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.
Eternal God, may all who hunger come to rejoice in a new Passover.
Let all the human family sit at your table, drink the wine of deliverance, 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
May the light of the candles we kindle together tonight bring radiance to all who live in darkness. May this season, marking the deliverance of our people from Pharaoh, rouse us against anyone who keeps others in servitude. In gratitude for the freedom we enjoy, may we strive to bring about the liberation of all people everywhere. Lighting these candles, we create the sacred space of the Festival of Freedom; we sanctify the coming-together of our friends and family.
בָרוּךְ אַתָה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ רוּחַ הַעוֹלָם
אָשֶר קִדְשָנוּ בְמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ לְהָדלִיק נֵר שֶל יוֹם טוֹב
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu ruach ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Yom Tov.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Breath of Life, who sanctifies us with your commandment to kindle the holiday lights.
בָרוּךְ אַתָה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְמָנוּ
וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְמַן הַזֶה
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam,
shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are you, Adonai, sovereign of all worlds, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.
First Cup of Wine
[The following sentence is a kabbalistic kavanah, aimed at encouraging us to sanctify and drink our wine with the holy intention of connecting transcendence and immanence, God far above with God deep within.]
I take upon myself the mitzvah of this first of four cups of wine, in the name of the unification of the Holy Blessed One with Shekhinah!
Tonight we drink four cups of wine. Why four? Some say the cups represent our matriarchs— Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah—whose virtue caused God to liberate us from slavery.
Another interpretation is that the cups represent the Four Worlds: physicality, emotions, thought, and essence. Still a third interpretation is that the cups represent the four promises of liberation God makes in the Torah: I will bring you out, I will deliver you, I will redeem you, I will take you to be my people (Exodus 6:6-7.) The four promises, in turn, have been interpreted as four stages on the path of liberation: becoming aware of oppression, opposing oppression, imagining alternatives, and accepting responsibility to act.
This first cup of wine reminds us of God’s first declaration: “I will bring you out from the
בָרוּךְ אַתָה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶר בָחַר בָנוּ עִם כָל הַעָמִים וְרוֹמְמָנוּ עִם כָל-
לָשׁוֹן, וְקִדְשָנוּ בְמִצְוֹתָיו, וַתִתֶן-לָנוּ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ בְאַהֲבָה שַבָתוֹת לִמְנוּחָה וּמוֹעֲדִים
לְשִמְחָה, חַגִים וּזְמַנִים לְשָשׂוֹן אֶת-יוֹם הַשַבָת הַזֶה וְאֶת-יוֹם הַמַצוֹת הַזֶה. זְמַן
חֵרוּתֵנוּ, בְאַהֲבָה, מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ, זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם. כִי בָוּ בָחַרְתָ וְאוֹתָנוּ קִדַשְתָ
עִם כָל-הָעַמִים. וְשַבָת וּמוֹעֲדֵי קָדְשֶךָ בְאַהֲבָה וּבְרָצוֹן בְשִמְחָה וּבְשָשׂוֹן
הִנְחַלְתָנוּ: בָרוּךְ אַתָה יְיָ, מְקַדֵשׁ הַשַבָת וְיִשְרָאֵל וְהַזְמֲנִים.
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheynu melech ha’olam, asher bakhar banu im kol ha-amim, v’rom'manu im kol lashon, v’kidshanu b’mitzvotav. Va-titen lanu Adonai eloheynu, b’ahavah (shabatot limnucha u-) mo’adim l’simkha, hagim u-z’manim l’sason, et yom (ha-(shabbat hazeh v'et yom) ha-Pesach hazeh, z’man cheruteinu, (b'ahavah) mikra kodesh, zecher l’tziat mitzrayim. Ki vanu vacharta, v’otanu kidashta, im kol ha’amim u-moadim kadshekha (b'ahavah uvratzon) v’simcha uv-sason hin-khaltanu. Baruch atah, Adonai, m’kadesh (ha-shabbat v') Yisrael v’hazmanim.
