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When my kids were younger, they were each assigned the task of coming to the seder with one or two thoughts or facts they wanted to share about the seder. When they got a little older, they had to come with one or two questions they wanted to ask. They did not need to know the answers to the questions. The whole point was to make them think about Pesach and the seder and to incorporate what they were learning in school with their own curiosity. As they got older still, I needed to become more creative to keep their interest in preparing something. Last year, for example, they had to find a song that pertained to some aspect of the seder and then sing that song at the appropriate point in the seder, and then explain the relevance of the song to what we were doing at the time.
A GUIDED VISUALIZATION © Rabbi Susan Freeman, 2003
Close your eyes and take several slow deep breaths. Feel your body as being very heavy. Take a few minutes to go through each body part, feet to head, and feel the heaviness, the weight of every limb, every bone . . .
You were a slave once in the land of Egypt. Remember when you were a slave among slaves. Go back. You were pressed hard: “Ruthlessly they made life bitter for [you] with harsh labor at mortar and bricks and with all sorts of tasks in the field. Va-yemar-reru et- chai-yay-hem ba-avodah kashah b’chomer u’vil-vay-neem u’ve-chol avodah ba-sah-deh et kol avo-dah-tam asher avdu va-hem be-farech” (Exodus 1:14)
Rub your fingers together. Feel the muddy dirt between your fingertips. Imagine the mud on your skin, the streaks of dirt on your arms and your legs, the crusty sweat on your brow. Note the muddiness on the surface of your body, but realize that this is not what is of most concern to you.
What is most troubling is a feeling of sluggishness circulating through you. The feeling of being a slave, being pressed. “And the taskmasters pressed [you] . . . V’ha-nog-seem atzeem . . . “ (Exodus 5:13)
It’s as if the mud fills your mind and body, as well.
The words of Pharaoh swirl through your head . . . “Be off now to your work! No straw shall be issued to you, but you must produce your quota of bricks!” (Exodus 5:18)
“You must not reduce your daily quantity of bricks. Lo tee-gre-u mi-liv-nay-chem d’’var yom b’’yomo.” (Exodus 5:19)
You feel heavy, weighted down by the imprisoning experience of being a slave.
Though you feel heavy and weighted down, you have an intense desire to be alleviated of your burdens; to be released from what is pressing down on you; to wash away the bitterness . . . wash away the mud.
You want to wash away the mud . . . From your skin, from your brow. Wash away the mud that fills your mind and body . . . Wash away the sluggishness circulating through you . . .
Words, emotions are stirring inside you. What are they? Listen to your inner voice. You can ask for help, you can call out. There is a Power, a Loving Force to help lift you, to help transform your burdens. The Mysterious embrace of God will receive and envelop your pain. What do your words say; what does your silence express? Listen. What do you hear?
Your intense desire to go free propels you along as a certain momentum builds in the environment around you. The momentum propelling you is the swelling wave of sentiment that surrounds you – to go; to leave the mud, the bricks, the bitterness and slavery behind.
Release the bricks in your arms and allow your bent-over body to straighten. Brush off the dirt from your skin, dry your brow. Breathe easier as you join in the journey away from slavery, towards freedom.
You are journeying away from slavery towards the sea, towards freedom.
As you glimpse the sea, you feel compelled to go towards the water. You feel an urge for the water to wash over your skin. Hurry to the water, splash some of the cool, cleansing water over you. Pour handfuls of water through your hair; splash water on your face, your shoulders; scoop water over your back . . .
The water is refreshing. Your skin is tingling, soothed. And you step away from the water.
Still, you want to clear the sense of muddiness from your mind; the internal, clogging feeling of heaviness.
It is night now. Lie down on the shore of the sea, away from the water. Still hold on to the feeling, the image of clear, refreshing water. Imagine this clear purity flowing through your body, cleansing your mind. A flow that is pure, clear, refreshing. Feel the clarity circulating through your veins, your arteries. Clarity of mind, clarity of body . . .
It is while you are lying down on the shore of the sea that the passageway to freedom is being prepared for you. As you prepare yourself, so too, the passage to freedom is opening.
“Then Moses held out his held out his arm over the sea and the Eternal drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground.” (Exodus 14:21)
It is morning now. The water that you had poured and splashed over you the day before is no longer there. “The waters were split. Va-yee-bak-u ha-ma-yeem.” (Exodus 14:21) And the sense of water flowing, washing through you is gone as well. Whatremains is breath, clear breath – air which circulates freely around you, inside of you. Breathe in deeply; and exhale fully.
Breathe in deeply; and exhale fully. Enjoy your breathing; enjoy its fullness, its lightness.
