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A word about God: everyone has his or her own understanding of what God is. For some people, there is no God, while for others, God is an integral part of their lives. While we may not agree on a singular concept of God, we share a common desire for goodness to prevail in the world. And this is the meaning of tonight: freedom winning out over slavery, good prevailing over evil.
Please consider the source of benevolence in your life, be it God, or a belief in humanity, and hold that source in your hearts as we move through the evening.
As we step into this historical experience, we cannot help but draw to mind the 65 million displaced people and refugees around the world today fleeing violence and persecution, searching for protection. Like our ancestors, today’s refugees experience displacement, uncertainty, lack of resources, and the complete disruption of their lives.
Over the past year, we have read almost daily about humanitarian crises, watched xenophobic hate crimes increase, and been overwhelmed by the sheer number of people being persecuted. In the United States, in particular, we have experienced a devastating closing of doors to refugees. We now have the opportunity this evening to move beyond the headlines and the statistics to focus on the individual experiences behind the numbers and policies. These are the experiences of refugees around the world who, like the ancient Israelites, are finding liberation amidst brokenness and rebuilding their lives. Tonight, as we embrace the experience of our ancestors, we also lift up the experiences of the world’s refugees who still wander in search of safety and freedom.
The word Yisrael (Israel)
When found in the liturgy (religious text), it does not refer to the modern nation/state of Israel;rather it derives from the blessing given to Ya’akov (Jacob) by a stranger with whom he wrestles all night. When the stranger is finally pinned, Ya’akov asks him for a blessing. The stranger says, “Your name will no longer be Ya’akov but Yisrael for you have wrestled with G-d and triumphed.” Therefore when we say “Yisrael” in prayer we are referring to being G-d-wrestlers, not Israelis.
The word Mitzrayim
Throughout the Haggadah, we have chosen the term ‘Mitzrayim’, instead of ‘Egypt’. Mitzrayim comes from the root Tzar, meaning narrow or constricted. It can refer to the geography of the Nile valley, but also to a metaphorical state of confinement. The Passover story is also the story of the birth of the Jewish people, and ‘mitzrayim’ is the narrow passage we moved through. Leaving ‘mitzrayim’ also means freeing ourselves from narrow-mindedness and oppression. And in this time of intense anti-Arab racism, we are intentionally differentiating between the “bad guys” in this story and any contemporary Arab places or people.
The seder officially begins with a physical act: lighting the candles. In Jewish tradition, lighting candles and saying a blessing over them marks a time of transition, from the day that is ending to the one that is beginning, from ordinary time to sacred time. Lighting the candles is an important part of our Passover celebration because their flickering light reminds us of the importance of keeping the fragile flame of freedom alive in the world.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha'olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Yom Tov.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us with laws and commanded us to light the festival lights.
As we light the festival candles, we acknowledge that as they brighten our Passover table, good thoughts, good words, and good deeds brighten our days.
We have come together this evening for many reasons. We are here because Spring is all around, the Earth is reborn, and it is a good time to celebrate with family and friends. We are here because we are Jews, because we are members of the Jewish nation, with its deep historic roots and its valuable old memories and stories.
We are here to remember the old story of the liberation of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt - a great struggle for freedom and dignity. We are here because the struggle for human freedom never stops. We are here to remember all people - Jews and non-Jews - who are still struggling for their freedom.
As we feel how wonderful and important it is for diverse peoples to come together, let us recite and then sing the words of HINNEH MAH TOV.
HINNEH, MAH TOV - BEHOLD, HOW GOOD! (Adaptation* of T'hillim / Psalms 133.1)
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when peoples* dwell together in unity!
Hinneh, mah tov u-mah naim shevet ammim* gam yahad!
(*originally "brothers", or "achim")
One Jewish tradition in preparing for Passover, is eliminating chametz, or leaven from your house. Traditionally, we go through our cupboards and storage areas to remove all products of leavened grain from our possession. When this task (called bedikah) is accomplished, we destroy a symbolic measure of the collected items by burning (biur), and a blessing is recited.
This spring-cleaning gives us an immediate opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah (commandment) of ma’ot hittin (grains of wheat), or caring for the hungry. Many Jews collect their chametz and donate it to a food bank.
Our rabbis remind us that matzah, the sanctified bread of Pesach, is made of the same grain as chametz, that which is forbidden to us on Pesach. What makes the same thing either holy or profane? It is what we do with it, how we treat it, what we make of it. As with wheat, so to with our lives.
As we search our homes, we also search our hearts. What internal chametz has accumulated over the last year? What has puffed us up? What has made us ignore our good inclinations? What has turned us from the paths our hearts would freely follow?
Everyone writes down some personal chametz of which they want to be rid. When everyone is finished, we put our chametz together in a bowl for burning. Together we recite the blessing for burning chametz:
Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu b’mitvotav vitzivanu al biur chametz.
Blessed is the force of all life, who makes us holy with mitzvot and invites us to burn chametz.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ABRAHAM J. HESCHEL
LEADER Prejudice is like a monster which has many heads, an evil which requires many efforts to overcome. One head sends forth poison against the people of a different race, another against the people of a different religion or culture. Thus the evil of prejudice is indivisible.
GROUP Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. Without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social stagnation.
LEADER What is called for is not a silent sigh but a voice of moral compassion and indignation, the sublime and inspired screaming of a prophet uttered by a whole community.
GROUP The voice of justice is stronger than bigotry and the hour calls for that voice as well as the concerted and incessant action.
LEADER I have personal faith. I believe firmly that in spite of the difficulties of these days, in spite of the struggles ahead, we will and we can solve this problem. I believe there will be a better world.
What do these words mean? We are slaves because yesterday our people were in slavery and memory makes yesterday real for us. We are slaves because today there are still people in chains around the world and no one can be truly free while others are in chains. We are slaves because freedom means more than broken chains. Where there is poverty and hunger and homelessness, there is no freedom; where there is prejudice and bigotry and discrimination, there is no freedom; where there is violence and torture and war, there is no freedom. And where each of us is less than he or she might be, we are not free, not yet. And who, this year, can be deaf to the continuing oppression of the downtrodden, who can be blind to the burdens and the rigors that are now to be added to the most vulnerable in our midst? If these things be so, who among us can say that he or she is free?