We praise You, Sovereign of Existence! You have called us for service along with other peoples, and have hallowed our lives with commandments. In love You have given us (Shabbat and) festivals for rejoicing, seasons of celebration, including this (Shabbat and this) Festival of Matzot, the time of our freedom, a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. Praised are You, our Eternal God, Who gave us this joyful heritage and Who sanctifies (Shabbat and) Israel and the festivals.
בָרוּךְ אַתָה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְרִי הַגָפֶן.
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei p’ri hagafen.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.
[After the blessing, drink the wine/juice and then refill.]
Who are you?
I'm Yisrael. I'm a God-wrestler. I'm someone who wrestles with the holy, with the Source of All Being, with my understanding of ultimate reality, and I expect God to wrestle back. I dance with God. I waltz with Torah. I stay up all night grappling with angels, and even if I come away limping, I know I come away blessed. I'm a wandering Aramean, and I'm wearing my traveling shoes. I'm a child of the house of Israel, and my community and I and anyone else who hears freedom's call—are walking into the wilderness together.
Where are you coming from?
I'm coming from Mitzrayim. From the narrow place. From slavery. From constriction. From the birth canal. I'm coming from hard labor. I'm coming from the surfeit of sweetness that lulls me into forgetting the world's imperfections. I've been settling for what hurts, too fearful to risk something new. I'm coming from suffering and isolation. I'm coming from addiction to my work, addiction to success, addiction to separation. I'm coming from "if I stopped working, I'm not even sure who I'd be."
Where are you going?
I'm going to Yerushalayim. I'm going to Ir Shalem, the city of wholeness. I'm going to Ir
Shalom, the city of peace. I'm going where talking to God is a local call. I'm heading toward my best imaginings of community and connection. I'm clicking my ruby slippers with fervent kavanah and moving toward the meaning of home. Maybe I'm going to a place; maybe I'm going to a state of mind. Maybe it's an asymptotic progression toward something that can't be reached. Maybe it's the journey that defines me.
I am Yisrael. I am coming from Mitzrayim. And the moon is almost full: tomorrow we're packing our bags. Grabbing the flatbread. And setting out. It's time to go.
When I see the word "Israel"
When I see the word
wrestles with God
When I see the word
I do not see
the chosen few
I see those few who choose
Those few who choose
to wrestle with You,
in which both wrestlers
and in which the one
I see those few who choose,
among the many nations among all people,
those few who choose
to make love
and those who say:
I betroth myself to you
whether it feels like honey
or a thornbush
because even the thornbush
When I see the world
I know many claim it as their own
As a title a privilege a status
As if God chose them
they are right in this:
but they are wrong in thinking:
God breathes through many begotten sons
God wrestles through his glorious perverts
and as there is only one contestant
for better or for worse...
is an embrace
do you seek God? God seeks you.
Who will you allow
to be victorious?
This symbolic hand-washing recalls Miriam's Well. This well followed Miriam, sister of Moses, through the desert. Filled with waters of life, the well was a source of strength and renewal to all who drew from it. One drink from its waters was said to alert the heart, mind and soul, and make the meaning of Torah more clear.
When we wash hands again later, we will say blessings to sanctify that act. This hand washing is purely symbolic, and therefore the blessing is unspoken.
We will spend the night recounting
Far-off events full of wonder,
And because of all of the wine
The mountains will skip like rams.
Tonight they will exchange questions:
The wise, the godless, the simple-minded and the child.
And time reverses its course,
Today flowing back into yesterday,
Like a river enclosed at its mouth.
Each of us has been a slave in Egypt,
Soaked straw and clay with sweat,
And crossed the sea dry-footed.
You too, stranger.
This year in fear and shame.
Next year in virtue and justice. (Primo Levi)
We eat a green vegetable dipped in salt water. The green vegetable represents rebirth, renewal and growth; the salt water represents the tears of enslavement.
בָרוּךְ אַתָה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ רוחַ הָעוֹלָם
בּוֹרֵא פְרִי הָאֲדָמָה
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu ruach ha’olam, borei p’ri ha’adamah.
Blessed are you, Adonai, Breath of Life, creator of the fruit of the earth.