“And the Israelites went in to the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22)
The walls surrounding you are water, yet they are totally secured by Divine Will. The massive ocean waves, the watery depths have obeyed the will of the Almighty. You fear no harm. You feel protected, as if a sturdy hand is guiding you.
Walk through the passageway to freedom. Walk along the dry ground. Walk through the walls of water on your right and on your left. Walk through the passageway to freedom.
The fullness of the experience of freedom envelops you. You are more aware than ever before. You feel certainty of God’s presence, God’s role in your journey.
When, shortly after you have walked through the passageway to freedom, God speaks, you know these words to be true:“I, the Eternal One, am your healer. Ani Adonai ro-feh-cha.” (Exodus 15:26)
When the serious business of the seder is completed, we sit around our family table and sing. Traditional songs like Had Gadya, yes, but some unique stuff as well. Many, many years ago our Cantor at that time, Rinaldo Tazzini, introduced us to Pesach in Paducah to the tune of Christmas in Killarney. Here are the words:
Sing ho, sing hi, the matzoh brei
The cleaning the scrubbing, the ay, ay, ay
It's Pesach in Paducah and a heckuva day at home.
The eggs are floating in the brine
And Papa is floating in too much wine.
It's Pesach in Paducah and a heckuva day at home.
And while the door was open,
We clearly saw some tracks,
We thought it was Elijah
But 'twas only Uncle Max.
The welcome's on the Welcome Mat
Linoleum's polished with chicken fat
It's Pesach in Paducah, and a heckuva day at home.
There'll be Weinstein and Feinstein
And every old keinstein
And Lenitz and Revitz and some Manischevitz
Rabinowitz, Timowitz each one gets in
Ach, it's everyone's landsman from near and from far.
On Seder night we must invite
But some of the family is sure to fight
It's Pesach in Paducah and a heckuvah day at home.
Some little schnook a matzoh took,
And somebody called him a dirty crook
It's Pesach in Paducah and a heckuva day at home.
And while the door was open
A voice cried out, "Oi Vah"
We thought it was Elijah
But 'twas only Johnnie Ray.
My achin' head cries out for bed. I wish I were in a hotel instead
Oh Pesach in Paducah, no matter where you roam,
Yes, Pesach in Paducah is a heckuvah day at home.
There's a Kohn with a K and a Cohen with a C
There's a Levy and Levi and Mr. Levee
There's a Nitzberg from Pittsburgh and fancy old Ritzburgh
They each have a kid and they're all coming here.
Oh, Pesach in Paducah, is a heckuva day at home.
Narrator 1: The story of Moses has been told and retold. It is a reminder to the Jewish people that once we were slaves in Egypt, but now we are free. Once, we were downhearted, but now we are happy. In our times of despair, it is important for us to remember the miracles performed by a merciful G-d, whose love for His people is never-ending.
And so, this year, as in all years before, for generation upon generation, we tell the story of Passover. Now, I invite you to relax, lean on a pillow, and listen to this tale.
Pharaoh: Yes, I’ll have one order of caviar, with a Diet Pepsi. And Super Size it.
Slave: Yes, your highness. And if I do say so myself, the weather is lovely, is it not? What sayest your wonderfulness?
Pharaoh: uh huh
Slave: My wife and family do enjoy the most wonderful of all lives you’ve afforded them. Carrying bricks is just the disciplinary measure that my 28 sons need.
Pharaoh: uh huh. 28??? Did you say 28 sons?
Slave: Indeed I did, your most fabulousness.
Pharaoh: Leave my quarters. I must think. This is not good. Here we have many thousands of members of a strange culture living among us. They are not Egyptians; how do I know that in time of war they might not turn against Egypt and fight for our enemies? I must find a way to decrease this alien population.
Herald: Hear ye, hear ye. It is hearby decreed by Pharaoh, ruler of the land of Egypt, that any son born to a Jew is to be drowned in the Sea of Reeds.
Yocheved: There is no way that I will let Pharaoh take my baby. I have to hide him.
Narrator 2: Yocheved wove a basket of reeds, put her son into it, and hid it in the reeds by the river. She sent her young daughter Miriam to hide near by and watch. A princess came down to the water to bathe.
Princess: What is this?
Princess’s Attendant: It appears to be a baby, your highness.
Princess: A baby?
Princess’s Attendant: Why yes, your highness.
Princess: Well, should we pick it up?
Princess’s Attendant: I suppose.
Princess: Then pick it up!
Princess’s Attendant: Yes, your highness.
Princess: Isn’t it cute? Let’s take it home so you can take care of it and change its diapers and feed it, and it can love and respect me as its mother.
Princess’s Attendant: Sounds great.
