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Long ago at this season, our people set out on a journey.
On such a night as this, Israel went from degradation to joy.
We give thanks for the liberation of days gone by.
And we pray for all who are still bound.
God, may all who hunger come to rejoice in a new Passover.
Let all the human family sit together, drink the wine of deliverance, and eat the bread of freedom:
Freedom from bondage and freedom from oppression
Freedom from hunger and freedom from want
Freedom from hatred and freedom from fear
Freedom to think and freedom to speak
Freedom to teach and freedom to learn
Freedom to love and freedom to share
Freedom to hope and freedom to rejoice
Soon, in our days Amen.
Now in the presence of loved ones and friends, before us the symbols of festive rejoicing, we gather for our sacred celebration. With our elders and young ones, linking and bonding the past with the future, we heed once again the divine call to service. Living our story that is told for all peoples, whose shining conclusion is yet to unfold, we gather to observe Passover.
You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought you out of Egypt. You shall observe this day throughout the generations as a practice for all times.
We assemble in fulfillment of the mitzvah.
Remember the day on which you went forth from Egypt, from the house of slavery, and how G-d freed you with a mighty hand.
Pesach is a time of inclusion. 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 especially important in today's modern seders, and our hope is that this Haggadah Companion which offers something for everyone, will add new meaning to your seder and help bring us a little closer together.
Before the blessing over the first cup of wine, say:
We are gathered here tonight to affirm our continuity with the generations of Jews who kept alive the vision of freedom in the Passover story. For thousands of years, Jews have affirmed that by participating in the Passover Seder, we not only remember the Exodus, but actually relive it, bringing its transformative power into our own lives.
The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means “narrow straits.” Traditionally, Mitzrayim has been understood to mean a spiritual state, the “narrow place,” a place of confusion, fragmentation, and spiritual disconnection. There are many ways in which all of us, individually and collectively, may be trapped in Mitzrayim. Fear of the other, fear of our own true selves, fear of losing control. All of these can become "false gods" to which we may be enslaved. Even some of what passes for "spiritual growth" may lead us into a narrower, more constricted place as we attempt to cut off parts of ourselves that we don't like. It is only a short step from abusing facets of our own selves to abusing others as well.
The way out of Mitzrayim is through chesed, compassion—through embracing that which we have been taught to scorn within ourselves and others and through attempting to understand those who seem very different from us. Israel left Egypt with “a mixed multitude”; the Jewish people began as a multicultural mélange of people attracted to a vision of social transformation. What makes us Jews is not some biological fact, but our willingness to proclaim the mes- sage of those ancient slaves: The world can be changed, we can be healed.
One of our people's greatest strengths is using our tradition as a wellspring to renew our heritage as we pass it down from generation to generation. As Jews we have a living relationship with our past. Jewish history, Jewish traditions, and Jewish memories are not placed in museums and libraries for scholars to research. They are part of our people's daily lives. When we study our sacred texts, retell our stories, celebrate our successes and mourn our losses, we seek to make deep personal connections to our people's heritage. When we succeed, we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the richness and strength in Jewish life. Every generation needs to renew Judaism according to its vision and concerns. To teach Judaism to our children, we need to make it alive for ourselves. Each generation asks new questions and brings its own concerns and understandings to our sacred texts and cherished traditions. One small example of our tradition's ever flowing well of inspiration comes from a traditional reading of this week's Torah portion, Hukat. We read about the death of Moses' sister, the prophet Miriam (Numbers 20:1). Joined with the announcement of her passing is a note that our ancestors had run out of water to drink (Numbers 20:2). The association of these two events provided the foundation upon which the sages of the Talmud built a beautiful legend about the abundant well of fresh water that followed Miriam as she wandered with her people throughout the desert. So long as she lived, the well was a fountain of living water that sustained