[Open the door as a sign of hospitality; lift up matzah for all to see.]
Are all who are hungry truly able to eat anywhere, let alone with us? How many of us would really invite a hungry stranger into our house today? How can we correct the systemic problems that create hunger, poverty, and oppression? (Rabbah Emily Aviv Kapor).
The Bread of Affliction
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 needy come and celebrate the Passover with us.
Now we are here; next year may we be in the Land of Israel.
Now we are slaves; next year may we be free.
[Close the door. Break a middle matzah and wrap the larger half in a cloth; it is the afikoman.]
Pirkei Imahot 1:1 (Sayings of the Mothers 1:1)
On this night of doorways, the bread of our ancestors waits on our table.
It is easy to think of this round flat bread as a full moon, except the moon was once part of this planet and was ripped away and the seas keep longing for it and leaping upward.
The whole is already broken. The ball of the earth has its shifting tectonic plates; the skin has its pores where the air bores in. Everything whole in the world has an edge where it broke off something or was cut away. The bread we are about to break is already broken.
We want to think it and we are perfect, but the loaf is an illusion, a compromise with the shattering of light.
Yet maybe it’s in slow breaking that wholeness happens. The bud of the apple tree fragments into beauty and the stem of the iris tears its way through the soil. The heart breaks as it grows.
You could call that wholeness: the movement of life toward a fuller version of itself, the egg releasing its core into the world, the tree lurching its way toward branches.
It’s the splitting of the sea that lets us out of Egypt: severed from the old self we thought invincible, we run toward a future that shatters the moment we enter it, becoming the multiple and unknown present. Bless the world that breaks to let you through it, Bless the gift of the grain that smashes its molecules to feed you over & over.
This Passover night, time is cracking open. Wholeness is not the egg; it’s the tap tap tap of the wet-winged baby bird trying to get out. Break the bread at the feast of liberation. Go ahead. Do it. The whole is already broken, and so are you, and freedom has to have its jagged edges. But keep one half for later, because this story isn’t whole, and isn’t over. (Rabbi Jill Hammer)
When the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, saw misfortune threatening the
Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a special fire, say a special prayer, and the trouble would be averted.
Later, when his disciple, the Rabbi Maggid of Mezritch, had occasion for the same reason to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: "Master of the Universe, listen! I cannot light the fire, but I know the place and I can say the prayer."
Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save the Jewish people, would go into the forest and say: "I cannot light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place.
Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his house, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: "I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story, and this must be sufficient."
And it was sufficient.
Once Were Slaves
We were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Eternal led us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Had not the Holy One led our ancestors out of Egypt, we and our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved. Therefore, even if all of us were wise, all-discerning, scholars, sages and learned in Torah, it would still be our duty to tell the story of the Exodus.
"Avadim hayinu; ata b’nei chorin. We were slaves, but now we are free." Though we no longer labor under Pharaoh’s overseers, we may still be enslaved—now in subtler ways, harder to eradicate. Do we enslave ourselves to our jobs? To our expectations? To the expectations of others? To our fears?
Tonight we celebrate our liberation from Egypt—in Hebrew, Mitzrayim, literally “the narrow place.” But narrow places exist in more ways than one. Let this holiday make us mindful of internal bondage, which, despite outward freedom, keeps us enslaved.
[It is traditional for the youngest person at a seder to ask four questions. (It’s actually one question with four answers.) We know the question, and we know the answers, but we ask anyway because there is always something to learn. No matter how “wise” we become, we must remember to question.]
[The youngest child chants the Four Questions:]
מַה נִּשְׁתַנָּה הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת?
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוֹ אוֹכְלִין חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה. הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶה כֻּלּוֹ מַצָּה:
שֶבְכָל הַלֵילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין שְאָר יְרָקוֹת הַלַיְלָה הַזֶה מָרוֹר:
שֶבְכָל הַלֵילוֹת אֵין אָנוּ מַטְבִילִין אֲפִילוּ פַעַם אֶחָת. הַלַיְלָה הַזֶה שְתֵי פְעָמִים:
שֶבְכָל הַלֵילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין בֵין יוֹשְבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִין. הַלַיְלָה הַזֶה כֻלָנוּ מְסֻבִין:
Mah nishtanah halaila hazeh mikol halaylot?
