Come, let us gather as one, bound together by love and the shared hope that all Jews, and all people, will one day live free and in peace. Together, let us recall the story of Passover, relived time and again by Jews throughout the world. As we move through the Seder, reafﬁrming our belief in a faith so rich in history and life, may we take into our hearts the memory of all who have and continue to enrich our lives and remember those who still suffer the pain of war, oppression, tyranny, and prejudice.
- The Chaikin Family
Why is this haggadah different from all others? Because it holds the true meaning of Passover—that the liberation of all oppressed and enslaved people is God's will—above all other theological and political concerns.
This isn't the haggadah for Jews or Goyim or atheists or Christians or Fascists or Communists—this is the one for you, you who demands real justice for yourself and all the world. This is the haggadah for the people, all of us, and it was made with the knowledge that so long as one of us is shackled, none of us are free.
Go around the table doing introductions. Include your name, preferred gender pronouns, and your connection to the other people seated around the table.
The entire story of the Haggadah is contained in the Seder plate; everything on it symbolizes an aspect of Exodus:
Zeroa, a roasted bone or beet - evokes the offering made at the Temple in ancient times
Beitza, a boiled egg, symbolizes the circle of life and death
Maror, a bitter herb, reminds us of the bitterness of enslavement
Charoset, a mixture of fruit, nuts, wine and spices, represents the mortar our ancestors used to build the structures of Mitzrayim Karpas, a green vegetable, symbolizes hope and renewal.
Chazeret, the bitter herb for the “sandwich” we eat later, following the custom established by Hillel the Elder, as a reminder that our ancestors “ate matzah and bitter herbs together”
This year, our Seder plate has a new symbol – an olive. Why an olive?
Because, for slavery to be truly over, for a people to be truly free, we must know that we can feed ourselves and our children, today, tomorrow, and into the following generations. In the lands of Israel and Palestine, olive groves provide this security. When olive groves are destroyed, the past and future is destroyed. Without economic security, a people can much more easily be conquered, or enslaved.
And so this year, we eat an olive, to make real our understanding of what it means each time a bulldozer plows up a grove. Without the taste of olives, there will be no taste of freedom.
As we eat now, we ask one another: How will we, as Jews, bear witness to the unjust actions committed in our name? Will these olives inspire us to be bearers of peace and hope for Palestinians – and for all who are oppressed?
Keep one olive on the Seder plate, and pass out olives.
In the early 1980s, the Hillel Foundation invited me to speak on a panel at Oberlin College. While on campus, I came across a Haggadah that had been written by some Oberlin students to express feminist concerns. One ritual they devised was placing a crust of bread on the Seder plate, as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians (there’s as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the Seder plate).
At the next Passover, I placed an orange on our family’s seder plate. During the first part of the Seder, I asked everyone to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit, and eat it as a gesture of solidarity with Jewish lesbians and gay men, and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community (I mentioned widows in particular).
Bread on the Seder plate brings an end to Pesach – it renders everything hametz. And it suggests that being lesbian is being transgressive, violating Judaism. I felt that an orange was suggestive of something else: the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life. In addition, each orange segment had a few seeds that had to be spit out – a gesture of spitting out, repudiating the homophobia of Judaism.
When lecturing, I often mentioned my custom as one of the many new feminist rituals that have been developed in the last twenty years. Somehow, though, the typical patriarchal maneuver occurred: My idea of an orange and my intention of affirming lesbians and gay men were transformed. Now the story circulates that a man said to me that a woman belongs on the bimah as an orange on the seder plate. A woman’s words are attributed to a man, and the affirmation of lesbians and gay men is simply erased. Isn’t that precisely what’s happened over the centuries to women’s ideas?
Keep one orange on the Seder plate, and pass out orange slices.
Tonight we will drink not one cup of wine but four as we recount the journey from exodus to liberation, a journey that stops in many places along the way. We come first to the recognition of slavery, of degredation, of narrowness. Until we know the ways in which we are enslaved, we can never be free. We drink this first cup of wine in honor of awareness.
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei p’ri hagafen.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.
[After the blessing, drink a sip or the whole glass, however you prefer, and then refill.]
Pass the bowl & pitcher around the table, each pouring a few drops of water onto their neighbor’s hands.
Why are we washing our hands?
The term "delayed gratification" probably describes it best. We should be remembering what the slaves went through all those years ago, who weren't able to eat such delicious food whenever they wanted. We wash our hands to stave off the eating bit and keep ourselves hungry. Other rabbis disagree (of course) about the reason: they believe we wash our hands to replicate what everyone did in the days of the Holy Temple.
When we wash hands again later, just before eating the festive meal, we will say blessings to sanctify that act. Because the feast is still a few pages away, this handwashing is purely symbolic, and therefore the blessing is unspoken.
