be making the same mistakes? What are the plagues in your life? What are the plagues in our world today? What behaviors do we need to change to fix them?
As we now transition from the formal telling of the Passover story to the celebratory meal, we once again wash our hands to prepare ourselves. In Judaism, a good meal together with friends and family is itself a sacred act, so we prepare for it just as we prepared for our holiday ritual, recalling the way ancient priests once prepared for service in the Temple.
Some people distinguish between washing to prepare for prayer and washing to prepare for food by changing the way they pour water on their hands. For washing before food, pour water three times on your right hand and then three times on your left hand.
After you have poured the water over your hands, recite this short blessing.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָֽיִם
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al n’tilat yadayim.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who made us holy through obligations, commanding us to wash our hands.
The familiar hamotzi blessing marks the formal start of the meal. Because we are using matzah instead of bread, we add a blessing celebrating this mitzvah.
בְָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּוֹצִיא לֶֽחֶם מִן הָאָֽרֶץ:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who brings bread from the land.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתַָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מַצָּה:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al achilat matzah.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who made us holy through obligations, commanding us to eat matzah.
(Distribute and eat the top and remaining middle matzah.)
Why do we eat maror?
Tradition says that this bitter herb is to remind us of the time of our slavery.
As we take some maror and place it on a piece of matzah let us remember the saying of one of our sages in Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers):
TO BE FULLY HUMAN (Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 2.6)
Where people are less than human, strive to be fully human.
When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the biggest ritual of them all was eating the lamb offered as the pesach or Passover sacrifice. The great sage Hillel would put the meat in a sandwich made of matzah, along with some of the bitter herbs. While we do not make sacrifices any more – and, in fact, some Jews have a custom of purposely avoiding lamb during the seder so that it is not mistaken as a sacrifice – we honor this custom by eating a sandwich of the remaining matzah and bitter herbs. Some people will also include charoset in the sandwich to remind us that HaShem’s kindness helped relieve the bitterness of slavery.
"And the proof that God had entered into Moses, and that Moses had really been 'converted,' was that he had to go back and identify himself with his enslaved people 'organize them into Brickmakers' Union Number One' and lead them out of hunger and slavery into freedom and into 'a good land, and a large, a land flowing with milk and honey."' (A. J. Muste , 1943).
We will now drink our third cup of wine, which represents God's promise to redeem his people from Egypt. Please read the bolded text together with us:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise God, Spirit of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
The Jews in Egypt had a peculiar local custom. Each participant would sling the napkin containing the matzah over their right shoulder. Then the leader of the seder would ask them "Where are you from?", and they would answer "Mitzrayim -- Egypt". The leader would then ask again, "And where are you going?". They would then sling the napkin of matzah over their left shoulder and answer: "Yerushalayim -- Jerusalem!".
In some families, the leader would take the seder tray and go around chanting and lightly banging the tray over each of the participant's heads! Some say this is to place each person under the "protection" symbolized by the seder plate. Each person was "passed over", as it were!
By Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rabbi Lauren Holzblatt
On Passover, Jews are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus and to see ourselves as having lived through that story, so that we may better learn how to live our lives today. The stories we tell our children shape what they believe to be possible—which is why at Passover, we must tell the stories of the women who played a crucial role in the Exodus narrative.
The Book of Exodus, much like the Book of Genesis, opens in pervasive darkness. Genesis describes the earth as “unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep.” In Exodus, darkness attends the accession of a new Pharaoh who feared the Israelites and so enslaved them. God alone lights the way out of the darkness in Genesis. But in Exodus, God has many partners, first among them, five brave women.
There is Yocheved, Moses’ mother, and Shifra and Puah, the famous midwives. Each defies Pharaoh’s decree to kill the Israelite baby boys. And there is Miriam, Moses’ sister, about whom the following midrash is taught:
When Miriam’s only brother was Aaron she prophesied… “my mother is destined to bear a son who will save Israel.” When Moses was born the whole house… filled with light. Miriam’s father arose and kissed her on the head, saying, “My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled.” But when they threw Moses into the river her father tapped her on the head saying, “Daughter, where is your prophecy?” So it is written, “And Miriam stood afar off to know what would be come of the latter part of her prophecy.”
Finally, there is Pharaoh’s daughter Batya, who defies her own father and plucks baby Moses out of the Nile. The Midrash reminds us that Batya knew exactly what she doing:
When Pharaoh’s daughter’s handmaidens saw that she intended to rescue Moses, they attempted to dissuade her, and persuade her to heed her father. They said to her: “Our mistress, it is the way of the world that when a king issues a decree, it is not heeded by the entire world, but his children and the members of his household do observe it, and you wish to transgress your father’s decree?”
But transgress she did.
These women had a vision leading out of the darkness shrouding their world. They were women of action, prepared to defy authority to make their vision a reality bathed in the light of the day.
Retelling the heroic stories of Yocheved, Shifra, Puah, Miriam and Batya reminds our daughters that with vision and the courage to act, they can carry forward the tradition those intrepid women launched.
While there is much light in today’s world, there remains in our universe disheartening darkness, inhumanity spawned by ignorance and hate. We see horrific examples in the Middle East, parts of Africa, and the Ukraine. The Passover story recalls to all of us—women and men—that with vision and action we can join hands with others of like mind, kindling lights along paths leading out of the terrifying darkness.
1 Genesis 1:2 2 Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 14a 3 Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 12b
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Appointed by President Clinton in 1993, she is known as a strong voice for gender equality, the rights of workers, and separation between church and state.
Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt is a rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.. She is co-creator of two nationally recognized community engagement projects—MakomDC and the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington.
Opening the door for Elijah
Elijah lived centuries after the Exodus.
