The long history of our people is one of contrasts — freedom and slavery, joy and pain, power and helplessness. Passover reflects these contrasts. Tonight as we celebrate our freedom, we remember the slavery of our ancestors and realize that many people are not yet free.
Each generation changes — our ideas, our needs, our dreams, even our celebrations. So has Passover changed over many centuries into our present
holiday. Our nomadic ancestors gathered for a spring celebration when the sheep gave birth to their lambs. Theirs was a celebration of the continuity of life. Later, when our ancestors became farmers, they celebrated the arrival of spring in their own fashion. Eventually these ancient spring festivals merged with the story of the Exodus from Egypt and became a new celebration of life and freedom.
As each generation gathered around the table to retell the old stories, the symbols took on new meanings. New stories of slavery and liberation, oppression and triumph were added, taking their place next to the old. Tonight we add our own special chapter as we recall our people’s past and we dream of the future.
For Jews, our enslavement by the Egyptians is now remote, a symbol of communal remembrance. As we sit here in the comfort of our modern world, we think of the millions who still suffer the brutality of the existence that we escaped thousands of years ago.
Introduce yourself to others by tracing your matriarchal lineage:
I am _______ bat (daughter of) _______ bat ________ bat ________
Why is this night different from other nights?
On this night, we gather to prepare for Passover, outside of our kitchens, in a way our foremothers could have never imagined.
On this night we join as a community to rid ourselves of a different kind of chametz.
What do we cleanse ourselves of tonight?
The exhaustion of cleaning and cooking.
The echo of exclusionary language.
The weight of history.
The fear of women's voices.
The silencing of women's stories.
The violence done to women's bodies.
The pressure to conform to on eimage of who Jewish women are supposed to be.
The lingering belief that this tradition doesn't belong to women.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם
שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu melech ha'olam
shehecheyanu v'kiy'manu v'higiyanu lazman hazeh
Blessed are you, G-d, sovereign of all the world, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment
מה טבו סדרינו בנות ישראל כאור חדש המאיר עולם
Ma tovu sidreinu b’not yisra’el, k’or chadash ha’me’ir olam
Women of Israel, the wonder of our seders brings new light to the world.
Miriam's well was said to hold divine power to heal and renew. It's fresh waters sustained our people as we transformed from a generation shaped by slavery into a free nation. Throughout our subsequent journeys, we have sought to rediscover these living waters. Tonight let us remember that we are still on a journey. Just as the Holy One delivered Miriam and her people, just as they were sustained in the desert and transformed into a new people, so may we be delivered, sustained and transformed on our journey to a stronger sense of ourselves, both as individuals and as one people.
זאת כוס מרים כוס מים חיים זכר לציאת מצרים
Zot Kos Miryam, kos mayim hayim. Zeiher litzi’at mitzrayim.
This is the Cup of Miriam, the cup of living waters. Let us remember the Exodus from Egypt.
This is the cup of Miriam, the cup of living waters, a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt. When fear blocks our path, when our travels deplete us, we seek sources of healing and wells of hope. May our questions and our stories nourish us as Miriam’s Well renewed our people’s spirits.
In the early 1980s, while speaking at Oberlin College Hillel, Susannah Heschel was introduced to an early feministHaggadah that suggested adding 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). Heschel felt that to put bread on the seder plate would be to accept that Jewish lesbians and gay men violate Judaism like chametz violates Passover. So, at her next seder, she chose an orange as a symbol of inclusion of gays and lesbians and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community. She offered the orange as a symbol of 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. While lecturing, Heschel often mentioned her custom as one of many feminist rituals that have been developed in the last twenty years. She writes, "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 thebimah 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 erased. Isn't that precisely what's happened over the centuries to women's ideas?"
The four cups of wine are traditionally linked to the four promises God made to the children of Israel:
As it is written: "I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt. I will deliver you from bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgements. I will take you to be my people and I will be your God" (Exodus 6: 6-7).
Tonight we dedicate the four cups of wine to important or inspirational women in our lives- individually or as a community- who have worked towards redemption and freedom in their own ways. Please take a minute to think about who you would like to dedicate the first cup to.
Traditional Masculine Blessing
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha'olam borei p'ri hagafen.
Traditional Feminine Blessing
B'rucha At Yah Eloheinu Ruach ha'olam boreit p'ri hagafen.