As we come together in the first year of Trump's presidency the world can seem grim, and at times we are very tired and lose hope of any change occurring. What we drink to tonight is our community fomenting change together, around this table and around the world. We all are engaged in struggle, personally, in this country, and internationally. This year, we drink to the people around the world who have taken the streets, the buildings, the cities in protest of unjust, racist, and classist destruction. Tonight we come together to recount the stories from the past, share stories of present struggles, and envision together the future we will build with our allies.
Share stories of active resistance in which you have participated or that have inspired you over the past year.
Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu Melech ha’olam boreh p’ri ha-gafen.
Blessed is the Source that fills all creation and brings forth the fruit of the vine.
When drinking the four cups and eating the matzah, we lean on our left side to accentuate the fact that we are free people. In ancient times only free people had the luxury of reclining while eating. We ask that this year you consider what it means to recline when so many are not yet free from oppression. This is not a simple question, and so there is no simple answer. In solidarity, you may choose not to recline. Or perhaps we can rest tonight in order to let go of the weight of our fears — our fear of others; of being visible as Jews; of committing to work outside of what is familiar and comfortable — so that we may lean into struggle tomorrow.
We recall those who did not live to see this moment, and those who are unable to celebrate openly their love and connection to God. We are angry at Jewish institutions that deny the spiritual equality of LGBT Jews. We reflect that our liberation is still incomplete — and know that we are part of a chain of generations who, while we will not complete the work, are still obligated to continue it, and thus help fill the cup, for the generations to come.
Blessed is the empty cup, full of potential, of possibilities. Blessed is the cup waiting to be filled. Blessed is the cup of unfolding. And blessed is the Source of Life, who creates us all in Its image, full of love, strength, wisdom and dreams.
THESE WORDS ARE DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO DIED
Because they had no love and felt alone in the world
Because they were afraid to be alone and tried to stick it out
Because they could not ask
Because they were shunned
Because they were sick and their bodies could not resist the disease
Because they played it safe
Because they had no connection
Because they had no faith
Because they felt they did not belong and wanted to die
THESE WORDS ARE DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO DIED
Because they were loners and liked it
Because they acquired friends and drew others to them
Because they drew attention to themselves and always got picked
Because they took risks
Because they were too stubborn and refused to give up
Because they asked for too much
THESE WORDS ARE DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO DIED
Because a card was lost and a number was skipped
Because a bed was denied
Because a place was filled and no other was left
THESE WORDS ARE DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO DIED
Because someone did not follow through
Because someone was overworked and forgot
Because someone left everything to God
Because someone was late
Because someone did not arrive at all
Because someone told them to wait and they just couldn’t any longer
THESE WORDS ARE DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO DIED
Because death is a punishment
Because death is a reward
Because death is the final rest
Because death is eternal rage
THESE WORDS ARE DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO DIED
THESE WORDS ARE DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO SURVIVED
Because their second grade teacher gave them books
Because they did not draw attention to themselves and got lost in the shuffle
Because they knew someone who knew someone else who could help them
and bumped into them on a corner on a Thursday afternoon
Because they played it safe
Because they took risks
Because they were lucky
THESE WORDS ARE DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO SURVIVED
Because they knew how to cut corners
Because they drew attention to themselves and always got picked
Because they had no principles and were hard
THESE WORDS ARE DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO SURVIVED
Because they refused to give up and defied statistics
Because they had faith and trusted in God
Because they expected the worst and were always prepared
Because they were angry
Because they could ask
Because they mooched off others and saved their strength
Because they endured humiliation
Because they turned the other cheek
Because they looked the other way
THESE WORDS ARE DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO SURVIVED
Because life is a wilderness and they were savage
Because life is an awakening and they were alert
Because life is a flowering and they blossomed
Because life is a struggle and they struggled
Because life is a gift and they were free to accept it.
THESE WORDS ARE DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO SURVIVED. BASHERT.
- IRENA KLEPSISZ
To wash your hands, you don’t need soap, but you do need a cup to pour water over your hands. Pour water on each of your hands three times, alternating between your hands. If the people around your table don’t want to get up to walk all the way over to the sink, you could pass a pitcher and a bowl around so everyone can wash at their seats… just be careful not to spill!
Too often during our daily lives we don’t stop and take the 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. Go around the table and share one hope or expectation you have for tonight's seder.
In washing our hands, we also think of those who don't get to share in the basic human right of abundant, clean water
of people deprived of water by the weather in Somalia, in India, in Texas
and those deprived of water by human action in places like Flint, Michigan
as well as those whose homes have been ravaged by wind and water in Colombia, in California, and here in New Jersey.
We wash our hands and accept our responsibilities to those threatened by the presence and absence of water
and pray that those with the human power to change things do not wash their hands of what the world needs them to correct.
Long before the struggle upward begins, there is tremor in the seed.
roots reach down and grab hold.
The seed swells, and tender shoots push up toward light.
This is karpas : spring awakening growth.
A force so tough
it can break stone.
Reader 2: Why do we dip karpas into salt water?
Reader 1:At the beginning of this season of rebirth and growth, we recall the tears of our ancestors in bondage.
Reader 2: And why should salt water be touched by karpas?
Reader 1: To remind us that tears stop. Even after pain. Spring comes.
Salt is unique in that it is bitter on its own, yet sweetens and brings out the taste of that which it is added to. For this reason, salt is the staple of suffering.
There are two perspectives of suffering – Purposeless Suffering and Purposeful Suffering.
Purposeless Suffering is suffering without reason, value, or an end-goal, and is therefore completely bitter. It is based on a keyhole view of life: “What is right in front of my eyes is all there is and there is no grander scheme.”
We squint in order to focus on something in the distance.
The Kabbalists explain that for this reason, the reaction of a person in pain is to close his eyes, since physical eyes don't see the spiritual purpose. Just as a person squints, which is a partial closing of one's eyes in order to focus on something in the physical distance, one may close his eyes completely in order to focus on something in the "spiritual distance.”
Purposeful Suffering is sweetened by understanding the greater context – that all is from God and for the best.
At the Seder, we dip the Karpas into saltwater in order to embody the concept of Purposeful Suffering – that we view any suffering in life as a surgery for our ultimate betterment rather than meaningless torture. (Additionally, we dip Karpas into salt water to represent the tears cried by the Jewish people while enslaved under Egyptian rule.)