Miriam: Excuse me, your majesty, but would you like me to I call a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby instead, so that your attendant can attend to you?
Princess: A good idea. I hadn’t thought of that. All right, your Hebrew woman may nurse my child, and when he is old enough to walk, she shall bring him to the palace for me to adopt. What should we call it? How about “Drawn from the Water”?
Princess’s Attendant: Drawn from the Water? What’s wrong with Bob?
Princess: I think it’s a good name. We’ll call him Moses for short.
Princess’s Attendant: Whatever you say, your majesty.
Narrator 1: And so Yocheved’s son, Moses, grew up as the Pharaoh’s adopted grandson, with all the riches and prestige that such a position entailed. While Yocheved never told her son that he was Jewish, he felt great pity for the Hebrew slaves. One day, he came upon an Egyptian beating an old slave for not working hard enough. With a heart filled with rage, Moses killed the guard. Of course, by doing so he was breaking the law and would have to face Pharaoh as a consequence. So, he ran away from home, into the desert, and became a shepherd.
Narrator 2: One fine morning one of Moses’ sheep strayed a bit from the path.
Narrator 2: Moses followed the sheep and came across a bush that was burning, but not being consumed. He turned to look at it, and G-d called out to him.
G-d: Moses, Moses
Moses: Here I am
G-d: I am the G-d of thy father, the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob. I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I now their pains; and I am come to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth My people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
Moses: B-b-but why should, I mean, why, why should I be the one t-t-to lead m-m-my puh, my people?
G-d: Certainly I shall be with thee.
Moses: Whah-what shhhould I t-t-t-ell the p-p-people? When I t-t-t-tell them that you sssssent me, and they ask wha…what is your your name, wha…what do I ssssay?
G-d: ‘I AM THAT I AM’; Thus shalt you say unto the children of Israel. And they shall hearken to your voice. And thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and you shall say unto him: The G-d of the Hebrews hath met with us. And now, let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to our G-d. And I know that the king of Egypt will not give you leave to go, except by a mighty hand. And I will put forth My hand, and smite Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in the midst thereof. And after that he will let you go.
Moses: B-b-but I cannot, I cannot d-d-d-o this. I am ssssslow of sssp-p-peech and sssslow of t-t-tongue.
G-d: Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh a man dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt speak.
Moses: Puh-puh-puh-please send sssssomeone else…
G-d: Is not Aaron thy brother the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Thou shalt speak unto him, and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with thy mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.
Narrator 2: And so Moses went to the people Israel, and convinced them that G-d had spoken to him. He then went to the Pharaoh and told Aaron what to say.
Aaron: Pharaoh, we are here to demand, in the name of an omnipotent, omniscient G-d, that you release the Hebrew people from bondage.
Pharaoh: He he. Amusing guys. Good show, good show. So, Moses, back after all of these years to bring shame on your own house and your own father?
Aaron: You cared for my brother for many years. At one time, he loved you as a grandfather. But he is the son of a Hebrew slave. If you love him, you will let his people go.
Pharaoh’s son: Moses! I missed you! Wanna play Risk with me? Dad’s teaching me so I know how to take over the world later. Hey, who are you?
Aaron: I am Aaron, Moses’ brother.
Pharaoh’s son: I thought I was his brother! Fine. I guess I’ll go play Pyramid Solitaire. By myself. All alone.
Aaron: Pharaoh, if you do not release G-d’s chosen people, Egypt will be smitten with a greater plague than it has ever before seen.
Narrator 1: G-d sent many plagues to Egypt. He turned the water in the Nile to blood; He sent a plague of frogs; he sent lice and flies.
Pharaoh’s son: Dad! I don’t like this! Make it stop!
Aaron: Now will you let my people go?
Pharaoh: OK Aaron, I have some really good news.
Aaron: So you’ll let our people go?
Pharaoh: Of course not, but I just saved 15% on my chariot insurance.
Narrator 1: Plague after plague fell on Egypt. The cattle illness, boils, hail, locusts. The most remarkable thing about these plagues was that they only touched the Egyptians. The Hebrew slaves were safe.
Aaron: Pharaoh, we don’t know what we can do to make you see that eventually you will have to give in. We’re warning you now that G-d has told Moses what the next plague will be. He is going to kill the firstborn of every Egyptian household, up to and including your son. Pharaoh, don’t let this happen! Let my people go!
Pharaoh: I do not know your god, and I will not let your people go. Get out of my house! Get out!
Narrator 2: G-d came to Moses and had him tell the Jewish people to slay a lamb and mark their doorposts with its blood. Then, the Angel of Death flew over Egypt. He took the lives of all of the firstborn, except for those in the homes marked with blood. It was devastating! The people of Egypt were saddened and horrified.
