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A word about God: everyone has his or her own understanding of what God is. For some people, there is no God, while for others, God is an integral part of their lives. While we may not agree on a singular concept of God, we share a common desire for goodness to prevail in the world. And this is the meaning of tonight: freedom winning out over slavery, good prevailing over evil.
Please consider the source of benevolence in your life, be it God, or a belief in humanity, and hold that source in your hearts as we move through the evening.
“300 years ago, there came to the New World a boat, and its name was the Mayflower. The Mayflower’s landing on Plymouth Rock was one of the great historical events in the history of England and in the history of America. But I would like to ask any Englishman sitting here on the commission, what day did the Mayflower leave port? What date was it? I’d like to ask the Americans: do they know what date the Mayflower left port in England? How many people were on the boat? Who were their leaders? What kind of food did they eat on the boat?
“More than 3300 years ago, long before the Mayflower, our people left Egypt, and every Jew in the world, wherever he is, knows what day they left. And he knows what food they ate. And we still eat that food every anniversary. And we know who our leader was. And we sit down and tell the story to our children and grandchildren in order to guarantee that it will never be forgotten. And we say our two slogans: ‘Now we may be enslaved, but next year, we’ll be a free people.
On Friday night, May 24, 1991, fourteen thousand, four hundred Jews of ‘Beta Yisrael’ crowded together within the compound of the Israeli embassy in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. They found themselves between nightmare and dream, between the threat of war with the rebel army surrounding the capital and the possibility of immigration to Israel, moments before the rebels would overrun the city.
A few months previously, the Jews of Ethiopia had fled their homes in the Gondar Province, where they had lived as farmers for centuries. They sold their land and walked over four hundred miles south to the poor sections of Addis Ababa, in the hope of being able to go to Israel from there.
Eight weeks earlier, the Kessim (the Ethiopian equivalent of rabbis), had celebrated their last Seder in Ethiopia, in the Israeli Embassy. After purifying themselves with water, they placed their hands on ten one year-old lambs, recited a blessing, slaughtered the lambs according to the custom of the community, and roasted them on a fire. When the Kessim offered me a piece of the sacrificial lamb, I hesitated. As an Ashkenazi Jew, I knew that my laws of Kashrut are different from theirs, but I also knew that eating the sacrificial Paschal lamb has always been a sign of inclusion in the Jewish people. So I demonstrated solidarity and ate my first Paschal lamb.”
Just before the rebels conquered the city, the heads of the Ethiopian regime agreed to allow Israel to take out the Jews of Ethiopia in an air lift, in exchange for a $35,000,000 bribe. 14,400 Jews spent the night in the Israeli Embassy in the dark, calmly and with extraordinary discipline. Like the Children of Israel on the night of the Exodus from Egypt, they experienced a combination of fear and of hope. The designated immigrants went from place to place within the embassy compound. First, the identity certificate of each head of family was examined. Each member of his family was counted and a sticker was stuck on his/her head with the number of the bus that would take them to the airport. Afterwards, they had to put all their local currency into a large container, in accordance with an order from the Ethiopian regime. Finally, they had to leave behind all their possessions, because the Israeli organizers were concerned that there may be explosives in them, and because there was limited space on the airplanes. Only what was on their bodies – their best clothing and their jewelry – boarded the planes with them, along with bread wrapped in the folds of their clothing. I recalled Biblical passages describing a ‘night of watching’ that was similar to this, when no one closed their eyes for a minute – the night of Pesach in Egypt:
"And the People carried the dough before it had a chance to rise; and their kneading troughs bound up in their clothes on their backs...
And they baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into unleavened cakes – for it was unleavened: because they were thrust from Egypt and could not tarry, and they made no provisions...
And it came to pass . . . on that very day that all the hosts of the Lord went out from Egypt, a night of watching for the Lord, to bring them out from the land of Egypt: this very night shall be a night of watching for all the children of Israel throughout their generations."
- Exodus 12:34-42
Within twenty-four hours, El Al passenger planes and C-130’s of the Israel Air Force had transferred 14,400 people by airlift - the longest, largest and fastest in the annals of world history; forty round-trips of more than 1,500 miles.
- As told by Micah Odenheimer in HaLailah HaZeh: An Israeli Hagadah, by Mishael Tsion with Noam Tsion, 2004
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.” There is a beautiful message here: we were once slaves; poor and hungry, and we remember our redemption by sharing what we have with others.