We see these two sides of salt expressed by the Dead Sea. Due to its high salt concentration, the Dead Sea contains no life within it, yet has an incredible capacity to heal. On its own, the Dead Sea is "bitter," but when a person dips into the Dead Sea, he is "sweetened."
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree ha-adama.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruits of the earth.
We also dip Karpas to help us remember the sweetness of life. How the universe works in cycles and the spring will always come back around providing us with new life.
The Bible calls matzah the “bread of poverty” (Deuteronomy 16:3). As we break the middle matzah in two we hold it up and invite our entire community to join us in the celebration of, and continual fight for, justice and freedom. The broken matzah reminds us of the deprivation of poverty and is a physical symbol of the very real scarcity of jobs, food, and housing that face those with criminal records and the families they are trying to support.
(One person breaks the middle matzah in two. The larger piece is set aside, and the smaller piece is placed back between the two whole matzot. The plate of matzah is lifted.)
This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let them come and eat; whoever is in need, let them come and join us for the Passover seder. This year we are facing a system riddled with discrimination; next year may we celebrate a fully inclusive society. This year we stand with those who are still enslaved; next year may we all be free.
- Emma Goldman
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well.
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child body
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
The heart of the Passover Seder is the Maggid, meaning storytelling. Maggid comes from the same root as Haggadah, which means telling. The Maggid tells the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. During the Maggid, we say the words, “ (Arami oved avi). ” This phrase is sometimes translated as “My father was a wandering Aramean” and other times as “An Aramean sought to destroy my father.” Somewhere between the two translations lies the essence of the Jewish experience: a rootless people who have fled persecution time and time again.
At this point in the Seder walk with your guests to your front door and place a pair of shoes on your doorstep and read together:
“As we recite the words ‘Arami oved avi,’ we acknowledge that we have stood in the shoes of the refugee. Today, as we celebrate our freedom, we commit ourselves to continuing to stand with contemporary refugees. In honor of this commitment, we place a pair of shoes on our doorstep of this home to acknowledge that none of us is free until all of us are free and to pledge to stand in support of welcoming those who do not yet have a place to call home.”
Invite family and friends to join you by placing a pair of shoes on their doorstep as well. Encourage them this Passover to support welcoming the world’s refugees and stand up against the xenophobia and hatred being levied against these most vulnerable people. You might also direct them to the HIAS website for ways they can amplify their support.
from the HIAS Seder Supplement http://www.hias.org/passover2016-supplement
The most devastating effect of slavery, ultimately, is that the slave internalizes the master's values and accepts the condition of slavery as his proper status. People who live in chronic conditions of poverty, hunger, and sickness tend to show similar patterns of acceptance and passivity. As with slaves,their deprivation deprives from their political and economic status and then becomes moral and psychological reality. It is this reality that was overthrown in the Exodus.—Irving Greenberg
We got used to standing in line at seven o'clock in the morning, at twelve noon, and again at seven o'clock in the evening. We stood in a long queue with a plate in our hand into which they ladled a little warmed-up water with a salty or a coffee flavor. Or else they gave us a few potatoes. We got used to sleeping without a bed, to saluting every uniform, not to walk on the sidewalks, and then again to walk on the sidewalks. We got used to undeserved slaps, blows, and executions. We got accustomed to seeing piled up coffins full of corpses, to seeing the sick amidst dirt and filth, and to seeing the helpless doctors. We got used to the fact that from time to time one thousand unhappy souls would come here, and that from time to time, another thousand unhappy souls would go away.—Peter Fischel, age 15, perished at Auschwitz, 1944
The formal telling of the story of Passover is framed as a discussion with lots of questions and answers. The tradition that the youngest person asks the questions reflects the centrality of involving everyone in the seder. The rabbis who created the set format for the seder gave us the Four Questions to help break the ice in case no one had their own questions. Asking questions is a core tradition in Jewish life. If everyone at your seder is around the same age, perhaps the person with the least seder experience can ask them – or everyone can sing them all together.
מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילות
Ma nishtana halaila hazeh mikol haleilot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכלין חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלּוֹ מצה
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin chameitz u-matzah. Halaila hazeh kulo matzah.
On all other nights we eat both leavened bread and matzah.
Tonight we only eat matzah.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין שְׁאָר יְרָקוֹת הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מָרוֹר
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin shi’ar yirakot haleila hazeh maror.
On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables,
but tonight we eat bitter herbs.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אֵין אָֽנוּ מַטְבִּילִין אֲפִילוּ פַּֽעַם אחָת הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה שְׁתֵּי פְעמים
Shebichol haleilot ain anu matbilin afilu pa-am echat. Halaila hazeh shtei fi-amim.
On all other nights we aren’t expected to dip our vegetables one time.
Tonight we do it twice.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין בֵּין יוֹשְׁבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִּין. :הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלָּֽנוּ מְסֻבין
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin bein yoshvin uvein m’subin. Halaila hazeh kulanu m’subin.
On all other nights we eat either sitting normally or reclining.
Tonight we recline.
Mah nishtanah ha-lailah ha-zeh mi-kol ha-lailot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
We know the traditional answers to this question: On this night, we eat matzah and bitter herbs, we dip and we recline. But this is not all, or even most, of what Passover is about.
On most other nights, we allow the news of tragedy in distant places to pass us by.
We succumb to compassion fatigue – aware that we cannot possibly respond to every injustice that arises around the world.
On this night, we are reminded that our legacy as the descendants of slaves creates in us a different kind of responsibility – we are to protect the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Let us add a fifth question to this year’s seder. Let us ask ourselves,
What must be done?
This year, this Passover, let us recommit to that sacred responsibility to protect the stranger, particularly those vulnerable strangers in faraway places whose suffering is so often ignored.
Let us infuse the rituals of the seder with action:
When tasting the matzah, the bread of poverty, let us find ways to help the poor and the hungry.
When eating the maror, let us commit to help those whose lives are embittered by disease.
When dipping to commemorate the blood that protected our ancestors against the Angel of Death, let us pursue protection for those whose lives are threatened by violence and conflict.
When reclining in celebration of our freedom, let us seek opportunities to help those who are oppressed.
At this season of liberation, join us in working for the liberation of all people. Help us respond to the seder’s questions with action and justice.
