This may take up to thirty seconds.
Seder means "order," and traditionally we begin our Seder by singing exactly what we plan to do: bless, wash, dip the veggies, break the matzah, etc. At times the rigidness of order can feel confining or even boring, but in times like these when our world is so out of sorts there is comfort in knowing we are doing something that our ancestors have done for centuries.
This year, Passover starts on Shabbat. Jewish tradition offers two reasons for celebrating Shabbat. It’s an invitation to rest after the work of creation all week long and a reminder of our liberation from slavery in Egypt. At our Seder this year, we have the double opportunity to bask in our freedom.
But what is that freedom exactly? This is the third Seder of the pandemic. This year many of us are sitting down to the Seder amidst ongoing uncertainty, feelings of outrage and fear, and a deep, deep weariness. And yet, we have the freedom to tell our story, to re-create seder – order – even as the events continue to unfold. How do we bring love and hope into the room? What are the stories of liberation and joy that we need to share?
We have the freedom to decide.
The Seder plate holds all of the items that will be used throughout the Passover Seder and is the focal point of the entire service. Each item represents different pieces of the Exodus story and the items also allow for a completely sensory and interactive experience.
Many contemporary Jews add additional items to the Seder plate to symbolize modern liberation struggles. The most common new item is an orange, which honors the role of women and/or gays and lesbians in Jewish life. The orange symbolizes the fruitfulness that these previously marginalized communities bring to Jewish life. Some Jews place an olive on the Seder plate to signal hope for eventual peace between Israelis and Palestinians. For more info, visit www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-seder-plate.
In the Passover Seder, wine is an essential part of the service and there are four distinct places where participants bless the wine throughout. The first glass of wine, or kiddush, is at the beginning of the Seder, and sets the tone of what is to come throughout the evening. Wine symbolizes freedom! And the four cups of wine symbolize the liberation of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt. For this abridged Haggadah, only one glass of wine is needed. Raise your glass of wine and say the following blessing together.
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’Olam, borei p’ri hagafen.
Blessed are You, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
On Passover there are four questions, usually asked by the youngest child. Here are four questions for your Shabbat table:
1. We eat matzah to remember that the Jews had no time to bake their bread before rushing to leave Egypt. What do you carry with you? What are you too rushed to do?
2. We eat bitter herbs to remind us of the bitter life the Jewish people experienced as slaves in Egypt. What’s a challenge you faced this year? What’s the greatest thing you learned from it?
3. We dip the parsley into salt water. The vegetables remind us of spring and new life. The salt water reminds us of the tears of the Jewish slaves. When we dip we remember the pain of the past and the hope of a new future simultaneously. How do you remember the past? What are you doing to change the future?
4. On all nights we eat sitting upright or reclining, and on this night we all recline. What makes you feel comfortable? When are you free to relax and recline?
The Passover story chronicles the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. It celebrates the movement from oppression to liberation and our belief that tyranny can be thwarted and justice can prevail. Around the world today, courageous people are making similar journeys—leaving behind violence, poverty and persecution and seeking security, freedom, prosperity and peace. Consider stories of those who have transitioned from incarceration to freedom, stories of immigration and those who have gone from oppression to liberation. Or, consider watching The Prince of Egypt for a lighter take on the Passover Story!
We now arrive to the ten plagues, the disasters inflicted on Egypt in an effort to force Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery. Today, there are many plagues that impact marginalized and disproportionately impacted communities. Consider a few of the below and talk through additional modernday plagues.
Unsafe Living Conditions Access to safe housing is a human right, but limited affordable housing options force thousands of individuals to shelter in unsafe conditions.
Displacement: In this past year, millions of people have fled violence and instability in their homes in Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, and South Sudan, just to name a few.
Spread of Covid-19: Social Distancing reduces the spread of Covid-19, but those living in under-resourced homeless shelters might not be able to take this precaution.
Food Insecurity: Hunger can precede houselessness as many who are houseinsecure must decide between paying for housing or groceries.
Climate Justice: Climate change has led to more severe weather, causing an outsized impact on those forced to withstand snowstorms or heat waves without shelter.
Economic Justice: Employers often ask for an address before offering a job, and not having a permanent address can cut off income sources for individuals experiencing houselessness.
Mental Health: Acceptance is not always the norm, as a result, LGBTQ+ houseless youth represent 40% of the houseless youth population, and as many as 60% are likely to attempt suicide.
Song as an expression of faith and spirit: The seder is coming to a close and the sound of songs are a celebration of what the ancient Israelites endured on their quest out of bondage and into liberation. Hallel is the song of the seder, the moment where celebration and faith are expressed through joyous songs that commemorate all that was experienced. What makes up Hallel is a group of psalms sung and traditionally sung on Passover as well as Shavuot and Sukkot. In this recognition of the many moments of redemption.
We end our seder with the link “Bashana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim—Next year in Jerusalem." For some this reminds us that our life in America is still imperfect and we yearn to be in a country of Jewish sovereignty that runs on the Jewish calendar, where matzah fills all of the shelves at this season. For others Jerusalem is a symbol of a world of peace, security and justice—for the Jewish people and for all who are not yet free. However you interpret this line, we end our seder acknowledging that while we have left slavery, we are not just fully free because we live in an unredeemed world where injustice still exists, and we pray for the day when all are free.