At this point in the seder, it is traditional to eat parsely dipped in salt water. Parsley represents rebirth, renewal and growth; the salt water represents the tears of enslavement.
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu ruach ha’olam, borei p’ri ha’adamah.
Blessed are you, Adonai, Breath of Life, creator of the fruit of the earth.
Everyone eats parsley dipped into salt water.
There are three pieces of matzah stacked on the table. We now break the middle matzah into two pieces. The host should wrap up the larger of the pieces and, at some point between now and the end of dinner, hide it. This piece is called the afikomen, literally “dessert” in Greek. After dinner, the guests will have to hunt for the afikomen in order to wrap up the meal… and win a prize.
We eat matzah in memory of the quick flight 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:
This is the bread of poverty which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry, come and eat; all who are needy, come and celebrate Passover with us. This year we are here; next year we will be in Israel. This year we are slaves; next year we will be free.
These days, matzah is a special food and we look forward to eating it on Passover. Imagine eating only matzah, or being one of the countless people around the world who don’t have enough to eat.
What does the symbol of matzah say to us about oppression in the world, both people literally enslaved and the many ways in which each of us is held down by forces beyond our control? How does this resonate with events happening now?
It is altogether proper that matzah is called the bread of affliction, because it has been afflicted more than any other foodstuff on earth. It is born in a searing-hot oven and then completely ignored for fifty-one weeks of the year while people walk around shamelessly eating leavened bread and crackers. Then, Passover rolls around, and it is smeared with various substances, ground up into balls, and, in the morning, fried up into a counterfeit version of French toast. Everyone eats it and nobody likes it, and there's always one last box that sits untouched in a cupboard for months afterward, lonely, broken, and utterly unloved.
Of course it is practically impossible for free and fortunate people such as ourselves to envision a life of slavery, but as an exercise in imagining our ancestors, place a large square of matzah in your mouth and eat it. Listen to the cacophonous crunches in your ears like the bowls of the slavedriver's whip. Feel the searing dryness in your mouth like the thirst of the Hebrew slaves for freedom. And then, with your mouth full of matzah, try to say the Shema and watch the particles of oppression scatter across the table. Slavery spreads like a spray of crumbs and it is very difficult to rid ourselves of slavery's great moral shame, which is why, even thousands of years after the Exodus, there are so many people enslaved, and why, even weeks after Passover, there are so many matzah crumbs in the house.
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.
Mah nishtanah ha-lailah ha-zeh mi-kol ha-lailot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
We know the traditional answers to this question: On this night, we eat matzah and bitter herbs, we dip and we recline. But this is not all, or even most, of what Passover is about.
On most other nights, we allow the news of tragedy in distant places to pass us by.
We succumb to compassion fatigue – aware that we cannot possibly respond to every injustice that arises around the world.
On this night, we are reminded that our legacy as the descendants of slaves creates in us a different kind of responsibility – we are to protect the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Let us add a fifth question to this year’s seder. Let us ask ourselves,
What must be done?
This year, this Passover, let us recommit to that sacred responsibility to protect the stranger, particularly those vulnerable strangers in faraway places whose suffering is so often ignored.
Let us infuse the rituals of the seder with action:
When tasting the matzah, the bread of poverty, let us find ways to help the poor and the hungry.
When eating the maror, let us commit to help those whose lives are embittered by disease.
When dipping to commemorate the blood that protected our ancestors against the Angel of Death, let us pursue protection for those whose lives are threatened by violence and conflict.
When reclining in celebration of our freedom, let us seek opportunities to help those who are oppressed.
At this season of liberation, join us in working for the liberation of all people. Help us respond to the seder’s questions with action and justice.
As we tell the story, we think about it from all angles. Our tradition speaks of four different types of children who might react differently to the Passover seder. It is our job to make our story accessible to all the members of our community, so we think about how we might best reach each type of child:
What does the wise child say?
The wise child asks, What are the testimonies and laws which God commanded you?
You must teach this child the rules of observing the holiday of Passover.
What does the wicked child say?
The wicked child asks, What does this service mean to you?
To you and not to himself! Because he takes himself out of the community and misses the point, set this child’s teeth on edge and say to him: “It is because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt.” Me, not him. Had that child been there, he would have been left behind.
What does the simple child say?
The simple child asks, What is this?
To this child, answer plainly: “With a strong hand God took us out of Egypt, where we were slaves.”
What about the child who doesn’t know how to ask a question?
Help this child ask.
Start telling the story:
“It is because of what God did for me in taking me out of Egypt.”
Do you see yourself in any of these children? At times we all approach different situations like each of these children. How do we relate to each of them?