To be read following the chanting of the Four Questions.
1. The Torah demands, “Justice, justice shall you pursue!” (Deut 16:20). What are the obstacles to fulfilling this commandment in the context of criminal justice?
2. The Sage Hillel taught: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow” (BT Shabbat 31a). At the heart of our Passover story is the remembrance of being slaves in Egypt. How do we internalize this narrative of “imprisonment” and express it in our own public lives?
3. In Genesis we read that God created human beings, “b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image.” How does institutionalized racism undermine this teaching? Do you feel obliged to assign this teaching to all human beings, including those who have committed heinous crimes?
4. The Talmud teaches, “The person who destroys one life, it is as though that person has destroyed the whole world; and the person who saves one life, it is as though that person has saved the whole world” (JT Sanhedrin 4:1). It is naive to overlook the societal necessity of a working criminal justice system. Imagine a criminal justice system that fulfills the supreme Jewish value of saving lives: What does it “look like”?
Tonight, let’s speak about four people striving to engage in racial justice. They are a complicated constellation of identity and experience; they are not simply good or bad, guileless or silent. They are Jews of Color and white Jews. They are Mizrahi, Sephardi, and Ashkenazi; they are youth, middle-aged, and elders. They are a variety of people who are at different stages of their racial justice journey. Some of them have been on this journey for their entire lives, and for some, today is the first day. Some of them are a part of us, and others are quite unfamiliar.
What do they say? They ask questions about engaging with racial justice as people with a vested interest in Jewishness and Jewish community. How do we answer? We call them in with compassion, learning from those who came before us.
WHAT DOES A QUESTIONER SAY?
“I support equality, but the tactics and strategies used by current racial justice movements make me uncomfortable.”
Time and time again during the journey through the desert, the Israelites had to trust Moses and God’s vision of a more just future that the Israelites could not see themselves. As they wandered through the desert, eager to reach the Promised Land, they remained anxious about each step on their shared journey. They argued that there must be an easier way, a better leader, and a better God. They grumbled to Moses and Aaron in Exodus 16:3, “If only we had died by the hand of God in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the cooking pot, when we ate our fill of bread! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole community to death.” Despite their deep misgivings, they continued onward.
As we learn in our Passover retelling, the journey toward liberation and equity can be difficult to map out. In the midst of our work, there are times when we struggle to truly identify our own promised land. We see this challenge in various movements, whether for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, workers’ rights, and others. In our retelling of these struggles for justice, we often erase conflicts of leadership, strategy debates, or even the strong contemporaneous opposition to their successes. Only when we study these movements in depth do we appreciate that all pushes for progress and liberation endure similar struggles, indecision, and pushback.
WHAT DOES A NEWCOMER SAY?
“How do I reach out and engage with marginalized communities in an authentic and sustained way?”
We tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt year after year; it is a story not only about slavery and freedom, but also a story of transition. At its core, the Passover story is about the process of moving from oppression to liberation. It informs us that liberation is not easy or fast, but a process of engagement and relationship building.
As the Israelites wandered in the desert, they developed systems of accountability and leadership. Every person contributed what they could given their skills, passions, and capacity to create the mishkan, the Israelites’ spiritual sanctuary in the desert. As it says in Exodus 35:29, “[T]he Israelites, all the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that the LORD, through Moses, had commanded to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the LORD.”
Those of us engaging or looking to engage in racial justice work can learn from that example. We need to show up, and keep showing up. We can spend time going to community meetings, trainings, marches, protests, and other actions while practicing active listening and self-education. Only by each person exploring their own privileges and oppressions, whatever they may be, can we show up fully and thoughtfully in this racial justice work.
WHAT DOES A JEW OF COLOR SAY?
“What if I have other interests? Am I obligated to make racial justice my only priority?”
The work of racial justice is not only for People of Color; it is something everyone must be engaged in. Most Jews of Color are happy to be engaged in racial justice, whether professionally, personally, or a mix of both. However, we nd too often the burden of the work falls on our shoulders. The work of racial justice cannot only fall to Jews of Color.
Instead, all Jews who are engaged in tikkun olam, repairing the world, should be engaged in the work of racial justice. Following the leadership of Jews of Color, white Jews must recognize their own personal interest in fighting to dismantle racist systems. When white Jews commit to racial justice work, it better allows Jews of Color to take time for self-care by stepping away from the work or focusing on a different issue. As Rabbi Tarfon writes in Pirke Avot 2:21, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”
WHAT DOES AN AVOIDER SAY?
“I am so scared of being called a racist, I don’t want to engage in any conversations about race.”
Engaging in conversations about difficult and personal subjects takes time and practice. When Joseph first began having prophetic dreams as a young man, he insensitively told his brothers that despite his youth, they would eventually bow down to him. In Genesis 37:8, Joseph’s brothers respond by asking, ‘“Do you mean to rule over us?” And they hated him even more for his talk about his dreams.’ However, as he matured, his dreams became his method of survival. As Joseph learned how to share his dreams with people in power, he was able to reunite with his family and create a period of incredible prosperity in Egypt.
We will make mistakes when engaging in racial justice. It is part of the process. Engaging in racial justice conversations can be painful and uncomfortable; it is also absolutely essential. We must raise up the dignity and complexity in others that we see in ourselves and our loved ones. Empathy for people of different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and races moves us to have these difficult conversations. Compassion for ourselves allows us to keep engaging through any guilt or discomfort.
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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 baby boys be killed. Two midwives named Shifrah and Puah defied his orders. 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 Moses because she drew him forth from the water. Thanks to Moses' sister Miriam, Pharaoh's daughter hired their 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, Moses 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. 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.
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.
But the midwives did not follow orders. Instead of murdering the infants, they took special care of them and their mothers. When Pharaoh asked them to account for all the living children, they made up the excuse that Jewish women gave birth too fast to summon midwives in time.
The midwives' acts of civil disobedience were the first stirrings of resistance among the Jewish slaves. The actions of the midwives gave the people courage both to withstand their oppression and to envision how to overcome it. It became the forerunner of the later resistance. Thus Shifra and Pu'ah were not only midwives to the children they delivered, but also to the entire Jewish nation, in its deliverance from slavery.
Three conclusions from the Exodus story:
1) Wherever you live, it is probably Mitzrayim.
2) There is a better place, a promised land.