the people. This source of strength and sustenance, however, dried up upon her death (Rashi on Numbers 20:2; b. Ta'anit 9a; Song of Song Rabba 4:14, 27). This legend emphasizes the importance of Miriam in the forty years our people spent in the desert and shows her to be a full partner with her brothers, Moses and Aaron. Her courage and enthusiasm sustained our people. Her death was a great loss for our ancestors and her two brothers. The Torah underscores this point by telling us that almost immediately after her death, Moses and Aaron are almost overwhelmed by the challenge to provide water for our people. Recently, this story has taken on a new significance. Today, as women join men as never before as leaders of the Jewish people, we seek ways to acknowledge this new reality and bind it to the living tradition of our people. The legend of Miriam's Well gives us one such opportunity. Today, at many contemporary Passover Seders there is a new custom of placing a goblet of water on the table to represent Miriam's well. Its presence on the table provides an opportunity to talk about the significance of Miriam and the role women play in the Passover story and in the life of the Jewish people. It helps us to relive the story by reminding us that real people and real families experienced the Exodus. It reminds us of our people's abiding sense of God's protecting presence in the difficult weeks, months, and years after leaving Egypt. It teaches us about the indispensable, life-giving power of righteous leaders. We are living in a time of unbelievable change. Who could have predicted the tragedies and triumphs our people experienced in the past century? The science, politics, and economics of our world present new and unexpected challenges to Jews and to all people. As Jews we are also living in a period of extraordinary growth and creativity as we rise up and meet these challenges. We are blessed to possess a rich and deep sacred heritage that often, in surprising ways, helps us bind our present day concerns with the life giving waters of our faith and tradition.
Author: Rabbi Lewis Eron http://www.jewishrecon.org/resource/well-tradition-and-miriams-well
Ritually wash hands without reciting the blessing. The need for hand washing before eating vegetables is
no longer a ritual requirement, however, it is included here in the traditional Seder.
At this point we are meant to wash our hands to prepare ourselves for the rest of the Seder that is to come,
to purify ourselves.
Too often during our daily lives we don’t stop and take a moment to prepare for whatever it is we’re about
to do. Let's pause to consider what we hope to get out of our evening together tonight.
Feel free to wash your hands if you choose to.
Go around the room and share one hope or expectation you have for tonight's seder.
Take less than a kezayit (the volume of one olive) of the karpas, dip it into salt-water, and recite the
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei p’ri ha’adamah.
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.
Take the middle matzah and break it into two, one piece larger than the other.
The larger piece is set aside to serve as Afikoman. This is traditionally hidden, by the leader of the Seder for
the children to “steal” or “find” and then ransom for a something at the end of the Seder.
The smaller piece is put back, between the two matzot. This smaller piece, along with the top matzah is
what will be used for the “Motzi-Matzah” and “Korech”
Mah Nishtana: What's New?
What significant change has occurred in your life since this time last year? Name one meaningful piece of news.
Avadim Hayinu: Our Slavery
Identify the problem. What enslaves you today? What's holding you back from being freer, happy, and creative?
Identify possible solutions. What can you do to help end your enslavement and reduce that which holds you back from more freedom and creativity? What will help you fight the Pharaohs within? This round can be about personal or societal slavery and oppressions.
L'shana Ha'baa: Future Vision - Next Year.
We can't end the seder till we all commit to making the world a better place, with less oppression and more freedom. What is your vision of a freer world? What do you commit to in the coming year to help reduce slavery and oppression in the world?
This can be discussed over dessert!
Rabbi Dr Naphtali Brawer
“What is this service to you?” In other words “What is this all about?”
And for this, he is humiliated and silenced. We respond with a self-righteous sneer:
“Because of this, God did [things] for me, when I left Egypt (Exodus 13:8) for me but not for you, if you were there, you would not have been saved!”
If our intention is to shut this child up, that will certainly do the trick. He is unlikely to ever ask a religious question again. He might even get up and leave the Seder altogether considering how we have just excluded him. Is this the outcome we want?