Shebakhol halaylot anu okhleen khamaytz u’matzah, halaila hazeh kulo matzah.
Shebakhol halaylot anu okhleen sh’ahr y’rakot, halaila hazeh maror.
Shebakhol halaylot ayn anu matbeeleen afeelu pa’am akhat, halaila hazeh sh’tay f’ameem.
Shebakhol halaylot anu okh’leen beyn yoshveen u’vayn m’subeen, halaila hazeh kulanu
Why is tonight different from all other nights?
On all other nights we may eat either leavened bread or matzah; tonight, only matzah, that we may recall the unleavened bread our ancestors baked in haste.
On all other nights we need not taste bitterness; tonight, we eat bitter herbs, that we may recall the suffering of slavery.
On all other nights we needn’t dip our food in condiments even once; tonight we dip twice, in saltwater to remember our tears when we were enslaved, and in haroset to remember the mortar and the bricks which we made.
On all other nights we eat sitting up; tonight, we recline, to remind ourselves to savor our
In addition to the Four Questions, tonight we ask ourselves a fifth:
We are commanded to celebrate as if each one of us were personally liberated from Egypt. In the next year, how do you hope to bring yourself closer to freedom?
Four times the Torah bids us tell our children about the Exodus from Egypt. Four times the Torah repeats: “And you shall tell your child on that day” From this, our tradition infers four kinds of children...
The Torah speaks of four kinds of children: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who does not yet know how to ask.
The Wise One says: “What is the meaning of the rules, laws and practices which God has commanded us to observe?”
You shall tell him the story of the Exodus and shall teach him Torah, midrash and commentary, down to the last detail.
The Wicked One says: “What is the meaning of this service to you?”
You shall tell her “I do this because of the wonderful things which God did for me when
God brought me out of Egypt.” You shall say “for me,” not “for us,” because in asking what the service means “to you” she has made it clear that she does not consider herself a part of the community for whom the ritual has meaning.
The Simple One asks, “What is this?”
You shall tell him of the deliverance from the house of bondage.
The One Who Does Not Know How To Question, for her you must open the way.
Once upon a time our people went into exile in the land of Egypt. During a famine our ancestor Jacob and his family fled to Egypt where food was plentiful. His son Joseph had risen to high position in Pharaoh’s court, and our people were well-respected and well-regarded, secure in the power structure of the time.
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 boy-children be killed.
Two midwives named Shifrah and Puah defied his orders, claiming that
“the Hebrew women are so hardy, they give birth before we arrive!”
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 Moshe because min ha-mayim m’shitihu, from the water she drew him forth. She hired his 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, he 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. (For this reason we eat unleavened bread as we take part in their journey.) 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, and traded her old title ( bat-Pharaoh, daughter of Pharaoh) for the name Batya, “daughter of God.”
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.
Midrash teaches that, while watching the Egyptians succumb to the ten plagues, the angels broke into songs of jubilation. God rebuked them, saying “My creatures are perishing, and you sing praises?”
As we recite each plague, we spill a drop of wine—symbol of joy—from our cups. Our joy in our liberation will always be tarnished by the pain visited upon the Egyptians.
דָּם. Dam Blood
צְפְַרדֵּעַ. Tzfarde’ah Frogs
כִּנִּים. Kinim Lice
עָרוֹב. Arov Insect swarms
דֶּבֶר. Dever Cattle plague
שְׁחִין. Sh'chin Boils
בָּרָד. Barad Hail
אַרְבֶּה. Arbeh Locusts
חֹשֶׁךְ. Choshech Darkness
מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת: Makat B'chorot Death of the First-Born
Today's plagues may be less obvious or dramatic, but are no less insidious...and responsibility for their existence lies on our shoulders. They include:
Apathy in the face of evil
Brutal torture of the helpless
Cruel mockery of the old and the weak
Despair of human goodness
Envy of the joy of others
Falsehood and deception corroding our faith
Greedy theft of earth’s resources
Hatred of learning and culture
Instigation of war and aggression
Justice delayed, justice denied, justice mocked…
Shekhinah, soften our hearts and the hearts of our enemies. Help us to dream new paths to freedom, so that the next sea-opening is not also a drowning; so that our singing is never again their wailing. So that our freedom leaves no one orphaned, childless, gasping for air.