The other, comes towards the end of the seder, when we have the custom of pouring a fifth cup of wine, which we claim is for Elijah the Prophet. This is a statement of faith, a statement that says that although we are a free people, our redemption is not yet complete, and we believe that it will come.
From the most downtrodden to the most celebrated, the message is clear: everyone is welcome and everyone is necessary. Why is it that we go out of our way to include all at our seder table? Perhaps it is because when we make room for others, we have the opportunity to make room for ourselves as well. In fact, the Mishnah (Pesahim 10:5) teaches us that:
בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים In every generation a person is obligated to see themselves as if they left Egypt
The seder presents us with the obligation of identifying with the generation that left Egypt and internalizing that experience. And through that internalization, we come to feel the redemption as if it was our own as well to - לראות את עצמו. Further, the reliving of the story of the Exodus affords us the opportunity see one’s true self. It is only when we are able to see ourselves clearly, that we are able to be redeemed. But perhaps the only way we are able to see ourselves, is when we are truly able to see those around us. This message of inclusion is Pardes’s message too, and our hope is that this Haggadah Companion which offers something for everyone, will add new meaning to your seder and help bring the Jewish people a little closer together.
My father was a god and did not know it. He gave me The Ten Commandments neither in thunder nor in furry; neither in fire nor in cloud But rather in gentleness and love. And he added caresses and kind words and he added “I beg You,” and “please.” And he sang “keep” and “remember” the Shabbat In a single melody and he pleaded and cried quietly between one utterance and the next , “Do not take the name of God in vain,” do not take it, not in vain, I beg you, “do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” And he hugged me tightly and whispered in my ear “Do not steal. Do not commit adultery. Do not murder.” And he put the palms of his open hands On my head wit the Yom Kippur blessing. “Honor, love, in order that your days might be long On the earth.” And my father’s voice was white like the hair on his head. Later on he turned his face to me one last time Like on the day when he died in my arms and said I want to add Two to the Ten Commandments: The eleventh commandment – “Thou shall not change.” And the twelfth commandment – “Thou must surely change.” So said my father and then he turned from me and walked off Disappearing into his strange distances.
We take this time to honor others who travel with us from other faiths and cultural traditions. We acknowledge the fact that they bring a new perspective to our lives and a legacy of their own that enriches ours. We are grateful for the growth that we have experienced because they are in our lives.
As a plant bursts forth with new energy to bloom, so too we recognize that at this time of Jewish history we are blossoming in different ways. As the garden needs tending, so, too, do our relationships with spouses, in-laws and families of other traditions. Weeding out all that is not necessary and loving, we make room for fresh insight and respect. Welcome those who sit around this table for the first time or the twentieth, bringing new understanding to our discussion.
Generations passed and our people remained in Egypt. In time, a new Pharaoh ascended to the throne. He found our difference threatening, and ordered our people enslaved. In fear of rebellion, Pharaoh decreed that all Hebrew baby boys be killed. Two midwives named Shifrah and Puah defied his orders. Through their courage, a boy survived; midrash tells us he was radiant with light. Fearing for his safety, his family placed him in a basket and he floated down the Nile. He was found, and adopted, by Pharaoh’s daughter, who named him Moses because she drew him forth from the water. Thanks to Moses' sister Miriam, Pharaoh's daughter hired their mother, Yocheved, as his wet-nurse. Thus he survived to adulthood, and was raised as Prince of Egypt.
Although a child of privilege, as he grew he became aware of the slaves who worked in the brickyards of his father. When he saw an overseer mistreat a slave, Moses struck the overseer and killed him. Fearing retribution, he set out across the Sinai alone. God spoke to him from a burning bush, which though it flamed was not consumed. The Voice called him to lead the Hebrew people to freedom. Moses argued with God, pleading inadequacy, but God disagreed. Sometimes our responsibilities choose us.
Moses returned to Egypt and went to Pharaoh to argue the injustice of slavery. He gave Pharaoh a mandate which resounds through history: Let my people go. Pharaoh refused, and Moses warned him that Mighty God would strike the Egyptian people. These threats were not idle; ten terrible plagues were unleashed upon the Egyptians. Only when his nation lay in ruins did Pharaoh agree to our liberation.
