The pressure of making a Seder right now has been so intense. Passover is THE time of year in the Jewish calendar that's made for a time like right now. We all know. We're living it every day. Most of us don't want to, even though we have to.
We read about seders happening in concentration camps and in resistance cells, in hiding from the inquisitors, and the hallowed evening before Jesus was crucified. The Exodus story is the stuff of art museums and cartoons, melodramas and stunning slave hymns. This Seder is a ritual for a story that is timeless, limitless, powerful, and about personal and collective liberation in the form of Moses and the people called the Hebrews.
Tonight we undertake this ritual whose structure holds whatever we choose to put into it. This is the one time of year that we carry out this particular set of actions, sayings, and foods-eatings - to remind us that ritual and life's rhythms take place on very broad and very detail-oriented scales. We wash our hands without saying a blessing so many times a day, but having this specified and mandated tonight gives the act a new life, and makes the next hand washing, when we do say the blessing, an elevated moment.
We're here tonight to experience liberation, which feels like something so optimistic as to almost completely elude me in this political climate. In a year like this... in a historical timeline moment like this where it feels like every day gets worse, not better. We don't know what history will say, but we know they'll be talking about about us. How much can we individually shape that? What about the things that history won't tell? The little, personal things that drive us from day to day, year to year, lifetime to lifetime, family to family - that is to say, what are the things that make it possible for us to get personal with our history?
In this Seder I want to look at some of those smaller, more personal bits of liberation.
It still feels important to name, and to cycle back (like an egg or a calendar) into the bigger picture, even as we're exploring our personal liberations. Because history is on us like the pressure of the ocean. Because Passover holds so many references and metaphors that are so easy, so obvious especially now, and we all know what they are.
The Bible says: Love and welcome the stranger in your midst because we were strangers in Egypt – which is mirrored in so many articles, messages, and protest signs around immigration and the world’s refugee crises and countless other political movements. We encounter Moses’s humility and learn about honoring our ancestors – whether that manifests as preserving Medicare or honoring our treaties with Native American First Nations, whose land and water rights should be guaranteed in perpetuity for their ancestors' suffering and for the health of our planet. We see the ways that growth and gain infiltrates the practitioners of government – Pharoah’s slavery and city-building – to the detriment of the people who live on the land, whether they’re 10th or 1st generation; whether their ancestors arrived by force or by dreams.
We read about how Miriam, Shifra, and Puah are the brave, risk-taking lynchpins of the Exodus story, and that women's labor – both professional and familial – is what makes this story possible. Shifra and Puah, reproductive health services employees, were not Hebrews but risked their lives in defiance of the Pharoh's direct orders in order to save Hebrew children. This teaches us to love planned parenthood forever(!) and to do everything we can to protect black and brown children from being senselessly murdered by police officers. Miriam sought the safety and perpetuity of her family by any means possible, and in her success she was able to care for the entire populace of Hebrews by providing them with water while they wandered in the desert. So too can taking small risks lead to empowerment and then to broader action.
We encounter with Moses - Egyptian royalty and Hebrew - and with ourselves the conflict and motivation and work that comes from holding multiple things within us that aren't opposites which we prove because we exist – they are the nuance of life. We read that something can be burning but not consumed. That we can't cross the Red Sea without looking at and mourning the Egyptians drowning beside us. That a person can be raised as royalty but still hold a sense of justice that behooves action. That what we perceive isn't always the whole truth – isn’t always perceptible to us, as to the Egyptians who thought Moses was one of them.
So for this Seder let's hold all these things we mostly already know. As we move forward to talk about US. The seemingly simple question of what makes us feel liberated.
It's what I've been thinking about so much lately, and so as my free-but-captive audience and my family, I hope you'll also find some meaning to a broad series of four questions that I'd like to ask over the course of the evening:
I hope that together we can find some answers or ideas or actions to address these questions. I don't want to get all therapy-like, but I do think that, as a way to have a hand in exploring our own and aiding in each others' liberations, we can create a safe place here, we can - if we want to - share thoughts, feelings, observations, and strategies that can help us to understand ourselves, and to give each other things like empathy, hope, what to think about, and probably more we can't expect yet.
…. Ok. So this is about eight Seders’ worth of conversations just in this introduction. I want to take a minute to breathe this all in and feel our impending liberations as we look ahead at this Seder evening. I want to do this by lighting candles.
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