Aaron: Pharaoh, grandfather of my brother’s childhood, we are sorry for your loss.
Pharaoh: Go away! Go away and leave me to my grief!
Aaron: But Pharaoh, now that you have seen how powerful G-d is, will you let my people go?
Pharaoh: Fine. Just go. Just….sob…just go.
Narrator 1: In our seder, we fill our wine ups to remember our joy in being able to leave Egypt. Yet our happiness is not complete, because the Egyptians, who are also G-d’s children, suffered from the plagues, and eventually were killed so that we could be free. Therefore, we spill a drop of wine from our cups as we say each plague.
All: BLOOD, FROGS, LICE, BEASTS, CATTLE DISEASE, BOILS, HAIL, LOCUSTS, DARKNESS, PLAGUE OF THE FIRSTBORN
Aaron: Listen to me! Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for the strength of the hand of the Lord has brought you from this place, and the Lord shall guide you to the Promised Land.
Moses: We m-m-m-ust go in haste. We must m-m-m-ake food, but…but hurry, we must, we must, we must go before, before Pharaoh changes his mind.
Miriam: Moses, the bread won’t have time to rise!
Aaron: It doesn’t matter, we’ve got to go. Just come quickly!
Pharaoh: I have just let my slaves all go. This is not good for the people of Egypt. All that my fathers have worked for will vanish if I lose the Hebrew slaves. Who will build the pyramids? Who will build the cities? The entire economy of Egypt will collapse without the Hebrews. It will be the end of an empire. I WANT THEM BACK.
Herald: All soldiers and warriors – get your swords and armor. Saddle your horses. After them!
Miriam: Look! The Egyptians are coming! They will kill us all! They will work us to death! Moses, my brother, do something!
Moses: D-d-do not be afraid. G-d has, has pr-provided for us up to now, and he…he…he will continue to do, to do so.
G-d: Lift thou up thy rod and stretch out thy hand over the sea, and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground.
Narrator 2: This Moses did, and the children of Israel walked through the parted waters. When Pharaoh’s armies followed in pursuit, the waters closed in upon them.
Miriam: We made it across the Red Sea! We are free! Sing ye to the Lord, for He is highly exalted: The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea. Who is like you, G-d, among the gods that are worshipped? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?
Narrator 1: And Miriam took a timbrel in her hand; and all of the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. Then, the Hebrew people followed Moses toward the Promised Land. Thus, Adonai our G-d brought us out of Egypt, not by an angel, nor by a seraph, nor by a messenger, but alone – with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with great terror, and with signs and wonders.
A Jew took his Passover lunch to eat outside in the park. He sat down on a bench and began eating. Shortly thereafter a blind man came by and sat down next to him.
Feeling neighborly, the Jew offered a sheet of matzoh to the blind man.
The blind man ran his fingers over the matzoh for a minute, and exclaimed, "Who wrote this?"
It seems a group of leading medical people have published data that indicates that seder participants should NOT partake of both chopped liver and charoses. It is indicated that this combination can lead to Charoses of the Liver.
At our seder, we had whole wheat and bran matzoth, fortified with Metamucil. The brand name, of course, is "Let My People Go."
Q: What do you call steaks ordered by 10 Jews?
A: Filet minyan
Q: If a doctor carries a black bag and a plumber carries a tool box, what does a mohel carry?
A: A Bris-kit!
From Shouts and Murmurs in the New Yorker, 4-14-11:
YOUNGEST CHILD: How is this night different from all other nights?
FATHER: Because on this night we tell the story of our escape from Egypt.
YOUNGEST CHILD: How is this night different from Easter?
FATHER: It is worse.
YOUNGEST CHILD: Why do we go through the motions of this ritual year after year, even though some of us doubt God’s existence?
FATHER: Because your grandmother is still alive.
YOUNGEST CHILD: Why on this night does the mother-in-law say that the brisket her son’s wife cooked is dry when it is fine?
FATHER: Because she resents the fact that she cannot legally marry her son, the doctor.
YOUNGEST CHILD: Why, if Israel is so great, have we never gone there?
FATHER: It is not great. We are scared to go there.
OLDEST DAUGHTER: When can I get a nose job?
FATHER: Ninety days before college. That is how long it takes for the bandages to come off.
FATHER: Has everyone here seen “Blazing Saddles”?
ALL: Yes, we have seen it.
FATHER: Do you remember the beans scene? That is the greatest scene.
ALL: Yes, we remember it.
FATHER: Does it get any better than Billy Joel?
YOUNGEST CHILD: Why do we subscribe to the Forward?
FATHER: We do not subscribe. They found us.
YOUNGEST CHILD: Can we please just eat already?