3) The way to this promised land is through the wilderness – there is no way to get there except by joining together and marching
Let us all refill our cups.
[Take turns reading. Each person is invited to read a grouped set of lines - or to pass.]
Tonight we drink four cups of the fruit of the vine.
There are many explanations for this custom.
They may be seen as symbols of various things:
the four corners of the earth, for freedom must live everywhere;
the four seasons of the year, for freedom's cycle must last through all the seasons;
or the four matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel.
A full cup of wine symbolizes complete happiness.
The triumph of Passover is diminished by the sacrifice of many human lives
when ten plagues were visited upon the people of Egypt.
In the story, the plagues that befell the Egyptians resulted from the decisions of tyrants,
but the greatest suffering occurred among those who had no choice but to follow.
It is fitting that we mourn their loss of life, and express our sorrow over their suffering.
For as Jews and as Humanists we cannot take joy in the suffering of others.
Therefore, let us diminish the wine in our cups
as we recall the ten plagues that befell the Egyptian people.
As we recite the name of each plague, in English and then in Hebrew,
please dip a finger in your wine and then touch your plate to remove the drop.
Blood - Dam (Dahm)
Frogs - Ts'phardea (Ts'phar-DEH-ah)
Gnats - Kinim (Kih-NEEM)
Flies - Arov (Ah-ROV)
Cattle Disease - Dever (DEH-vehr)
Boils - Sh'hin (Sh'-KHEEN)
Hail - Barad (Bah-RAHD)
Locusts - `Arbeh (Ar-BEH)
Darkness - Hoshekh (KHO-shekh)
Death of the Firstborn - Makkat B'khorot (Ma-katB'kho-ROT)
[Take turns reading. Each person is invited to read a grouped set of lines - or to pass.]
In the same spirit, our celebration today also is shadowed
by our awareness of continuing sorrow and oppression in all parts of the world.
Ancient plagues are mirrored in modern tragedies.
In our own time, as in ancient Egypt, ordinary people suffer and die
as a result of the actions of the tyrants who rule over them.
While we may rejoice in the defeat of tyrants in our own time,
we must also express our sorrow at the suffering of the many innocent people
who had little or no choice but to follow.
As the pain of others diminishes our joys,
let us once more diminish the ceremonial drink of our festival
as we together recite the names of these modern plagues:
Pollution of the Earth Indifference to Suffering
Let us sing a song expressing our hope for a better world.
Reader 1: The idea of justice embodied in our story is direct and unquestioned—punishment for punishment, murdered children for murdered children, suffering for suffering. The people of Mitzrayim suffered because of their own leader, who is in part set-up by an angry G-d eager to demonstrate his own superiority. In our story, all of this was necessary for freedom. Jews have been troubled by this for generations and generations, and so, before we drink to our liberation, we mark how the suffering diminishes our joy by taking a drop of wine out of our cup of joy for each of the ten plagues visited on the people of Mitzrayim.
Reader 1: We are about to recite the ten plagues. As we call out the words, we remove ten drops from our overflowing cups, not by tilting the cup and spilling some out, but with our fingers. This dipping is not food into food. It is personal and intimate, a momentary submersion like the first step into the Red Sea. Like entering a mikvah (a ritual bath).
Reader 2: We will not partake of our seder feast until we undergo this symbolic purification, because our freedom was bought with the suffering of others.
Reader 1: As we packed our bags that last night in Egypt, the darkness was pierced with screams. Our doorposts were protected by a sign of blood. But from the windows of the Egyptians rose a slow stench: the death of their firstborn.
Reader 2: Ya Shechina, soften our hearts and the hearts of our enemies. Help us to dream new paths to freedom.
Reader 1: 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.
Makat B’chorot.............Slaying of the First-Born
Reader: The Pharaoh of the Passover story is not just a cruel king who happened to live in a certain country. The Pharaoh that our ancestors pictured, each and every year, for century after century was for them every tyrant, every cruel and heartless ruler who ever enslaved the people of his or another country.
And this is why Passover means the emancipation of all people in the world from the tyranny of kings, oppressors and tyrants. The first emancipation was only a foreshadowing of all the emancipations to follow, and a reminder that the time will come when right will conquer might, and all people will live in trust and peace. (24)
Now, we commemorate some of the plagues that ravage our present-day societies.
“I have concluded that one way to pay tribute to those we loved who struggled, resisted and died is to hold on to their vision and their fierce outrage at the destruction of the ordinary life of their people. It is this outrage we need to keep alive in our daily life and apply to all situations, whether they involve Jews or non- Jews. It is this outrage we must use to fuel our actions and vision whenever we see any signs of the disruptions of common life: the hysteria of a mother grieving for the teenager who has been shot, a family stunned in front of a vandalized or demolished home; a family separated, displaced; arbitrary and unjust laws that demand the closing or opening of shops and schools; humiliation of a people whose culture is alien and deemed inferior; a people left homeless without citizenship; a people living under military rule. Because of our experience, we recognize these evils as obstacles to peace. At those moments of recognition, we remember the past, feel the outrage that inspired Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto and allow it to guide us in present struggles.”
The Passover Haggadah recounts ten plagues that afflicted Egyptian society. In our tradition, Passover is the season in which we imagine our own lives within the story and the story within our lives. Accordingly, we turn our thoughts to the many plagues affecting our society today. Our journey from slavery to redemption is ongoing, demanding the work of our hearts and hands. Here are ten “modern plagues”:
In any given year, about 3.5 million people are likely to experience homelessness, about a third of them children, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. A recent study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors showed the majority of major cities lack the capacity to shelter those in need and are forced to turn people away. We are reminded time and again in the Torah that the Exodus is a story about a wandering people, once suffering from enslavement, who, through God’s help, eventually find their way to their homeland. As we inherit this story, we affirm our commitment to pursue an end to homelessness.
About 49 million Americans experience food insecurity, 16 million of them children. While living in a world blessed with more than enough food to ensure all of God’s children are well nourished, on Passover we declare, “Let all who are hungry come and eat!” These are not empty words, but rather a heartfelt and age-old prayer to end the man-made plague of hunger.