Our story starts in ancient times, with Abraham, the first person to have the idea that maybe all those little statues his contemporaries worshiped as gods were just statues. The idea of one God, invisible and all-powerful, inspired him to leave his family and begin a new people in Canaan, the land that would one day bear his grandson Jacob’s adopted name, Israel.
God had made a promise to Abraham that his family would become a great nation, but this promise came with a frightening vision of the troubles along the way: “Your descendants will dwell for a time in a land that is not their own, and they will be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years; however, I will punish the nation that enslaved them, and afterwards they shall leave with great wealth."
Raise the glass of wine and say:
וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ וְלָֽנוּ
V’hi she-amda l’avoteinu v’lanu.
This promise has sustained our ancestors and us.
For not only one enemy has risen against us to annihilate us, but in every generation there are those who rise against us. But God saves us from those who seek to harm us.
The glass of wine is put down.
In the years our ancestors lived in Egypt, our numbers grew, and soon the family of Jacob became the People of Israel. Pharaoh and the leaders of Egypt grew alarmed by this great nation growing within their borders, so they enslaved us. We were forced to perform hard labor, perhaps even building pyramids. The Egyptians feared that even as slaves, the Israelites might grow strong and rebel. So Pharaoh decreed that Israelite baby boys should be drowned, to prevent the Israelites from overthrowing those who had enslaved them.
But God heard the cries of the Israelites. And God brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arm, with great awe, miraculous signs and wonders. God brought us out not by angel or messenger, but through God’s own intervention.
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 God. 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? Make up your own list. 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 all good term papers do, we start with the main idea:
ּעֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ הָיִינו. עַתָּה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין
Avadim hayinu hayinu. Ata b’nei chorin.
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. Now we are free.
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God took us from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. Had God not brought our ancestors out of Egypt, then even today we and our children and our grandchildren would still be slaves. Even if we were all wise, knowledgeable scholars and Torah experts, we would still be obligated to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt.
The plagues and our subsequent redemption from Egypt are but one example of the care God has shown for us in our history. Had God but done any one of these kindnesses, it would have been enough – dayeinu.
אִלּוּ הוֹצִיאָֽנוּ מִמִּצְרַֽיִם, דַּיֵּנוּ
Ilu hotzi- hotzianu, Hotzianu mi-mitzrayim Hotzianu mi-mitzrayim, Dayeinu
If God had only taken us out of Egypt, that would have been enough!
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָֽנוּ אֶת־הַתּוֹרָה, דַּיֵּנוּ
Ilu natan natan lanu, natan lanu et ha-Torah, Natan lanu et ha-Torah , Dayeinu
If God had only given us the Torah, that would have been enough.
The complete lyrics to Dayeinu tell the entire story of the Exodus from Egypt as a series of miracles God performed for us. (See the Additional Readings if you want to read or sing them all.)
Dayeinu also reminds us that each of our lives is the cumulative result of many blessings, small and large.
We have now told the story of Passover…but wait! We’re not quite done. There are still some symbols on our seder plate we haven’t talked about yet. Rabban Gamliel would say that whoever didn’t explain the shank bone, matzah, and marror (or bitter herbs) hasn’t done Passover justice.
The shank bone represents the Pesach, the special lamb sacrifice made in the days of the Temple for the Passover holiday. It is called the pesach, from the Hebrew word meaning “to pass over,” because God passed over the houses of our ancestors in Egypt when visiting plagues upon our oppressors.
The matzah reminds us that when our ancestors were finally free to leave Egypt, there was no time to pack or prepare. Our ancestors grabbed whatever dough was made and set out on their journey, letting their dough bake into matzah as they fled.
The bitter herbs provide a visceral reminder of the bitterness of slavery, the life of hard labor our ancestors experienced in Egypt.
