"The Jewish people celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation by God from slavery in Egypt and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. It commemorates the story of the Exodus as described in the Hebrew Bible especially in the Book of Exodus, in which the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. According to standard biblical chronology, this event would have taken place at about 1300 BCE (AM 2450)."
(The Traditional Haggadah, sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee)
"Blind obedience to authority is the greatest enemy of truth."
tra·di·tion (trə-dĭshən) n. --- The American Heritage Dictionary
1. The passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation, especially by oral communication: cultural practices that are preserved by tradition.
2. a. A mode of thought or behavior followed by a people continuously from generation to generation; a custom or usage: the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
b. A set of such customs and usages viewed as a coherent body of precedents influencing the present: followed family tradition in dress and manners. See Synonyms at heritage.
3. A precept or a body of precepts that are not written in the sacred book of a religion, such as the Bible, but are considered holy or true.
4. A style or method of an activity or practice, especially of artistic expression, that is recognized and sometimes imitated: satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift.
5. A piece of folklore: "a popular medieval tradition that identified the queen of Sheba with the Blessed Virgin Mary"
HOW DO WE DECIDE WHICH TRADITIONS ARE WORTH FOLLOWING AND WHICH ARE NOT?
Tradition of anti-authoritarianism:
Goldman was a writer and a renowned lecturer on anarchist philosophy, women's rights, and social issues, attracting crowds of thousands. Goldman was imprisoned several times for "inciting to riot" and illegally distributing information about birth control.
In 1917, Goldman was sentenced to two years in jail for conspiring to "induce persons not to register" for the newly instated draft.
"The most violent element in society is ignorance." -- Emma Goldman
Lift the first glass of wine:
The traditional prayer is --
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָפֶן
Baruch atah Adonai Elohenu Melech ha-olam, borey p'ree ha-gaphen.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine
Tonight, we will simply toast to freedom, and think of something we're grateful for.
Americans deify democracy in a way that allows for a dim awareness that they have, from time to time, stood in defiance of their God. This defiance is not to be much dwelled upon. Democracy is a forgiving God and America’s heresies—torture, theft, enslavement—are specimens of sin, so common among individuals and nations that none can declare themselves immune. In fact, Americans, in a real sense, have never betrayed their God.
When Abraham Lincoln declared, in 1863, that the battle of Gettysburg must ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” he was not merely being aspirational. At the onset of the Civil War, the United States of America had one of the highest rates of suffrage in the world. The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant “government of the people” but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term people to actually mean.
Christian slave owners in the United States operated within a tradition that provided biblical justification for owning slaves in the same way that one owned horses. The arguments were varied: The Ten Commandments instruct us not to “covet our neighbor’s manservant (= slave),” but make no comment about our neighbor owning a slave in the first place. We are also told not to covet his donkey. The great patriarch Abraham owned slaves. The apostle Paul returned a runaway slave to his master. Jesus did not condemn the widespread slavery in the Roman world. If slavery was wrong, why does the Bible not condemn it?
Defenders of slavery argued that slavery had existed throughout history and was the natural state of mankind. The Greeks had slaves, the Romans had slaves, and the English had slavery until very recently.
Andrew Jackson had long been an advocate of what he called “Indian removal.” As an Army general, he had spent years leading brutal campaigns against the Creeks in Georgia and Alabama and the Seminoles in Florida–campaigns that resulted in the transfer of hundreds of thousands of acres of land from Indian nations to white farmers. As president, he continued this crusade. In 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act, which gave the federal government the power to exchange Native-held land in the cotton kingdom east of the Mississippi for land to the west, in the “Indian colonization zone” that the United States had acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase. (This “Indian territory” was located in present-day Oklahoma.)
The law required the government to negotiate removal treaties fairly, voluntarily and peacefully: It did not permit the president or anyone else to coerce Native nations into giving up their land. However, President Jackson and his government frequently ignored the letter of the law and forced Native Americans to vacate lands they had lived on for generations. In the winter of 1831, under threat of invasion by the U.S. Army, the Choctaw became the first nation to be expelled from its land altogether.
The Indian-removal process continued. In 1836, the federal government drove the Creeks from their land for the last time: 3,500 of the 15,000 Creeks who set out for Oklahoma did not survive the trip.
By 1838, only about 2,000 Cherokees had left their Georgia homeland for Indian territory. President Martin Van Buren sent General Winfield Scott and 7,000 soldiers to expedite the removal process. Scott and his troops forced the Cherokee into stockades at bayonet point while whites looted their homes and belongings. Then, they marched the Indians more than 1,200 miles to Indian territory. Whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera and starvation were epidemic along the way, and historians estimate that more than 5,000 Cherokee died as a result of the journey.
By 1840, tens of thousands of Native Americans had been driven off of their land in the southeastern states and forced to move across the Mississippi to Indian territory. The federal government promised that their new land would remain unmolested forever, but as the line of white settlement pushed westward, “Indian country” shrank and shrank. In 1907, Oklahoma became a state and Indian territory was gone for good.
How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of this earth is sacred to my people.
Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.
The white man's dead forget the countryof their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it is the mother of the red man.
We are part of the earth and it is part of us.
The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers.
The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man--all belong to the same family.