Dayenu: It Would Have Been Enough
What does this mean, "It would have been enough"? Surely no one of these would indeed have been enough for us. Dayenu means to celebrate each step toward freedom as if it were enough, then to start out on the next step. It means that if we reject each step because it is not the whole liberation, we will never be able to achieve the whole liberation. It means to sing each verse as if it were the whole song—and then sing the next verse.
Brought us out of Egypt and not divided the sea for us— Dayenu
Divided the sea and not permitted us to cross on dry land— Dayenu
Permitted us to cross on dry land and not sustained us for forty years in the desert— Dayenu
Sustained us for forty years in the desert and not fed us with manna— Dayenu
Fed us with manna and not given us the Sabbath— Dayenu
Given us the Sabbath and not brought us to Mount Sinai— Dayenu
Brought us to Mount Sinai and not given us the Torah— Dayenu
Given us the Torah and not led us into the land of Israel— Dayenu
Led us into the land of Israel and not built for us the Temple— Dayenu
Built for us the Temple and not sent us prophets of truth— Dayenu
Sent us prophets of truth and not made us a holy people— Dayenu
For all these, alone and together, we say— Dayenu !
Second Cup of Wine
הִנְנִי מוּכָן וּמְזֻמָן לְקֵַיּם מִצְַות כּוֹס שְנִָיּה מֵאְַרבַע כּוֹסוֹת לְשֵם
יִחוּד קוּדְשָא בְרִיךְ הוּא וּשְכִינְתֵיהּ.
Hin'hi muchan u-m'zuman l'kayem mitzvat kos shniyah m'arbah cosot
l'shem yichud kudsha brich hu u-schinteh.
I take upon myself the mitzvah of this second of four cups of wine, in the name of the unification of the Holy Blessed One with Shekhinah!
The second cup of wine represents God’s second declaration of redemption: “I will free you from slavery.”
Tonight we may bless wine using several variations on the traditional Hebrew, reflecting different ways of conceptualizing the divine.
ברוּכָה אַת, שְכִינָה, רוּחַ הָעוֹלָם, בוֹראֵת פְרִי הַגָפֶן.
Brucha At, Shekhinah, ruach ha-olam, boreit pri hagafen.
Blessed are you, Shekhinah, Breath of Life, creator of the fruit of the vine.
Signs and Symbols
Rabban Gamaliel has said: one who has not explained the following three symbols has not fulfilled their duty: tonight we will explain seven! One for each day of the week; one for each of the seven lower sefirot / aspects of divinity. And they are:
The Maror, bitter herb or horseradish, which represents the bitterness of slavery.
The Haroset, a mixture of apples and nuts and wine, which represents the bricks and mortar we made in ancient times, and the new structures we are beginning to build in our lives today.
The Lamb Shank (or: beet ) which represents the sacrifices we have made to survive. Before the tenth plague, our people slaughtered lambs and marked our doors with blood: because of this marking, the Angel of Death passed over our homes and our first-born were spared.
The Egg, which symbolizes creative power, our rebirth.
The Parsley, which represents the new growth of spring, for we are earthy, rooted beings, connected to the Earth and nourished by our connection.
Salt water of our tears, both then and now.
Matzot of our unleavened hearts: may this Seder enable our spirits to rise.
And what about the orange?
Susannah Heschel writes. “I felt that an orange was suggestive of something else: the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life.” To speak of slavery and long for liberation, she says, “demands that we acknowledge our own complicity in enslaving others.”
One additional item on our seder plate, therefore, is an orange, representing the radical feminist notion that there is—there must be—a place at the table for all of us, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. May our lives be inclusive, welcoming, and fruitful.
And the olive?