The story of Passover may seem very remote to you, as it happened thousands of years ago, when the oldest people at your seder table were very, very young, and so many of the details of the story seem somewhat old-fashioned, such as the smearing of lamb’s blood over the doorway of one’s home, which has largely been replaced by signs warning away solicitors. But in fact, the story of liberation is one that is still going on, as people all over the world are still in bondage, and we wait and wait, as the Jews in Egypt waited, for the day when freedom will be spread all over the world like frosting on a well-made cake, rather than dabbed on here and there as if the baker were selflishly eating most of the frosting directly from the bowl. The story of Passover is a journey, and like most journeys, it is taking much longer than it ought to take, no matter how many times we stop and ask for directions. We must look upon ourselves as though we, too, were among those fleeing a life of bondage in Egypt and wandering the desert for years and years, which is why we are often so tired in the evenings and cannot always explain how we got to be exactly where we are. (Lemony Snicket, The New American Haggadah. P. 79)
"You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt." -- Shemot: 22:20
As we remember our own liberation from bondage in Egypt, we drink this cup of wine to honor those for whom the story of the Jewish exodus is a daily reality, in hope that they may find their freedom as we found ours. We as a people have stood in the shoes of the refugee. Just as we remember all of the times throughout history when the nations of the world shut their doors on Jews fleeing persecution in their homelands, so, too, do we remember with gratitude those who took us in during our times of need — the Ottoman Sultan who welcomed Spanish Jews escaping the Inquisition, Algerian Muslims who protected Jews during pogroms in the French Pied-Noir, and the righteous gentiles hiding Jews in their homes during World War II. Today, as we celebrate our freedom, we commit ourselves to standing with contemporary refugees. In honor of this commitment, we place a pair of shoes on our doorstep of this home to to pledge to stand in support of welcoming those who do not yet have a place to call home.
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.
We now take some maror and charoset and put them between two pieces of matzah and give the sandwich to the person on our left.
In combining maror with charoset, we recall our sage Hillel (head of the supreme council of Yisrael, 1st century B.C.E.) who, in remembrance of the loss of the Temple, created the Korech sandwich. He said that by eating the Korech, we would taste the bitterness of slavery mixed with the sweetness of freedom. This practice suggests that part of the challenge of living is to taste freedom even in the midst of oppression, and to be ever conscious of the oppression of others even when we feel that we are free.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am for myself only, what am I?
And if not now, when?
And if not with others, how? -- Adrienne Rich
Refill everyone’s wine glass.
We now say grace after the meal, thanking God for the food we’ve eaten. On Passover, this becomes something like an extended toast to God, culminating with drinking our third glass of wine for the evening:
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, whose goodness sustains the world. You are the origin of love and compassion, the source of bread for all. Thanks to You, we need never lack for food; You provide food enough for everyone. We praise God, source of food for everyone.
As it says in the Torah: When you have eaten and are satisfied, give praise to your God who has given you this good earth. We praise God for the earth and for its sustenance.
Renew our spiritual center in our time. We praise God, who centers us.
May the source of peace grant peace to us, to the Jewish people, and to the entire world. Amen.
The Third Glass of Wine
The blessing over the meal is immediately followed by another blessing over the wine:
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 third glass of wine!
(Reader should raise the empty water glass in the center of the table.)
Miriam's Cup is a newer object that is placed on the Seder table beside the Cup of Elijah to represent her importance -- and the importance of many women -- in the Passover story. Miriam's Cup is filled with water, rather than wine, to symbolize the well that was said to have followed Miriam throughout the desert and served as the main source of water during the Jews' 40 years of wandering. To emphasize the importance of Miriam's contribution to the story of Passover, everyone at the Seder table should fill her cup with a little water from their own water glass.
Pass the glass around so that each person can pour some of their water into Miriam's cup.
Filling Miriam's Cup is also a way of drawing attention to the importance of the other women of the Exodus story who have sometimes been overlooked but about whom our tradition says, "If it wasn't for the righteousness of women of that generation we would not have been redeemed from Egypt" (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 9b). In Exodus, God has many partners, including five brave women. There is Yocheved, Moses’ mother, who chooses to let her son, Moses, live; and Shifra and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who defy the Pharaoh's order to kill the first born sons of the Jews. Then there is Miriam, Moses’ sister, who ensures her brother's survival. Finally, there is Pharaoh’s daughter Batya, who defies her own father and plucks baby Moses out of the Nile. We place Miriam’s Cup on our Seder table to honor the important role of Jewish women in our tradition and history, whose stories have been too sparingly told.
Everyone take a sip of water from their own water glass!
CONSIDER: Thoughts about Mitzrayim and Yisrael
In the wake of the violence, turmoil, colonialist control, and ongoing Occupation, we want to acknowledge the distinction between “mitzrayim”- the narrow place- where the story we tell at Passover takes place and Egypt, the modern-day nation state. We are not conflating contemporary Egyptians with the pharaoh and taskmasters that appear in the Passover story. In the U.S., and worldwide, anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia saturate our media and our culture, and we must be vigilant to oppose it and interrupt it at every turn.
The word Yisrael (Israel) when found in the liturgy (religious text) does not refer to the modern nation/state of Israel, rather it derives from the blessing given to Ya’akov (Jacob) by a stranger with whom he wrestles all night. When the stranger is finally pinned, Ya’akov asks him for a blessing. The stranger says,“Your name will no longer be Ya’akov but Yisrael for you have wrestled with G-d and triumphed.” Therefore when we say “Yisrael” in prayer we are referring to being G-d-wrestlers, not Israelis.