THE MAGGID ~ The Story Our story is the peoples’ story. Our seder, first conducted thousands of years ago, was first conducted in Aramaic. Aramaic was the language of the people. Aramaic was the language of the ancient rabbis in Jerusalem; Aramaic was the language of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth; Aramaic was the language of a dispossessed people living on land occupied by a foreign empire. Over the course of centuries, Aramaic faded out of use, the descendents of its speakers learning and living with Greek and Syriac and Arabic and, later, Hebrew. Tonight we reintroduce a sleeping language. Tonight our blessings stretch back two thousand years. Why is this important? Just as the first haggadot were composed in Aramaic, the language of the people, our seder is conducted primarily in English, the language which all of us at this table share. It might be our first language or our third; we may feel more at home in Spanish, or Yiddish, or Hebrew.
Regardless, sharing our seder in English is a decision entirely in keeping with the tradition that makes Passover the peoples’ holiday. We use English, our common language, so that we are all able to question, all equal to participate. (20) As we tell the story of Exodus, we remember the ways in which this story has inspired communities across the world that are searching for freedom. In particular, the Exodus story forms the core of African-American Protestant traditions.
Harriet Tubman was called the Moses of her time because of her ability to deliver her people from slavery through the Underground Railroad to freedom. (2) The Telling: This story, the core of the Seder, can be read going around the table, with each person reading one or several paragraphs. According to the Torah, our ancestor Joseph (who had great fashion) was sold into slavery by his brothers and became valuable to Pharaoh for his astute economic predictions and ability to administer before and during severe famine. Because of his skills, his people were welcomed. When new rulers came to power the Hebrews fell out of favor and were enslaved. Vineyards and fields were confiscated, work quotas were increased, families separated and wages dropped to nothing. Despite these hardships, the Hebrew people survived and grew in numbers.
The new Pharaoh became concerned that they would unite with Mitzrayim’s enemies. Miriam was four years old when the Pharaoh said, “ There are too many of those Jews—I’m scared of them—they’ll take over soon. Kill all their sons! Drown them in the Nile!” Amram, Miriam’s father, said to Yochevet, Miriam’s mother, “Dear, there is only one solution. We mustn’t make any more babies, and we must tell our people to do the same. If no sons are born, no sons will be killed.” Yochevet sighed, but strong, young Miriam cried, ”No! You shall not do that! Pharaoh’s decree kills only the boys—your decree kills the girls as well. We will find another way.” Amram and Yochevet listened to their daughter, Miriam, and Jewish babies continued to be conceived and born.
Pharaoh summoned the Jewish midwives whose names where Shifra and Pu-ah and ordered that the boy babies be killed as soon as they were born. Slyly, they responded “No way! We mean sir, there is no way because the strong Jewish mothers birth their babes so quickly that they are hidden before we arrive.” Miriam was five years old when Yochevet became pregnant. Miriam was a prophet and she said, “Yochevet will give birth to a son who will survive and help our people.” Ah Moses, now comes Moses…teeny-tiny baby boy, cute, but makes a lot of noise, “Whaa, whaa…” What shall we do? If the baby is found, we will all be punished. The baby must be saved! Think Miriam, think; a basket of reeds, one that will float. She said to her brother, “Aaron, we must weave a basket of papyrus reeds,” and they did. Smart young people. All night long they worked together. In the morning, tired, hopeful, the family took the new baby, kissed him all over, patted his “tuchas” and tucked him in his basket. Miriam took the basket to the river and while she hid in the tall grasses, floated her new brother downstream past the very place the Pharaoh’s daughter went swimming every morning. And there she was, ready to dive in, when a beautiful woven basket floated by. And in the basket? A tiny perfect Jewish baby, cute and very noisy: Whaa, whaa! Pharaoh’s daughter drew him from the water and said with love: “I will raise you but who will feed you?” Miriam, delighted, alert, piped up from her hiding place and said: “I know a good woman, Yochevet, who will nurse him.” “Perfect,” said the daughter of Pharaoh. “Bring him to me when he is weaned; he will be as my own son for I have no other. Moses, I will call him Moses because I brought him from the river’s water.”
History tells is that Moses grew up in the palace and had no awareness of himself as a Jew. But we know that Moses was nursed by Yochevet and had played with Aaron and Miriam and his father Amram, and though he left when he was weaned, the memory of their warmth, their love, their light, was in his head and heart.
Growing up, Moshe is growing up
Restless, very restless
Not at ease in his palace home
not at peace with the Pharaoh
He goes out walking, is often out
Watching and listening…
He’s learned all his teachers
have to offer…
Lonely, this upper class boy,
with no peers, heir to the Pharaoh,
honest and compassionate,
Moshe tries to ease the burdens
of the workers
He has questions
“Who are these Jews to me?”
Who are these workers, these slaves,
so driven in toil
That the quarries, the cities, the roads,
and the tombs are built with the blood
of the Jews in their bricks?
Why the Jews
I must speak out
I can’t bear this
Don’t you beat him!
He is dying! She is starving!
why must you be so brutal?
The Taskmaster says to Moses,
You mind your own business.
A slave who can’t work here
is useless, is guilty, is worthless.
The whip is the master.
But no! You can’t kill them
Tho’ slaves, they’re all people!
We’re all people!
My just heart is breaking
My reason is shattered…
And in the fury, in the pain and confusion, young, idealistic, ready, impulsive
Moses killed the taskmaster who beat the slave. And then he fled to the
desert, through barren hills and over-dried river beds, to think, and to wait and
to grow, beyond the Jordan River.