Fearful that Pharaoh would change his mind, our people fled, not waiting for their bread dough to rise. Our people did not leave Egypt alone; a “mixed multitude” went with them. From this we learn that liberation is not for us alone, but for all the nations of the earth. Even Pharaoh’s daughter came with us.
Pharaoh’s army followed us to the Sea of Reeds. We plunged into the waters. Only when we had gone as far as we could did the waters part for us. We mourn, even now, that Pharaoh’s army drowned: our liberation is bittersweet because people died in our pursuit. To this day we relive our liberation, that we may not become complacent, that we may always rejoice in our freedom.
Suddenly a man named Nachshon started walking into the water. The water was up to his knees…no splitting. The water rose up to his waste…no splitting. The water was up to his chest…still no splitting. Not until the water was under Nachshon’s nose did the sea split and all the Israelites walked across singing Micah Mocha and praising G-d.
A lot of people interpret that the miracles of this story were the result of G-d being a show off and trying to demonstrate his powers. I take it another way, I say that G-d just needed people to believe in him and then he came through. The message of this story is that we need to take action before God helps us. We need to take the first step into the “sea” because G-d won’t help us until we try to help ourselves, our world, and our community.
However, some commentators suggest that maybe Nachshon was pushed into the sea and didn’t necessarily intend on becoming a leader. He was just some random guy who was at the right place at the right time. In this scenario, Nachshon becomes a hero for something he wasn’t even intending on doing. I personally like the idea of Nachshon being a leader and coming out of the crowd, standing along the banks, and deciding to step into the water without anyone else having anything to do with it.
In real life, we have a little of both. We are often put into the position of the Nachshon who was pushed, and into the shoes of the Nachshon that walked. We often try to be the brave Nachshon that walks into the water, but we are really the Nachshon that was pushed. Regardless of what you believe, we can all realize that most often we are somewhere in the middle of being pushed and walking intentionally.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We thank a higher power, shaper and maker, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Drink the second glass of wine!
The Passover Symbols
We have now told the story of Passover… but wait! We’re not quite done. There are still some symbols on our seder plate we haven’t talked about yet. Rabban Gamliel would say that whoever didn’t explain the shank bone, matzah, and marror (or bitter herbs) hasn’t done Passover justice.
The shank bone represents the Pesach, the special lamb sacrifice made in the days of the Temple for the Passover holiday. It is called the pesach, from the Hebrew word meaning “to pass over,” because God passed over the houses of our ancestors in Egypt when visiting plagues upon our oppressors.
The matzah reminds us that when our ancestors were finally free to leave Egypt, there was no time to pack or prepare. Our ancestors grabbed whatever dough was made and set out on their journey, letting their dough bake into matzah as they fled.
The bitter herbs provide a visceral reminder of the bitterness of slavery, the life of hard labor our ancestors experienced in Egypt.
Even after one has encountered the collection of seemingly unconnected foods on the seder plate year after year, it’s fun to ask what it’s all about. Since each item is supposed to spur discussion, it makes sense that adding something new has been one way to introduce contemporary issues to a seder.
So how was it that the orange found its place on the seder plate as a Passover symbol of feminism and women’s rights?
The most familiar version of the story features Susannah Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel and scholar in her own right, giving a speech about the ordination of women clergy. From the audience, a man declared, “A woman belongs on the bima like an orange belongs on the seder plate!” However, Heschel herself tells a different story.
During a visit to Oberlin College in the early 1980s, she read a feminist Haggadah that called for placing a piece of bread on the seder plate as a symbol of the need to include gays and lesbians in Jewish life. Heschel liked the idea of putting something new on the seder plate to represent suppressed voices, but she was uncomfortable with using chametz, which she felt would invalidate the very ritual it was meant to enhance. She chose instead to add an orange and to interpret it as a symbol of all marginalized populations.
A decade later, the ritual of Miriam’s Cup emerged as another way to honor women during the seder. Miriam’s Cup builds upon the message of the orange, transforming the seder into an empowering and inclusive experience.
Although Miriam, a prophet and the sister of Moses, is never mentioned in the traditional Haggadah text, she is one of the central figures in the Exodus story.
According to Jewish feminist writer Tamara Cohen, the practice of filling a goblet with water to symbolize Miriam’s inclusion in the seder originated at a Rosh Chodesh group in Boston in 1989. The idea resonated with many people and quickly spread.