The final item on our seder plate is an olive. After the Flood, Noah’s dove brought back an olive branch as a sign that the earth was again habitable. Today ancient olive groves are destroyed by violence, making a powerful symbol of peace into a casualty of war.
We keep an olive on our seder plate as an embodied prayer for peace, in the Middle East and every place where war destroys lives, hopes, and the freedoms we celebrate tonight.
In Every Generation
In every generation one must see oneself as if one had personally experienced the Exodus from Egypt. As it is written: "You shall speak to your children on that day, saying, this is how the Holy Blessed One redeemed me from Egypt. It wasn't merely my ancestors who were redeemed, but the Holy Blessed One also redeemed us with them, as it is said, 'And we went forth from there, in order that God might lead us to the land which had been promised to our ancestors.'"
Redemption wasn't a one-time thing that happened to our ancestors in bygone times; it is an ongoing experience, something that can ripple into our consciousness every day. We too were redeemed from Egypt, and we are perennially offered the possibility of living in a state of redemption if only we will open our hearts and our eyes.
This teaching ends with the understanding that God redeemed us from the Narrow Place in order to lead us to the land which had been promised to our forebears. What do we make of that idea? What does it mean to believe that God promised our ancestors a piece of land? Do we, or can we, own a piece of God's earth? Can a piece of earth own us?
What questions does this passage raise for you? How do you understand the notion that we are freed not only from but also toward? Toward what do you see yourself striving this year?
Before eating, we wash our hands, thanking God for the commandment which impels us to mindfulness. What does washing our hands tell us? That we can become clean; that our bodies are sacred and deserving of care.
We wash our hands not to absolve ourselves of responsibility, but to affirm the need to make our hands holy. At this season of freedom and rebirth, we consecrate our hands to the task of building freedom for all who suffer.
בָרוּךְ אַתָה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶר קִדְשָנוּ בְמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָיִם
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu al n'tilat yadayim.
Blessed are You, Source of all Being, who sanctifies us with Your commandments, and
commands us to wash our hands.
Why do we eat matzah? Because during the Exodus, our ancestors had no time to wait for dough to rise. So they improvised flat cakes without yeast, which could be baked and consumed in haste. The matzah reminds us that when the chance for liberation comes, we must seize it even if we do not feel ready—indeed, if we wait until we feel fully ready, we may never act at all.
בְָרוּךְ אַתָה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ
בָרוּךְ אַתָה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶר קִדְשָנוּ בְמִצְוֹתַָיו וְצִוָנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מַצָה
Baruch atah, Adonai eloheinu, melech ha’olam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.
Baruch atah, Adonai eloheinu, melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu al achilat matzah.
Blessed are you, Adonai, Breath of Life, who brings forth bread from the earth.
Blessed are you, Adonai, Breath of Life, who sanctifies us with the commandment to eat
[Everyone eats a piece of matzah.]
Why do we eat maror? Maror represents the bitterness of bondage. Why do we eat haroset? It symbolizes the mortar for the bricks our ancestors laid in Egypt. Though it represents slave labor, haroset is sweet, reminding us that sometimes constriction or enslavement can be masked in familiar sweetness.
Eating the two together, we remind ourselves to be mindful of life with all its sweetness and bitterness, and to seek balance between the two.
בָרוּךְ אַתָה יְיַָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶר קִדְשָנוּ בְמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מָרוֹר:
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al achilat maror.
Blessed are you, Adonai, sovereign of all worlds, who sanctifies us with the commandment to eat the bitter herb.
The sage Hillel originated the tradition of eating matzah and maror together, combining the bread of liberation with a remembrance of the bitterness of slavery.
[Everyone eats a Hillel Sandwich: maror between two pieces of matzah.]
[Find the afikoman and distribute it to all who are seated at the table.]
When the Temple still stood in Jerusalem, it was customary to make an offering of a paschal lamb at this season. Now we eat the afikoman in memory of the offering.
Tzafun means “hidden,” and the afikoman is usually hidden for children to find. Why end the meal thus? Because we want the dinner to end with the taste of slavery/freedom in our mouths—thus the taste of matzah, rather than some unrelated sweet.