There is no connection between his actions and the Jews leaving Egypt. Yet he has become one of the central figures and symbols of the Passover Seder. Moses - the hero of the Exodus - is practically never mentioned. Yet we all know about Elijah's cup and opening the door for Elijah.
We pour the cup but do not drink it. We open the door but no one comes in.
The prophet Malachi says: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and awesome day of God. And he will turn the heart of fathers to their children and the heart of children to their fathers . . . "
Elijah brings together the hearts of people and generations. Elijah is the peacemaker in a world of strife and discord. Opening the door for Elijah is a harbinger of the future redemption to come.
The Seder is not about a single moment of redemption that occurred thousands of years ago. By remembering the exodus from Egypt, we rekindle our hope in the ultimate breakthrough - however long it takes - to peace and harmony.
Elijah is the messenger of hope.
This cup is Elijah's cup. In setting this cup at our table, we invite Elijah to join us, and we bring his passion for justice into our lives. But the cup is empty. No one has yet stepped forward to fill it.
According to Hasidic custom begun at the table of the master Rabbi Naftali of Ropschutz, we pass Elijah's cup from person to person at the table, each person pouring a little wine into Elijah's cup from our own cups, until it is filled. In this way we recognize that we must act together, each contributing our best talents and energies, to bring Elijah's promise to the world. Only through the efforts of our hands will the world be redeemed. We open the door, we stand, and we sing of the Jewish dream of freedom.
Eliyahu, Eliyahu, Eliahu ha-giladi.
Bimhera biyamenu, yavo aylenu, Im Mashiach ben David, Im Mashiach ben David.
Legend relates that Elijah enters the world each day in disguise, waiting for someone to do him a simple act of kindness.That one, caring act will trigger the redemption of the world. Where is Elijah? He could be anywhere or anyone.
In the Dayenu hymn, sung at the Passover Seder, we enumerate fifteen things that G‑d did for us when He liberated us from Egypt and took us to be His chosen people. We thank G‑d for each of these things individually, recognizing each as a distinct and unique gift. Thus we say: "If He had taken us out of Egypt, but had not punished [the Egyptians] -- it would have sufficed for us...." "If He had fed us the manna, but had not given us the Shabbat -- it would have sufficed for us...." and so on.
In the stanza that relates to the Splitting of the Sea, we sing:
If He had split the sea for us, but did not take us across it on dry land--it would have sufficed for us
Many of the commentaries on the Haggadah are puzzled by the meaning of these lines: what does it mean that it would have sufficed for us if G‑d had split the sea for us but did not take us across it on dry land? Of what use would the splitting of the sea have been to us, had it not enabled us to cross to the other side and escape Pharaoh's pursuing armies?
The Avudraham (classic commentary on the Siddur by Rabbi DavidAvudraham, 14th-century Spain) explains that the emphasis is on the fact that we crossed the sea on dry land. In order to save us from the Egyptians, it would have been enough that the sea split and we trudged through the mud and silt that naturally covers the sea bottom. To show His love for His people, G‑d performed an additional miracle, making our path as dry and firm as land that has never been covered by water.
But the fifteen things enumerated by the author of Dayenu are not simply a list of miracles performed by G‑d in the course of the Exodus (of which there were many others), but major developments in Jewish history: the Exodus itself, the splitting of the sea, the manna, the giving of the Torah, the entry into the Holy Land, the building of the Holy Temple -- events that profoundly impacted our lives as Jews to this very day. What, then, is the lasting significance of the fact that not only did the sea split for us, but that it also revealed to us a wholly dry passage through its depths?
I will take you to be my people... ...
When we rise up from our Seder tables, let us commit ourselves to stamping out fear of the stranger and hatred in every place that it persists. Echoing G-d’s words when G-d said, “I take you to be my people,” let us say to those who seek safety in our midst, “we take you to be our people.” May we see past difference and dividing lines and remember, instead, that we were all created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of G-d. May we see welcoming the stranger at our doorstep not as a danger but as an opportunity – to provide safe harbor to those seeking refuge from oppression and tyranny, to enrich the fabric of our country and to live out our Jewish values in action. Blessed are You, Adonai Our G-d, who has created us all in Your image.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
Blessed are You, Ruler of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Nirtzah marks the conclusion of the seder. We have eaten and told stories and now it is time for the evening to come to a close. At the end of the seder, we honor the tradition of declaring, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
For some people, the recitation of this phrase expresses the anticipation of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah. For others, it is an affirmation of hope and of connectedness with Klal Yisrael, the whole of the Jewish community. Still others yearn for peace in Israel and for all those living in the Diaspora.
Though it comes at the end of the seder, this moment also marks a beginning. We are beginning the next season with a renewed awareness of the freedoms we enjoy and the obstacles we must still confront. We are looking forward to the time that we gather together again. Having retold stories of the Jewish people, recalled historic movements of liberation, and reflected on the struggles people still face for freedom and equality, we are ready to embark on a year that we hope will bring positive change in the world and freedom to people everywhere.
לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָׁלָֽיִם
L’shana haba-ah biy’rushalayim
NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM!
Exodus, all right! Movement of Jah people!
Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah! All right!
Exodus, Movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah!
Uh! Open your eyes and look within,
Are you satisfied (with the life you're living) Uh!
We know where we're going, uh!
We know where we're from.
We're leaving Babylon,
We're going to our Father land.
Two, three, four Exodus, movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah!
(Movement of Jah people!) Send us another brother Moses!
(Movement of Jah people!) From across the Red Sea!
(Movement of Jah people!) Send us another brother Moses!
(Movement of Jah people!) From across the Red Sea!
(Movement of Jah people!)