Miriam has long been associated with water. The rabbis attribute to Miriam the well that traveled with the Israelites throughout their wandering in the desert. In the Book of Numbers, the well dries up immediately following Miriam’s death. Of course, water played a role in Miriam’s life from the first time we meet her, watching over the infant Moses on the Nile, through her triumphant crossing of the Red Sea.
There is no agreed-upon ritual for incorporating Miriam’s Cup into the seder, but there are three moments in the seder that work particularly well with Miriam’s story.
1) As Moses’s sister, Miriam protected him as an infant and made sure he was safely received by Pharaoh’s daughter. Some seders highlight this moment by invoking her name at the start of the Maggid section when we begin telling the Passover story.
2) Other seders, such as this one, incorporate Miriam’s cup when we sing songs of praise during the Maggid and later during the Hallel as a reminder that Miriam led the Israelites in song and dance during the Exodus.
3) Still others place Miriam’s Cup alongside the cup we put out for Elijah.
Just as there is no set time in the seder to use Miriam’s Cup, there is no set ritual or liturgy either. Some fill the cup with water at the start of the seder; others fill the cup during the seder. Some sing Debbie Friedman’s “Miriam’s Song”; others sing “Miriam Ha-Neviah.” As with all seder symbols, Miriam’s Cup is most effective when it inspires discussion.
What does Miriam mean to you? How do all of her roles, as sister, protector, prophet, leader, singer, and dancer, contribute to our understanding of the Exodus story? Who are the Miriams of today?
We still have a long, long way to go before we reach the promised land of freedom. Yes, we have left the dusty soils of Egypt, and we have crossed a Red Sea that had for years been hardened by long and piercing winter of massive resistance, but before we reach the majestic shored of the promised land, there will still be gigantic mountains of opposition ahead and prodigious hilltops of injustice.
Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and the comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.
Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.
Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent sanitary home.
Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.
Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.
Let us be dissatisfied until men and women...will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin.
Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Let us be dissatisfied until the day when nobody will shout, "White Power!" when nobody will shout, "Black Power!" but everybody will talk about God's power and human power.
Gefilte Fish - A Mythical Midrash
According to Ashkenazi Jewish custom, we eat Gefilte fish on Passover. The question arose as to why Gefilte fish is so closely associated with Passover, and why it seems to appear on so many Seder tables.
Here is one answer:
When the Israelites found themselves trapped between the Sea of Reeds (sometimes mistakenly called the Red Sea) and the pursuing Egyptian chariots, they panicked. They cried to Moses, who cried to God who said: wait, let me think ...
As it happens, in a quirky moment during the evolutionary process, God created an odd kind of sea creature. It was awkward looking and lumpy, with no fins, no scales, no eyes, no tail...and very, very pale. Yuch! So God stuck this evolutionary oddity in an out of the way place where it could live out its life-cycle in peace, unobserved. God put this wild Gefilte fish species in only one body of water on Earth -- somewhat off the beaten path -- in the Sea of Reeds (again, often mistakenly called the Red Sea) -- where the species lived and multiplied in obscurity for ages.
So anyway, suddenly, God, who has a really long memory, remembered the wild Gefilte fish and the unique capability they developed, namely, the ability to suck in and hold 40 times (400 times, according to Rabbi Akiva) their weight in water.
And God spoke to the wild Gefilte, numbering in the tens of thousands, saying, "OK, fellas, at the count of three, SUCK IN!" All at once, tens of thousands of wild Gefilte fish made a whooshing, sucking sound, as they simultaneously sucked in so much water that the middle of the Sea of Reeds (yes, often mistakenly called the Red Sea) dried up and a path opened up for the Israelites, enabling them to cross to the other side. BUT, when the Egyptian chariots tried to follow them across the dry sea bed, the wild Gefilte fish, unable to HOLD 40 times their weight in water (or 400 times, according to Rabbi Akiva) any longer, let go, and the ensuing tsunami swept the Egyptian chariots away.
Israel was saved, and with tambourines and song, they praised God for God's foresight in creating the now heroic and celebrated, albeit rather unattractive, wild Gefilte fish.
So, from that day to this, in gratitude for the part they played in rescuing Israel at the Red Sea (oh, whatever), the wild Gefilte fish were domesticated and granted a place of honor on the Seder table.
Now, how's THAT for a fish story?
Refugee and French Jewish orphans celebrate Passover together in 1947.