Moses arrived at and stayed many years in
Midian. He married Tzeporah and had children. He tended flocks in the
wilderness. Life there was good, and yet he never forgot Mitzrayim and the
good people enslaved there under Pharaoh.
One day, while grazing his flock and gazing out on the vastness of the desert,
he envisioned a bush that burned and burned and did not burn up. And he
heard a voice, saying to him what he knew to be true—that the people in his
memories were his own people, that he should return to them, and together
they would find a way to be free.
Moses left his life and family in Midian, and returned to Mitzrayim.
And what’s happening now back in the Mitzrayim of his youth, his crime, and
The Jews are hungry.
The Jews are tired.
The Jews are angry.
The Jews are talking with each other.
The Jews are beginning to organize!
Talks of rebellion, talk of escape
Debate argue struggle
Unity struggle unity NO struggle unity struggle—community!
New unity—and a plan evolves:
First, negotiate with the Pharaoh, and if that doesn’t work
Then, threaten with powerful magic, and if that doesn’t work
Then split from Mitzrayim
After all, Pharaoh is not likely to choose to free his entire exploitable labor force
just like that! (Snap the fingers.)
Did ya hear?
He’s back in town.
Who’s back in town?
Moses. Remember Moses?
Never expected to see him again.
How does he look?
Older and wiser and…
He’s come out as a Jew!
He wants to work with us, says he has ideas about
How we can all get out of here…
To earn a living
can be as hard
as to part the
- The Talmud
So a new committee was formed, the “how to get out of here” committee.
They met every Tuesday and Thursday night for two months, down by the
fleshpots. At the end of two months, people weren’t sure that much had been
accomplished. Some preferred to remain in slavery rather than face the perils
of committee life.
They debated questions of violence and non-violence: is property damage
acceptable? Causing enemies to suffer? What about the innocent bystanders?
How about revenge?
They also debated questions of leadership: “I think Moses has taken too much
power. Let’s try rotational leadership—after all, we don’t want him to have a
distorted role in history. We’re all working very hard for our liberation!”
And they were. But Moses had an “in” with Pharaoh, and the time for
negotiations had arrived. Armed with the best speech the propaganda
committee could prepare and several support people, Moses proposed that
Pharaoh free the Jews, with as little fuss as possible.
Pharaoh, of course, said “No,” and the peaceful negotiation was ended. Then
Miriam spoke for the women:
In sadness, we must proceed with our plans,
Pharaoh, do you hear us?
Great suffering will come to the land of Mitzrayim.
We’d rather our freedom be gained without hurting the people of this land.
One plague at a time we will bring you,
And each time we will say: “let my people go!
And Pharaoh didn’t listen.
The Jews marked their doorposts and death “passed over” their homes taking
only the children of the people of Pharaoh. And hearing the awful cries of
mourning, the grief of all the parents and brothers and sisters, Pharaoh ordered
the Jews to leave.
And they did, very quickly, taking only their journey food, matzah. Yet Pharaoh
has a change of heart, and mobilized his forces to recapture the fleeing slaves.
The chariots reached the Jews when they were nearing the shores of the Red
Sea. They turned around to see the army of the Egyptians bearing down on
them, and were filled with fear. They turned on Moses for bringing them to this
But, it is said that one man, Nachson, took a risk and walked into the sea, and
the waters divided. In doing this he acted as a free man. Only after Nachson
and those who followed him had made their first break with slavery, did the
waters divide and drown the army of the Pharaoh.
The Jews never forgot the price that the people of Mitzrayim paid for their
freedom. We remember tonight by spilling out a drop of wine from our cups as
we recite the plagues one by one. In this way we diminish our pleasure, as the
suffering of others diminished our joy.
B) Reader: Now is the time for all of us to tell stories of
the making of the world as it was and is, according to
In honor of all our cultures’ roots in oral tradition, this Haggadah calls upon
those assembled to carry on storytelling based not on a fixed writing but on an
evolving text which encourages speaking and listening, attentively to history
and flowing warmly from the moment we share.
Someone tell the story of Exodus
Now it is a story free-for-all!
The marvel of creation is an opportunity to celebrate what we have together.
The experience of suffering is an opportunity to release oppression that divides
So it was for the people of Mitzrayim in the time of Jewish slavery, so it is today
for Jews and all people in a time of ongoing inequity. (8)
Three conclusions from the Exodus story:
1) Wherever you live, it is probably Mitzrayim.
2) There is a better place, a promised land.
3) The way to this promised land is through the wilderness – there is no
way to get there except by joining together and marching
-Michael Waltzer, Exodus and Revolution
Even though the Torah focuses on the acts of G-d, the
redemption of the Jews could not have happened without
the acts of resistance on the part of the people. When
Pharaoh gives the order to kill all male Jewish babies,
Shifra and Pu-ah, two midwives, do not follow the orders. Rabbinical
commentary interprets Pharaoh’s actions as declaring war against the Jews,
and the midwives’ civil disobedience is the first step of the liberation
process. We are also reminded that we must make noise and protest,
before G-d will join our side. (15)
Mi chamokha ba-elim adonai?
Mi chamokha nedar ba-kodesh,
nora t'hilot, oseh feleh.
Who is like You among the powers?
Who is like You, transcendent in holiness,
awesome in splendor, working wonders!
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