Tonight, we perform a number of rituals to try to arouse compassion within ourselves. We eat bitter herbs to give us a physical way to connect with the suffering of those who are not free. In the Bible, the reasoning behind the commandment to retell the story of the Exodus is explained as follows: “you know the soul of the outsider, because you were outsiders in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). Once a year, on Passover, we share the story so that we do not forget those in our society who, for any number of reasons, may be considered outsiders. The Seder reminds us that we were the undocumented immigrants in Egypt who put in long hours of hard labor doing the Egyptians’ dirty work; we were the unskilled workers, with no rights, working in subhuman conditions for wages that did not cover the basic necessities of life. Because we know this suffering first hand, we cannot sit back and watch while others struggle. We are grateful for the sumptuous fare we share tonight, but let’s also take a moment to consider those who have labored on the farm or in the factory to provide us with our festive table this evening. The entrepreneurs, farm owners, workers, janitors, truck drivers, loading dock workers and clerks all deserve to make a living wage. Many of us are aware of the human rights abuses that are often connected with the production of cotton, coffee, cocoa, steel, rugs, diamonds and cell phones in other countries, but it does not stop there. Let’s resolve to be more ethical in our purchasing decisions, and consider the companies and circumstances of the people involved in the supply chain, whether we buy products produced locally, through fair trade or from companies who have demonstrated fair and equitable treatment of their employees. The Seder reminds us that we must speak out if we encounter discrimination and abuses in our own workplaces, whether they are based on race, gender, religion, age, national origin, ancestry or disability. A highly respected twentieth century rabbi, Rav Soloveitchik, said this of the Seder: “without manifesting and demonstrating the sense of solidarity, responsibility, unity, and readiness to share and participate, the whole Seder becomes meaningless.” (Genack 2009, p. 27) As former slaves, we must advocate for the dignity and just treatment of all beings, especially of those who do not have the power or ability to speak for themselves. Poverty, prejudice, inequality and silence are what make slavery possible.
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