This new custom celebrates Miriam’s role in the deliverance from slavery and her help throughout the wandering in the wilderness. An empty cup is placed alongside Elijah’s cup. Each attendee at the Seder then pours a bit of his/her water into the cup, symbolizing Miriam’s life-giving well that followed the wandering Israelites. With this new custom, we recognize that women are equally integral to the continued survival of the Jewish community. With a social action lens, we see the pouring of each person’s water as a symbol of everyone’s individual responsibility to respond to issues of social injustice, and that, together, significant actions can take place.
We are going to conclude our dinner tonight with a celebratory toast - a l’chaim.
Rather than filling our own cup tonight, though, and focusing on us as individuals, let’s fill someone else’s cup and recognize that, as a family and group of friends, we have the resources to help each other and those in our community if we are willing to share our resources and collaborate – whether those resources are time, money, skills, or any of the other gifts we bring to one another.
Many of us around the table may already share our resources in different ways - volunteering in our communities, providing pro bono services, donating to charities, or by advocating or lobbying officials. For others we may still be exploring the ways we’re hoping to share our resources and are looking for outlets to do so.
We are now going to fill our 4th cup of wine and I want to invite you to fill someone else’s cup instead of your own. As you fill someone else’s cup, let’s share with each other our answer to the following:
How can I help in changing the world?
Let us all refill our cups.
Leader picks up cup for all to see.
This is the cup of hope.
The seder tradition involves pouring a cup for the Hebrew prophet Elijah. For millennia, Jews opened the door for him, inviting him join their seders, hoping that he would bring with him a messiah to save the world.
Yet the tasks of saving the world - once ascribed to prophets, messiahs and gods - must be taken up by us mere mortals, by common people with shared goals. Working together for progressive change,we can bring about the improvement of the world, tiqqun ha-olam - for justice and for peace, we can and we must.
Let us now symbolically open the door of our seder to invite in all people of good will and all those in needto work together with us for a better world.Let us raise our fourth cup as we dedicate ourselves to tiqqun olam, the improvement of the world.
"L' Tiqqun Olam!"
All drink the fourth cup.
"Still I Rise” ― Maya Angelou
Nirtzah marks the conclusion of the seder. Our bellies are full, we have had several glasses of wine, we have told stories and sung songs, and now it is time for the evening to come to a close. At the end of the seder, we honor the tradition of declaring, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
For some people, the recitation of this phrase expresses the anticipation of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem and the return of the Messiah. For others, it is an affirmation of hope and of connectedness with Klal Yisrael, the whole of the Jewish community. Still others yearn for peace in Israel and for all those living in the Diaspora.
Though it comes at the end of the seder, this moment also marks a beginning. We are beginning the next season with a renewed awareness of the freedoms we enjoy and the obstacles we must still confront. We are looking forward to the time that we gather together again. Having retold stories of the Jewish people, recalled historic movements of liberation, and reflected on the struggles people still face for freedom and equality, we are ready to embark on a year that we hope will bring positive change in the world and freedom to people everywhere.
In The Leader's Guide to the Family Participation Haggadah: A Different Night, Rabbi David Hartman writes: “Passover is the night for reckless dreams; for visions about what a human being can be, what society can be, what people can be, what history may become.”
What can we do to fulfill our reckless dreams? What will be our legacy for future generations?
Our seder is over, according to Jewish tradition and law. As we had the pleasure to gather for a seder this year, we hope to once again have the opportunity in the years to come. We pray that God brings health and healing to Israel and all the people of the world, especially those impacted by natural tragedy and war. As we say…
לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָׁלָֽיִם
L’shana haba-ah biy’rushalayim
NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM!
From a distance everything looks like a miracle but up close even a miracle doesn’t appear so. Even someone who crossed the Red Sea when it split only saw the sweaty back of the one in front of him and the motion of his big legs, and at most, a hurried glance to the side, fish of many colors in a wall of water, like in a marine observatory behind walls of glass.
The real miracles happen at the next table in a restaurant in Albuquerque: Two women were sitting there, one with a zipper on a diagonal, so pretty, the other said, “I held my own and I didn’t cry.” And afterwards in the reddish corridors of a strange hotel I saw boys and girls holding in their arms even smaller children, their own, who also held cute little dolls.
Rachel Naomi Remen, physician and author, shared this story as she heard it from her grandfather, an Orthodox rabbi.
In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof (No End), the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It’s a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world.
And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. And that story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you.