But this explains eating matzah late, not the charade of hiding it. The hiding works on two levels: it intrigues the kids—and it allows us to affirm our sense of the Hidden and Mysterious.
On this theory, we hide the larger half of the broken matzah because we are affirming that there is more that is Hidden and Mysterious in the world than any information we can gather.
Psalm 126: A Psalm of Ascents
When God returned us to Zion we were as dreamers.
Then we were full of mirth, and our tongues were full of gladness.
They said among the nations, "magnified is God, who has done these things."
We will magnify God, who has done this for us! And we were joyful.
Turn our captivity, O God, like dry streams in the Negev.
We had planted seeds in tears, but our harvest was gladness.
We went forth with crying-out, carrying seeds;
We return in gladness, carrying God's sheaves.
We bless you now, Wholly One, the power and majesty in all.
You gave us this food,
you sustain our lives
With your grace, with your love, your compassion.
You provide all the food that comes to us,
guiding and nourishing our lives!
Now we hope and we pray
for a wondrous day when no one in our world
will lack bread or food to eat.
We will work to help bring on that time,
when all who hunger will eat and be filled.
Every human will know that Your love is a power
sustaining all life and doing good for all.
We bless you now Wholly One, for feeding everything!
When Israel went forth from Mitzrayim,
The house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,
Judah became God’s holy one,
Israel, God’s dominion.
The sea saw them and fled,
The Jordan ran backward,
Mountains skipped like rams,
Hills like sheep.
What alarmed you, O sea, that you fled,
Jordan, that you ran backward,
Mountains, that you skipped like rams,
Hills, like sheep?
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of Adonai,
At the presence of the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into a pool of water,
The flinty rock into a fountain.
Adonai, remember us and bless: bless the house of Israel, bless the house of Aaron.
Bless those who fear Adonai, small ones and great ones.
May Adonai cause you to increase, you and your children
Be blessed of Adonai, maker of heaven and earth.
The heavens are the heavens of Adonai; the earth was given to humanity.
The dead cannot praise God, nor can those who descend into silence.
And we will praise God, from now and always: halleluyah!
Third Cup of Wine
הִנְנִי מוּכָן וּמְזֻמָּן לְקַיֵּם מִצְוַת כּוֹס שְׁלִישִׁית מֵאַרְבַּע כּוֹסוֹת לְשֵׁם
יִחוּד קוּדְשָא בְרִיךְ הוּא וּשְכִינְתֵיהּ.
Hin'hi muchan u-m'zuman l'kayem mitzvat kos shlishit m'arbah cosot
l'shem yichud kudsha brich hu u-schinteh.
I take upon myself the mitzvah of this third of four cups of wine, in the name of the unification of the Holy Blessed One with Shekhinah!
The third cup of wine represents God’s third declaration of redemption:
“I will liberate you with an outstretched arm…”
נְבָרֵךְ אֵת עֵין הָחַיִים, מָצְמִיחַת פְרִי הַגָפֶן.
N’varekh et ayn ha-chayyim, matzmichat pri hagafen.
Let us bless the source of life that ripens fruit on the vine.
May Our Anger Be Holy
Oppression breeds anger to which we must attend.
Once, we recited this text out of powerlessness. We asked God to pour forth wrath because we were unable to express our own. But in today's world, where we enjoy agency to an unprecedented degree, we must resist the temptations of perennial victimhood and yearning for revenge.
And yet we know that rage, unexpressed, will fester. Let us therefore acknowledge our communal pain. Let us recognize the intersecting systems of oppression which ensnare our world, from antisemitism to xenophobia, and feel appropriate anger in response. And let us recommit ourselves to honing our anger so that it might fuel us to create change, so that our wrath may lead us to redemption.
In the words of the poet Audre Lorde: Focused with precision, [anger] can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives. And let us say: Amen.
Miriam and Elijah
Three thousand years ago, a farmer arose in the Middle East who challenged the ruling elite. In his passionate advocacy for common people, Elijah created a legend, which would inspire generations to come.