Access to affordable housing, quality health care, nutritious food and quality education is far from equal. The disparity between the privileged and the poor is growing, with opportunities for upward mobility still gravely limited. Maimonides taught, “Everyone in the house of Israel is obligated to study Torah, regardless of whether one is rich or poor, physically able or with a physical disability.” Unequal access to basic human needs, based on one’s real or perceived identity, like race, gender or disability, is a plague, antithetical to the inclusive spirit of the Jewish tradition.
In the Talmud, the sage Ben Zoma asks: “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with one’s lot.” These teachings evidence what we know in our conscience—a human propensity to desire more than we need, to want what is not ours and, at times, to allow this inclination to conquer us, leading to sin. Passover urges us against the plague of greed, toward an attitude of gratitude.
Discrimination and hatred
The Jewish people, as quintessential victims of hatred and discrimination, are especially sensitized to this plague in our own day and age. Today, half a century after the civil rights movement in the United States, we still are far from the actualization of the dream Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated in Washington, D.C., a vision rooted in the message of our prophets. On Passover, we affirm our own identity as the once oppressed, and we refuse to stand idly by amid the plagues of discrimination and hatred.
Silence amid violence
Every year, 4.8 million cases of domestic violence against American women are reported. Each year, more than 108,000 Americans are shot intentionally or unintentionally in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, accidental shootings and by police intervention. One in five children has seen someone get shot. We do not adequately address violence in our society, including rape, sex trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse, even though it happens every day within our own communities.
Humans actively destroy the environment through various forms of pollution, wastefulness, deforestation and widespread apathy toward improving our behaviors and detrimental civic policies. Rabbi Nachman of Brezlav taught, “If you believe you can destroy, you must believe you can repair.” Our precious world is in need of repair, now more than ever.
Stigma of mental illness
One in five Americans experiences mental illness in a given year. Even more alarming, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly two-thirds of people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment, and minority communities are the least likely to search for or have access to mental health resources. Social stigma toward those with mental illness is a widespread plague. Historically, people with mental health issues have suffered from severe discrimination and brutality, yet our society is increasingly equipped with the knowledge and resources to alleviate the plague of social stigma and offer critical support.
We are living through the worst refugee crisis since the Holocaust. On this day, we remember that “we were foreigners in the land of Egypt,” and God liberated us for a reason: to love the stranger as ourselves. With the memory of generations upon generations of our ancestors living as refugees, we commit ourselves to safely and lovingly opening our hearts and our doors to all peace-loving refugees.
When faced with these modern plagues, how often do we doubt or question our own ability to make a difference? How often do we feel paralyzed because we do not know what to do to bring about change? How often do we find ourselves powerless to transform the world as it is into the world as we know it should be, overflowing with justice and peace?
Written in collaboration with Rabbi Matthew Soffer of Temple Israel of Boston
As all good term papers do, we start with the main idea:
ּעֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ הָיִינו. עַתָּה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין
Avadim hayinu hayinu. Ata b’nei chorin.
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. Now we are free.
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God took us from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. Had God not brought our ancestors out of Egypt, then even today we and our children and our grandchildren would still be slaves. Even if we were all wise, knowledgeable scholars and Torah experts, we would still be obligated to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt.
The plagues and our subsequent redemption from Egypt are but one example of the care God has shown for us in our history. Had God but done any one of these kindnesses, it would have been enough – dayeinu.
אִלּוּ הוֹצִיאָֽנוּ מִמִּצְרַֽיִם, דַּיֵּנוּ
Ilu hotzi- hotzianu, Hotzianu mi-mitzrayim Hotzianu mi-mitzrayim, Dayeinu
If God had only taken us out of Egypt, that would have been enough!
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָֽנוּ אֶת־הַתּוֹרָה, דַּיֵּנוּ
Ilu natan natan lanu, natan lanu et ha-Torah, Natan lanu et ha-Torah , Dayeinu
If God had only given us the Torah, that would have been enough.
The complete lyrics to Dayeinu tell the entire story of the Exodus from Egypt as a series of miracles God performed for us. (See the Additional Readings if you want to read or sing them all.)
Dayeinu also reminds us that each of our lives is the cumulative result of many blessings, small and large.
If He had carried out judgments against them
and had not split the sea for us
If He had split the sea for us,
and had not taken us through it on dry land
If He had taken us through the sea on dry land,
and had not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years
If He had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years,
and had not fed us the manna
If He had fed us the manna,
and had not given us the Shabbat ,
by Joshua Ratner, Rabbis Without Borders
One of my favorite parts of the Passover seder is the singing that takes place after we finish eating. There are so many great, fun songs, from “Ehad Mi Yodeah” to "Chad Gadya."Perhaps my favorite song is “Dayenu.” The words are fairly easy to sing in Hebrew, and the chorus is so catchy that even those who don’t know Hebrew can easily join in. But beyond its functionality, the content of Dayenu (literally “it would have been enough”) also carries a deep amount of wisdom.
Dayenu consists of 15 stanzas referencing different historical contexts the Israelites experienced, from slavery in Egypt to the building of the Temple in Israel. After each stanza, we sing the chorus, signifying that if this was the total of God’s miraculous intervention into the lives of the Israelites, it would have been sufficient.
One of the primary purposes of the Passover seder is to make us feel as if we personally experienced the exodus from Egypt and the redemption from slavery to freedom. This is no less true for the way we understand the Dayenu song. Dayenu provides a powerful contemporary hashkafah (outlook on life), a call to mindfulness about the way we currently lead our lives. We live in an era when capitalism is our state (and increasingly global) religion. Consumption is unfettered by any internal sense of restraint, from the amount of soda we can drink to how much money Wall Street executives can make. We live in a world where it is okay that the richest 85 people in the world have total wealth equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion people on the planet!
Dayenu reminds us that there is another way. Judaism offers an outlook on wealth, consumption, and sufficiency (sova) that is very counter-cultural. InPirkei Avot(Ethics of our Fathers) 4:1, Ben Zoma teaches: “Who is rich? The one who is content with what one has.” Even more austere, the Talmud instructs: “An individual who can eat barley bread but eats wheat bread is guilty of transgressing the law of bal tashchit (unlawful waste). Rabbi Papa states: one who can drink beer but drinks wine instead is guilty of transgressing the law of bal tashchit.” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 140b). Judaism is not, to be sure, an ascetic religion. We are encouraged to carve out occasions for excess, for enjoying the finer parts of living—on Shabbat, holidays, and other joyous occasions. But the wisdom of Judaism is that, if we want to experience delight on these special occasions, we also need moments of restraint. It is the juxtaposition of restraint and largess that creates a life of meaning.