It is also odd that the biblical proof text used in our response yields none of the sarcasm and judgement with which the Haggadah imbues it with.
“Because of this, God did [things] for me, when I left Egypt (Exodus 13:8).
What possessed the authors of the Haggadah to twist the simple meaning of this response beyond all recognition, turning it from a straightforward answer to a harsh rebuke?
We can get a better understand the strained dynamic between the parent and the “wicked” son if we contrast him with his brother, the “wise” son. Here is the wise son’s question:
“What are the testimonies, statutes and laws that God our Lord has commanded you?”
This question elicits a somewhat tedious tidbit of information specific to the evening’s ritual:
“One may not taste anything after the Afikomon.”
The wise and wicked son are not just asking different questions they are respectively asking an entirely different order of question.
The wise son asks what could be described as a lower order question. His question is located within an agreed system. He accepts the testimonies, statutes and laws. His question is about the specifics. He wants to know exactly what they are and how best to observe them. His is a relatively unchallenging question for the parent. There is nothing unsettling or destabilising in this child’s question. A little bit of technical information about the paschal offering is enough to satisfy this son’s curiosity.
Could it be that we label this child as wise because he makes us feel wise?
His brother however asks a higher order question. He is less interested in the specifics of the ritual, he wants to know its underlying purpose and value. His question exists outside the system.
He is essentially saying “Don’t fob me off with details, I want the bigger picture.” “What is Passover, Jewish peoplehood, Judaism, all about? Tell me why it is all so important? Tell me why I should care?” This is not a question easily answered. It catches us off guard. Do we even have an adequate answer to this penetrating question? We’ve spent the past week or more preparing for the Seder, we’ve sorted out all the technical details, we know exactly how much matzah to eat, what to recite, when to raise our cup of wine. But have we given any thought as to the underlying purpose of it all? The “wicked” son’s question irks us because it doesn’t lend itself to easy and quick answers. It exposes us. It touches a raw nerve. “Why indeed does all this matter?” we wonder to ourselves. And to mask our own inability to provide a satisfactory answer, to silence our own inner doubt, we lash out at him.
But what if we paused for a moment before answering his question? What if instead of ascribing to this thoughtful child the worst motives, we valued his contribution as a way of opening our Seder to deeper meaning?
Our response then might then go something like this:
You, our son, are the seeker in this family and we are blessed to have you. You are an idealist and your persistent questioning reflects your integrity, even if it sometimes drives us to distraction. We don’t have easy answers to your questions but we respect them, and tonight we welcome them as a starting point from which together we might try to find deeper meaning in what we do. Let’s get to work.
No insults, no rushing from the table and slamming of doors. Our seeker sits up a little straighter. Inside he feels the warm glow of belonging. His eyes shine with excitement and anticipation as prepares to delve into the Seder in order to make sense of it all.
And for a bit of fun... let's read the ten modern plagues via nail art!
Dayeinu is a highly counter-intuitive hymn.
Among its fourteen stanzas it proclaims that:
Had God taken our ancestors out of Egypt, but not rescued them at the Red Sea, it would have been sufficient.
And had God rescued them at the Red Sea, but not nourished them in the dessert, it would have been sufficient.
And had God brought them to Sinai, but not given them the Torah, it would have been sufficient.
These statements make no sense. If God liberated our ancestors from Egypt only to allow them to drown in the Red Sea, would that really have been cause for celebration? And what would have been the point of leading them out to the dessert, only have them starve? Or to bring them all the way to Sinai, only to withhold the Torah? Are any of these elements on their own really sufficient? Is the hymn just hyperbole?
Perhaps not. The reason it seems senseless to us is because we know how the story ends. We know that our ancestors have to end up in the Promised Land where they build God’s Temple. And so anything short of that is a failure.