You are blessed, Our God, Spirit of the World, who creates the fruit of the vine.
The following alternative kiddush was written by Marcia Falk, a prominent Jewish feminist liturgist. Her blessings avoid the problem of God’s gender because they do not reference God as a person-like being. In addition, they locate the power of blessing with the people ("Let us bless" rather than with God’s inherent blessedness ("Blessed are you")
N’vareykh et Eyn Hahayim matzmihat p’ri hagefen.
Let us bless the Source of Life that ripens the fruit on the vine.
Some of this clip originally appeared on Ritualwell.org.
The four questions in the traditional seder ask "How is this night different from other nights?" Tonight, we take a few minutes to write our own questions about the seder, the haggadah, the meaning of freedom or slavery, or any other relevant questions.
At times, we are wise girls, strong and confident in what we know and in who we are, curious and eager to learn more, seeing clearly through tangled and complex dilemmas and able to make wise and appropriate decisions for ourselves and on behalf of others. Yet, as wise girls, we risk growing complacent in our knowledge, smug in the “superior” wisdom of the status quo, and so caught up in the pursuit of learning and producing that we neglect others around us and our own well-being.
At other times, we are wicked girls: angry, rebellious, critical, and negative. We set ourselves apart from our community, feeling, perhaps, that we don’t belong and not understanding that it is we, not others, who place ourselves on the outside. Yet it is as wicked girls that we are able to see our world from another perspective, to see that sometimes “the Emperor wears no clothes,” and to speak up and criticize what is wrong and what is unjust.
At times, we are simple girls, relaxed and playful, enjoying life without questioning, analyzing, or examining deeply, loving others with passion that cannot be expressed in words, and being loved in return without any logic or reason. Yet, as simple girls, we risk missing the color and texture of our complex universe, and we may forfeit the opportunity to contribute to tikkun olam, the repair and healing of the world.
GIRLS WHO DON’ T KNOW HOW TO ASK
At other times, we are girls who don’t know how to ask, we don’t understand, we find that we cannot speak the language of the people in our company, we are struck dumb by a profound or strange new experience, or we are fearful because nothing like this has ever happened to us before. If we can remain silent, and tolerate our fear and our inability to speak for a while, we may discover worlds of riches we couldn’t possibly have imagined. But if our fear paralyzes us, if we lose confidence and withdraw from the world, or if it is fear of others that silences us, we truly need to be brought out from our slavery “by a strong and mighty arm.”
Each girl within us needs the other girls. The wise girl needs the forcefulness of the wicked, the playfulness of the simple, and the sense of wonder of the speechless one. The wicked needs the erudition of the wise, the self-acceptance of the simple, and the contemplative spirit of the speechless. The simple needs the diligence of the wise, the clear vision of the wicked, and the confusion of the speechless. And the one who is struck dumb needs the words of the wise, the shout of the wicked, and the song of the simple.
At different times, each of our girls appears: we are, in turn, interested and curious, frustrated and angry, calm and contented, sad and fearful. It is easy to praise the wise, scold the wicked, smile with the simple, and rescue the speechless. It is less easy to challenge the wise, to love and appreciate the wicked, to prod the simple, and to allow the dumb-struck to struggle with confusion. Another part of ourselves, the parent, must judge how each of our children is to be treated in turn, knowing when to attend and when to ignore, how best to encourage each girl’s “special gifts” and discourage destructive tendencies.
All of these exist within us, sometimes in harmony and other times in cacophony. They also exist outside us, in our parents, siblings, children, friends and colleagues— the people in the world who are a multifaceted mirror through which we see ourselves. Passover is a time of liberation from slavery. May we all come to know and accept our own four girls, so that we can become whole and free.
- See more at: http://lilith.org/articles/passover-the-four-girls-within-us/?utm_source=Passover+2014&utm_campaign=Passover+2014&utm_medium=email#sthash.CjKUgfdK.dpuf
Instead of reading the exodus story, this is a chance to share our own stories or thoughts of oppression and liberation, for ourselves or others.
Instead of looking at the ten plagues mentioned in the story fo Exodus, tonight we think about modern 'plagues' that afflict us, our communities, and our societies. As we mention these plagues, we spill a drop of wine onto our plates. May these plagues be resolved in our times.