Beyond the individual experience, we also are becoming increasingly aware of the global consequences of championing unbridled materialism over a sense of sufficiency. From income inequality to climate change, our refusal to entertain limits on what we do and how much we consume are wreaking destructive consequences. By returning to a sense of Dayenu, of thinking deeply about what is enough, we have the potential to change ourselves and our world. May we be blessed, on this Pesah and beyond, to replace the idolatry of consumption with an embrace of all that we have.
When governments end the escalating production of devastating weapons, secure in the knowledge that they will not be necessary, Dayenu.
When all women and men are allowed to make their own decisions on matters regarding their own bodies and personal relationships without discrimination or legal consequences, Dayenu.
When children grow up in freedom, without hunger, and with the love and support they need to realize their full potential, Dayenu.
When the air, water, fellow creatures and beautiful world are protected for the benefit and enjoyment of all and given priority over development for the sake of profit, Dayenu.
When people of all ages, sexes, races, religions, sexual orientations, cultures and nations respect and appreciate one another, Dayenu.
When each person can say, "This year, I worked as hard as I could toward improving the world so that all people can experience the joy and freedom I feel sitting here tonight at the seder table," Dayenu v'lo Dayenu - It will and will not be enough.
If we had just been freed from Mitzrayim, it would have been enough, but the Source provided more; if we had just received shabbat, it would have been enough but the Source provided more; it we had just received Torah, it would have been enough, but the Source provided more.
When we look out this broken world, and all the work necessary heal it, how do we know when WE have done enough, and when WE should provide more of our time, or energy, or investment?
What if no one ever looks us in the eye and says "Dayenu" ? What if someone does and we don't believe them?
How do we know it is time to pause and appreciate where we are instead of trying to get to the next place?
How do we know when it is time to reflect on on we've done and be grateful rather than to enumerate all that must still be done?
And when we are exhausted, or discouraged, or just want to do something easier, how do we know if we should push on and do more, or if we should have done enough, and can rest?
The Passover Symbols
We have now told the story of Passover… but wait! We’re not quite done. There are still some symbols on our seder plate we haven’t talked about yet. Rabban Gamliel would say that whoever didn’t explain the shank bone, matzah, and marror (or bitter herbs) hasn’t done Passover justice.
The shank bone represents the Pesach, the special lamb sacrifice made in the days of the Temple for the Passover holiday. It is called the pesach, from the Hebrew word meaning “to pass over,” because God passed over the houses of our ancestors in Egypt when visiting plagues upon our oppressors.
The matzah reminds us that when our ancestors were finally free to leave Egypt, there was no time to pack or prepare. Our ancestors grabbed whatever dough was made and set out on their journey, letting their dough bake into matzah as they fled.
The bitter herbs provide a visceral reminder of the bitterness of slavery, the life of hard labor our ancestors experienced in Egypt.
Even after one has encountered the collection of seemingly unconnected foods on the seder plate year after year, it’s fun to ask what it’s all about. Since each item is supposed to spur discussion, it makes sense that adding something new has been one way to introduce contemporary issues to a seder.
So how was it that the orange found its place on the seder plate as a Passover symbol of feminism and women’s rights?
The most familiar version of the story features Susannah Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel and scholar in her own right, giving a speech about the ordination of women clergy. From the audience, a man declared, “A woman belongs on the bima like an orange belongs on the seder plate!” However, Heschel herself tells a different story.
During a visit to Oberlin College in the early 1980s, she read a feminist Haggadah that called for placing a piece of bread on the seder plate as a symbol of the need to include gays and lesbians in Jewish life. Heschel liked the idea of putting something new on the seder plate to represent suppressed voices, but she was uncomfortable with using chametz, which she felt would invalidate the very ritual it was meant to enhance. She chose instead to add an orange and to interpret it as a symbol of all marginalized populations.
A decade later, the ritual of Miriam’s Cup emerged as another way to honor women during the seder. Miriam’s Cup builds upon the message of the orange, transforming the seder into an empowering and inclusive experience.
Although Miriam, a prophet and the sister of Moses, is never mentioned in the traditional Haggadah text, she is one of the central figures in the Exodus story.
According to Jewish feminist writer Tamara Cohen, the practice of filling a goblet with water to symbolize Miriam’s inclusion in the seder originated at a Rosh Chodesh group in Boston in 1989. The idea resonated with many people and quickly spread.
Miriam has long been associated with water. The rabbis attribute to Miriam the well that traveled with the Israelites throughout their wandering in the desert. In the Book of Numbers, the well dries up immediately following Miriam’s death. Of course, water played a role in Miriam’s life from the first time we meet her, watching over the infant Moses on the Nile, through her triumphant crossing of the Red Sea.
There is no agreed-upon ritual for incorporating Miriam’s Cup into the seder, but there are three moments in the seder that work particularly well with Miriam’s story.
1) As Moses’s sister, Miriam protected him as an infant and made sure he was safely received by Pharaoh’s daughter. Some seders highlight this moment by invoking her name at the start of the Maggid section when we begin telling the Passover story.
2) Other seders, such as this one, incorporate Miriam’s cup when we sing songs of praise during the Maggid and later during the Hallel as a reminder that Miriam led the Israelites in song and dance during the Exodus.
3) Still others place Miriam’s Cup alongside the cup we put out for Elijah.
Just as there is no set time in the seder to use Miriam’s Cup, there is no set ritual or liturgy either. Some fill the cup with water at the start of the seder; others fill the cup during the seder. Some sing Debbie Friedman’s “Miriam’s Song”; others sing “Miriam Ha-Neviah.” As with all seder symbols, Miriam’s Cup is most effective when it inspires discussion.
What does Miriam mean to you? How do all of her roles, as sister, protector, prophet, leader, singer, and dancer, contribute to our understanding of the Exodus story? Who are the Miriams of today?
We pass over prisons every day as well, and so rarely do we ever see what is inside. Inside U.S. prisons are approximately 25% of all prisoners in the world, despite that our country amounts to a mere 5% of the global population (United States Census Bureau and International Center for Prison Studies). People of Color constitute approximately 67% of the incarcerated even though they make up less than 37% of the U.S. population. Black men are imprisoned at more than 6 times the rate of White men (sentencingproject.org). Through inhumane, excessive punitive laws, unfettered institutional racism, and widespread ignorance and apathy, our system of laws and justice has lost its way: we have “recidivated” back into Egypt.