But imagine if we didn’t know how the story was going to end. Then each separate episode would have been cause for thanksgiving. The Exodus would be a cause for celebration, because the Red Sea had yet to present itself as a terrifying obstacle. The overwhelming relief of being rescued from the Red Sea would be sufficient, because the harsh dessert was not yet a reality. And coming to Sinai is a blessing in itself, for who could possible anticipate the Giving of the Torah?
Dayeinu is an ingenious hymn because, by placing us squarely in the story, it allows us to experience what our ancestor’s would have felt as the events unfolded in real time.
It does for liturgy what Faulkner, Joyce, and Wolf did for literature.
Dayeinu invites us to be grateful for the blessings in our lives, as and when they unfold. We have no way of knowing how our story is going to end, much less what next year, or even tomorrow, will look like. All we have is here and now. Dayeinu teaches us to live in the moment by cherishing each of life's blessings as we experience them.
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.
Rav Kook says each of us took something from that experience that the world needs before it can be fully redeemed. Our father Abraham knew well how to argue with God, but he didn't argue when told his descendants would be slaves for 400 years. We needed to live through the affliction, and come out onh the other side, in order to empower others to do the same. We remind ourselves, each year, of our history and our responsibility.
We are commanded not to oppress the alien in our midst. That alone requires much intention. But, like God and our neighbor, the Torah commands we love the alien, the stranger, the undocumented farmworker or nanny. Why? Because we were aliens in the Land of Mitzrayim. The Torah is explicit: our experience in Egypt demand us to empathize with those who are in similar states of vulnerability. That's our contribution to redemption.
In pairs find as many of the following items as you can:
Water, or a sign of water
Something that Miriam could have used to weave a basket for baby Moshe
Something that an ancient Egyptian would find peculiar
Something growing on something else
Something really cool
Something with a strong smell
Something that the Israelites would need to build a fire in the wilderness
Something that the Israelites should have taken with them to help them in the desert
Something that reminds you of matzah
1. What do you consider your “promised land,” or heaven on earth?
2. In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is “Mitzraim,” which literally means “narrow place.” What is one way that you wish for our society to be more open?
3. Moses is considered one of the greatest leaders in our history — he is described as being smart, courageous, selfless and kind. Which of today’s leaders inspires you in a similar way?
4. Miriam was a prophetess and the sister of Moses who, after crossing the Red Sea, led the women in song and dance with tambourines. She is described as being courageous, confident, insightful and nurturing. Which musician or artist today inspires you in a similar way?
5. More recent and ongoing struggles for freedom include civil rights, GLBTQ equality, and women’s rights. Who is someone involved in this work that you admire?
6. Is there someone — or multiple people — in your family’s history who made their own journey to freedom?
7. Freedom is a central theme of Passover. When in your life have you felt most free?
8. If you could write an 11th commandment, what would it be?
9. What’s the longest journey you have ever taken?
10. How many non-food uses for matzah can you think of? Discuss!
11. Let’s say you are an Israelite packing for 40 years in the desert. What three modern items would you want to bring?
12. The Haggadah says that in every generation of Jewish history enemies have tried to eliminate us. What are the biggest threats you see to Judaism today?
13. The Passover seder format encourages us to ask as many questions as we can. What questions has Judaism encouraged you to ask?
14. Israel is central to the Passover seder. Do you think modern Israel is central to Jewish life? Why or why not?
15. The manna in the desert had a taste that matched the desire of each individual who ate it. For you, what would that taste be? Why?
16. Let’s say you had to swim across the Red Sea, and it could be made of anything except water. What would you want it to be?
17. If the prophet Elijah walked through the door and sat down at your table, what’s the first thing you would ask him?
18. Afikoman means “dessert” in Greek. If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
19. What is something you wish to cleanse yourself of this year? A bad habit? An obsession or addiction?
20. The word “seder” means “order.” How do you maintain order in your life?
Download the PDF here: https://www.jewishboston.com/20-table-topics-for-your-passover-seder/