The central imperative of the Seder is to tell the story. The Bible instructs: “ You shall tell your child on that day, saying: ‘This is because of what Adonai did for me when I came out of Egypt.' ” (Exodus 13:8) We relate the story of our ancestors to regain the memories as our own. Elie Weisel writes: God created man because He loves stories. We each have a story to tell — a story of enslavement, struggle, liberation. Be sure to tell your story at the Seder table, for the Passover is offered not as a one-time event, but as a model for human experience in all generations.
"This is the bread of affliction, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need, come and celebrate Passover. Today, we are here. Next year, in the land of Israel. Today, we are slaves. Next year, we will be free."
"At the onset of the Civil War, our stolen bodies were worth $4 billion, more than all of American industry, all of American railroads, workshops, and factories combined, and the prime product rendered by our stolen bodies—cotton—was America’s primary export. The richest men in America lived in the Mississippi River Valley, and they made their riches off our stolen bodies. Our bodies were held in bondage by the early presidents. Our bodies were traded from the White House by James K. Polk. Our bodies built the Capitol and the National Mall. The first shot of the Civil War was fired in South Carolina, where our bodies constituted the majority of human bodies in the state. Here is the motive for the great war. It’s not a secret. But we can do better and find the bandit confessing his crime. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery,” declared Mississippi as it left the Union, “the greatest material interest of the world.” -- T. Coates
But American reunion was built on a comfortable narrative that made enslavement into benevolence, white knights of body snatchers, and the mass slaughter of the war into a kind of sport in which one could conclude that both sides conducted their affairs with courage, honor, and élan. This lie of the Civil War is the lie of innocence, is the Dream.
Historians conjured the Dream. Hollywood fortified the Dream. The Dream was gilded by novels and adventure stories. John Carter flees the broken Confederacy for Mars. We are not supposed to ask what, precisely, he was running from. I, like every kid I knew, loved The Dukes of Hazzard. But I would have done well to think more about why two outlaws, driving a car named the General Lee, must necessarily be portrayed as “just some good ole boys, never meanin’ no harm”—a mantra for the Dreamers if there ever was one.
The Ten Plagues:
Ahimsa is nonviolence, to cause no harm to any living being through our actions, words, and as far as humanly possible, our thoughts. The practice of ahimsa involves being respectful, patient, and forgiving--nonviolent. The Bhagavad Gita teaches that a yogi sees the Divine in the heart of all beings and therefore wishes all beings well.
"All of us are one. When you inflict suffering on others, you are bringing suffering on yourself. When you weaken others, you are weakening yourself." -- Gandhi
[Substitute Passover for Thanksgiving]
"And what would happen if there were no turkey? Would the tradition be broken, or injured, if instead of a bird we simply had the sweet potato casserole, homemade rolls, green beans with almonds, cranberry concoctions, yams, buttery mashed potatoes, pumpkin and pecan pies? ...
See your loved ones around the table. Hear the sounds, smell the smells. There is no turkey. Is the holiday undermined? Is Thanksgiving no longer Thanksgiving? ....
Would fewer or more values be transmitted? Would the joy be lessened by the hunger to eat that particular animal?"
The Third Glass of Wine
The blessing over the meal is immediately followed by another blessing over the wine:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Drink the third glass of wine!
Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is as active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dressmaking and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone.
“Slavery” is this same woman born in a world that loudly proclaims its love of freedom and inscribes this love in its essential texts, a world in which these same professors hold this woman a slave, hold her mother a slave, her father a slave, her daughter a slave, and when this woman peers back into the generations all she sees is the enslaved. She can hope for more. She can imagine some future for her grandchildren. But when she dies, the world—which is really the only world she can ever know—ends. For this woman, enslavement is not a parable. It is damnation. It is the never-ending night.
"It really is a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out Yet, I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.
I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually begin turned into wilderness; I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too; I can feel the suffering of millions, and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come out right that is, cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.
In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out'
Anne Frank (Diary, July 15, 1944)
I know what I want, I have a goal, an opinion, I have a religion and love. Let me be myself and then I am satisfied. I know that I’m a woman, a woman with inward strength and plenty of courage.
"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."
“Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness. People are just people, and all people have faults and shortcomings, but all of us are born with a basic goodness.”
In California you can find the largest trees in the world, namely the redwood trees. Some of them are so huge that it takes forty adults hand-in-hand to form a full circle around one single tree! They grow over a period of thousands of years and some of them may even be 5000 years old or more.
When you enter a redwood forest you are surrounded by a very quiet ancient atmosphere. The rays of the sun are almost blocked out by the thick foliage. The trees grow so close together that they seem to share a secret.
In order to be strong, most trees need to grow their roots very deeply. Otherwise they would fall. We can take the example of the palm tree: its roots grow as deep into the ground as it is tall. However, the redwood trees - the tallest trees in the world - have very shallow roots. Yet, they remain standing for thousands of years facing hurricanes, snowstorms, earthquakes, and nowadays acid rainfall as well - undisturbed. So what is their secret?
If you ask a forest ranger, he will explain to you that they grow their roots outwards. In other words, their roots do not go down but go sideways where they can reach out and then wrap themselves around the roots of their neighbouring redwood trees almost like holding hands. In this way - directly or indirectly - each tree is connected to and supported by every other tree in the forest. This gives them so much strength that they can continue to grow for thousands of years in the face of all types of conditions.
This interconnection is also the secret of a community of care. By caring for each other the weak become strong, the strong get even stronger and all that strength is shared. It is like the aforesaid redwood forest. The small and frail redwood trees receive strength from the old ones and grow up to become thousands of years old. The old ones are in turn connected and strengthened by the young ones even more.