Elijah declared that he would return once each generation in the guise of someone poor or oppressed, coming to people's doors to see how he would be treated. Thus would he know whether or not humanity had become ready to participate in the dawn of the Messianic age. He is said to visit every seder, and sip there from his cup of wine.
Tonight we welcome two prophets: not only Elijah, but also Miriam, sister of Moses. Elijah is a symbol of messianic redemption at the end of time; Miriam, of redemption in our present lives.
Miriam’s cup is filled with water, evoking her Well which followed the Israelites in the
wilderness. After the crossing of the Red Sea, Miriam sang to the Israelites a song.
The words in the Torah are only the beginning:
Sing to God, for God has triumphed gloriously;
Horse and driver, God has hurled into the sea.
So the Rabbis asked: Why is the Song of Miriam only partially stated in the Torah? And in midrash is found the answer: the song is incomplete so that future generations will finish it.
That is our task.
Open the door for Elijah and Miriam; [rise.]
You abound in blessings, God, creator of the universe, Who sustains us with living water.
May we,like the children of Israel leaving Egypt, be guarded and nurtured & kept alive in the wilderness and may You give us eyes to see that the journey itself holds
the promise of redemption. Amen.
אֵלִיָּהוּ הַנָּבִיא אֵלִיָּהוּ הַתִשְׁבִּי
במְהֵרָה בְיָמֵנוּ יָבוא אֵלֵינוּ
עִם מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן דָוִד, עִם מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן דָוִד
Eliyahu ha-navi, Eliyahu ha-Tishbi,
Eliyahu (3x) ha-Giladi.
Bimheirah v'yameinu, yavo ei-leinu
im Mashiach ben David (2x)
Elijah, the prophet; Elijiah, the Tishbite; Elijah, of Gilead! Come quickly in our days with the Messiah from the line of David.
Miriam the prophet, strength and song in her hand; Miriam, dance with us in order to increase the song of the world! Miriam, dance with us in order to repair the world. Soon she will bring us to the waters of redemption!
[We close the door and are seated.]
Fourth Cup of Wine
הִנְנִי מוּכָן וּמְזוּמָן לְקַיֵם מִצְוַת כּוֹס ארבע מֵאַרְבַע כּוֹסוֹת לְשֵם יִחוּד
קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא וּשְׁכִינְתֵיהּ
Hin'hi muchan u-m'zuman l'kayem mitzvat kos arbah m'arbah cosot l'shem
yichud kudsha brich hu u-schinteh.
I take upon myself the mitzvah of this fourth of four cups of wine, in the name of the unification of the Holy Blessed One with Shekhinah!
The fourth cup of wine represents God’s fourth declaration of redemption: “I will claim you for me as a people, and I will be your God.” Choose one of the following variations to bless this fourth cup of wine:
בָרוּךְ אַתָה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְרִי הַגָפֶן:
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei pri hagafen.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.
Prayer Closing the Hallel
All Your works shall praise You, our Creator; the righteous will praise You in joyous song. We will thank, exalt, revere and sanctify You. It is good to give thanks to You, and fitting to sing praises to Your name, for You are Eternal from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed are You, Adonai, sovereign who is praised in song!
Tonight we have acknowledged our ancestors. We vow that we will not allow their stories, their experiences, their wisdom to fade. These are our legacy, which we will study and teach to our friends and children. The task of liberation is long, and it is work we ourselves must do. As it is written in Pirke Avot, a collection of rabbinic wisdom: “It is not incumbent upon us to finish the task, but neither may we refrain from beginning it.”
Next Year In...
It is traditional to end a seder with L’shanah ha-ba’ah b’Yerushalayim —Next Year in Jerusalem! The call speaks to a feeling of exile which characterized the Jewish Diaspora for centuries. How might we understand this today? A close look at the word Yerushalayim suggests an answer. The name can be read as deriving from Ir Shalem (“City of Wholeness”) or Ir Shalom (“City of Peace”). No matter where we are or what our politics, we all slip into exile from the state of wholeness and unity which only connection with our Source can provide. Next year, wherever we are, may we be whole and at peace.