Passover is a holiday about freedom. The Passover seder is a special ceremonial dinner in which we gather together to retell the story of the Israelite's freedom from bondage in Egypt. The Hebrew word for this Holiday, "Pesach" has two meanings. The first is "Passing over" and refers to the fact that the angel of death passed over the Israelite's homes. Pesach can also refer to the pascal lamb -- which was ritually sacrificed to protect the Israelites from the angel of death and then became part of early celebrations of Passover. We tell the story of Passover using a "Haggadah" a special book which serves as the narrative for the seder, and means, "Telling" in Hebrew.
Passover invites us to not only retell this story of freedom from slavery in the past, but to also consider the plight of those who are not free today and reminds us to be welcoming to those seeking freedom. Slavery can take many forms, including being treated outright as property, or being unjustly controlled through economics by those with more power. Many of us are descended from people who were once enslaved. Even with no personal experience of slavery, most beings seem to passionately want freedom. It matters that we take note of who and where others are not free, because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Let's remember those who are not currently free. Can you give an example of some one who is not free? (Go around room.)
The seder officially begins with a physical act: lighting the candles. Lighting candles and saying a blessing over them marks a time of transition, from the day that is ending to the one that is beginning, from ordinary time to sacred time. The flickering light reminds us of the importance of keeping the fragile flame of freedom alive in the world. As we light the candles, we notice that as they brighten our table, good thoughts, good words and good deeds brighten our lives.
(Light the candles and recite together) Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha'olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Yom Tov. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us with laws and commanded us to light the festival lights.
The Seder Plate
We place a Seder Plate at our table as a reminder to discuss certain aspects of the Passover story and the meaning of this holiday. Each item has its own significance.
Maror – The bitter herb. This symbolizes the harshness of lives of the Jews in Egypt.
Charoset – A delicious mix of sweet wine, apples, cinnamon and nuts that resembles the mortar used as bricks of the many buildings the Jewish slaves built in Egypt
Karpas – A green vegetable, usually parsley, is a reminder of the green sprouting up all around us during spring and is used to dip into the saltwater
Zeroah – A roasted beet in place of the traditional shank bone (historically from the pascal lamb) is a reminder of tenth plague and symbolizes the sacrifice made at the great temple on Passover. By using a bee in place of a bone, we express our desire to more fully embrace the spirit of passover: i.e. we recognize the injustice of slavery,and don't want body parts of enslaved others on our table.
Beitzah – An avocado pit evokes a sense of mourning for the destruction of the temple and replaces the traditional egg -- again so that we do not have products of slavery on our table.
Orange - The orange on the seder plate has come to symbolize full inclusion in modern day Judaism: not only for women, but also for people with disabilities, intermarried couples, and the LGBT Community.
Fair Trade Chocolate - Because chocolate produced today is well known for being produced using child-slave-labor, we have added a square of fair-trade chocolate to our seder plate as reminder of the importance that we make conscious choices to support what is just and fair.
Matzah is the unleavened bread we eat to remember that when the jews fled Egypt, they didn’t even have time to let the dough rise for their bread. According to tradition, and most rabbis, to be kosher for passover, Matzah must be made from wheat, rye, barley, spelt or oats. Since growing numbers of people cannot safely eat these grains, we may choose to serve a home made, gluten free matzo, a more, "inclusive option" enabling those who can't eat gluten to fully participate in our seder.
A fifth cup of wine poured during the Seder is left untouched in honor of Elijah, who, according to tradition, will arrive one day as an unknown guest to herald the advent of the Messiah. At one point during the Seder dinner, the door is briefly opened to welcome Elijah. This commemorates the historical redemption from Egyptian bondage of the Jewish people and reminds us of our future redemption.
This is newer Passover tradition. The cup is filled with water and placed next to Elijah’s cup. Miriam was the sister of Moses. After the exodus while wandering through the desert, legend says that a well of water followed Miriam. It was called ‘Miriam’s Well’. We seek to honor Miriam’s role and the spirit of all women, who nurture their families
Pesach is a time of inclusion.
On seder night, there are two moments where we metaphorically open our doors and invite others in. One is at the opening of the Magid portion of the seder, when we say, “All who are hungry come and eat.” Today especially this is an important message. We were once slaves; poor and hungry, we honor our redemption by sharing what we have with others.
The other, is when we open the door for Eijah the Prophet as a statement of faith, a statement that although we are a free people, our redemption is not yet complete, but we believe it will come.
Inclusion is also what motivates us to make this seder plant-based. A plant based meal is easily kosher, inclusive for muslims, Hindus, Catholics celebrating lent, environmentalists seeking to lower their carbon and water footprints, and for vegans, some of whom are Jewish and find celebrating their ancestor's freedom from slavery, while sitting at table filled with the body parts of contemporary victims of slavery hypocritical and disturbing. A plant-based meal is most consistent with the spirit of Passover. We can celebrate our ancestor's freedom from slavery, without having our celebration contribute to present day enslavement of others. We do not knowingly place on our table items that require intentional violence against, nor enslavement of any being. Passover celebrations incorporate much symbolism, so we give careful consideration to the items that we include on our table.
From the most downtrodden to the most celebrated, the message is clear: everyone is welcome and everyone is necessary.
During the Exodus, food was an issue. Today this is true too. Environmental issues are linked to diet as well as health. A meat and dairy based diet initiates a chain of events which threatens our survival. Cattle grazing leads to loss of topsoil and dessertification. Confined animal feeding operations (CAFO's) provide most of the meat and dairy in the US but create mountains of excrement, that too often runs into streams and the ocean creating vast dead zones. But we don't have enough land to meet the current market demand for meat and dairy using pasture-based systems. Most of the grain grown is used to fatten animals -- with huge inefficiencies. It takes 5-12 pounds of grain (depending upon whose figures you use) to produce a single pound of beef. The world currently produces enough grain to adequately feed every human on the planet, but much of that grain is used to fatten animals, to become "meat" for the most priveliged humans, while less privileged humans go hungry. We fear the loss of effectiveness of antibiotics, but do nothing about the biggest cause of antibiotic resistance -- which is the routine use of them on animal farms. We fear the emergence of new pandemics but ignore the fact that most infectious diseases plaguing humanity originated in animals and spread to humans as a direct result of our exploitation of them. Meat production consumes vastly more water and creates more greenhouse gasses then growing fruits, vegetables and beans. The Torah commands us to have compassion for animals, to care for our health and to repair the world (Tikkun Olam.) For all of these reasons, diet is central to Jewish ethics.
Are legumes and rice kosher for Passover?
Although the avoidance of leavened breads is central to what makes something kosher for Passover, down through the years, Rabbis have expanded upon and variously interpreted what is acceptable to eat on Passover, with some traditions explicitly avoiding legumes. However In 1997 Rabbi David Golinkin of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel--Vaad Halacha issued an important response to the Ashkenazic custom of not eating Legumes on Pesach, saying it is not only permissible, but obligatory that we consume both legumes and rice on Pesach, in order to eliminate this custom as it is divisive between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews. Furthermore, restricting legumes and rice, encourages people to consume more animal-based foods. The custom began in the 13th century in France for unknown reasons, and many Rabbis have called it foolish. Adhering to this custom and not eating legumes also tends to diminish the importance of hametz (leavened breads) on Passover. In Torah when the holiday is first pronounced by Moses the food that is directly forbidden is leavened bread, and we should keep the emphasis on this.
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