Leader holds up the Pine Cone from Seder Plate and continues.
LEADER: Therefore, this year we add a pine cone to our Seder Plate, as a reminder of mass incarceration and the work it will take to repair this injustice.
ALL: This Passover, we refuse to pass over the pine cone because we know that hidden inside is something precious.
LEADER: This Passover, we refuse to pass over our prisons because we know that inside is God’s most precious fruit of all: the human soul.
ALL: This Passover, we recognize that God passed over Israelite homes on the eve of their liberation for a reason: So that we, the community of Israel, will forever serve the continuous movement from darkness to light, cruelty to compassion, slavery to redemption.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh HaOlam Matir Asurim. Blessed are You, Eternal Our God, who frees the captive. Amen.
Are you putting a pine cone on your Seder plate this year? Share it with us on social media with the hashtag #PassoverPineCone.
Dedicated To The Struggle For Peace And Freedom
The second cup of wine is dedicated
not only to the struggles of the Jewish people,
but to all people seeking a secure life free of fear and persecution.
We hope and work particularly for the Israelis and the Palestinians
that they may all learn to live together in freedom and peace.
Let us strive to fulfill the words of the prophet Micah:
"They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not take up sword against nation, they shall never again know war.
But they shall sit every one under their vines and fig trees,
and none shall make them afraid" (Micah 4.3-4).
Let us all raise our glasses in a toast to peace and freedom for all.
P'ri ha-gaphen - `itto, nishteh
The fruit of the vine - with it, let us drink
"To Peace and Freedom!"
We work so hard every day to live our beliefs, to build just and loving relationships, and to just get by. And rarely do we pause to savor and appreciate that work. It is good to act for justice and it is righteous to pause and appreciate that work. Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Hasidic rabbi and organizer, explains, “A temple can be destroyed; a people dispersed, and so it happened for the Jews many times over thousands of years. But a Sabbath day cannot be burned, smashed or shattered." When we take the time to reflect, to breathe, we are creating the Sabbath in our everyday life.
Bring to mind something which sustains you either spiritually or physically. Then imagine what sustains it, and offer that your praises.
As we now transition from the formal telling of the Passover story to the celebratory meal, we once again wash our hands to prepare ourselves. In Judaism, a good meal together with friends and family is itself a sacred act, so we prepare for it just as we prepared for our holiday ritual, recalling the way ancient priests once prepared for service in the Temple.
Some people distinguish between washing to prepare for prayer and washing to prepare for food by changing the way they pour water on their hands. For washing before food, pour water three times on your right hand and then three times on your left hand.
After you have poured the water over your hands, recite this short blessing.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָֽיִם
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al n’tilat yadayim.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who made us holy through obligations, commanding us to wash our hands.
We, as women and queer people, have been told for too long that we’re impure. So at this meal, inspired by the Sha'ar Zahav LBBTQ Seder, we invite you to consider the practice of hand washing and, if you so choose, to refrain from it at this meal to remind ourselves and the world that we come to this seder already whole and pure, all of us created in the image of God.
The blessing over the meal and matzah | motzi matzah | מוֹצִיא מַצָּה
The familiar hamotzi blessing marks the formal start of the meal. Because we are using matzah instead of bread, we add a blessing celebrating this mitzvah.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּוֹצִיא לֶֽחֶם מִן הָאָֽרֶץ
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who brings bread from the land.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתַָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מַצָּה
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al achilat matzah.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who made us holy through obligations, commanding us to eat matzah.
Distribute and eat the top and middle matzah for everyone to eat.
We dip the bitter herb in the charoset and say:
Baruch atah Adanai eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kid-shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu al achilat maror.
Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d, who has shown us paths to holiness, and invites us to eat the bitter herb.
The maror stimulates our senses, let us use it as a stimulus to action to remind us that struggle is better than complicit acceptance of injustice. We taste the bitter herbs and recognize the bitter consequences of exploitation: the loss of lives and the waste of the powerful potential of all people. (9)
We eat the bitter herb without reclining.
We now take some maror and charoset and put them between two pieces of matzah.
In doing this, we recall our sage Hillel (head of the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of Yisrael, 1st century B.C.E.) who, in remembrance of the loss of the Temple, created the Koreich sandwich. He said that by eating the Koreich, we would taste the bitterness of slavery mixed with the sweetness of freedom. This practice suggests that part of the challenge of living is to taste freedom even in the midst of oppression, and to be ever conscious of the oppression of others even when we feel that we are free.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am for myself only, what am I?
And if not now, when?
And if not with others, how?
-- Adrienne Rich
A Jew-hater mocked Hillel by asking if he could teach the whole Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel replied, “What is hateful to yourself, do not to another. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary.”
Eating the meal! | shulchan oreich | שֻׁלְחָן עוֹרֵךְ
Enjoy! But don’t forget when you’re done we’ve got a little more seder to go, including the final two cups of wine!
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/
It's time to find the afikoman and tzafunnest part of the night! Go get it.
The Third Cup
(Pour the third cup of wine)
Reader 1: The swords have not yet been put aside, and the time of the plowshare and the pruning hooks is still to come. But the journey has begun. Towards that redemption, let us lift once again our glasses of wine and
join in the blessing:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam boreh p’ri ha-gafen.
We praise You, O God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who brings forth the fruit of the vine.
(Leaning to the left, all drink the third cup of wine.)
Reader 1: That's the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible truth and be shattered.
It's really 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 my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusio, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a
wilderness. I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too. I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.
Group: 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, The Diary of Anne Frank.
A cup to the freedom fighters
this is a prayer for all freedom fighters, a prayer for the tired, the burnt out, the heartsick, the cynical
this is a prayer for all freedom fighters brave enough to cry, for the reaching around of arms, the firm handclaps of comradeship, the sanctuary of bodies when we need to hide our faces.
this is a prayer for wordless understanding, the flickering human eye flames of humor and warmth, compassion and mirth, the ridiculous, horrific, ecstatic worlds in our eyes, the volumes of untold stories.
this is a prayer for laugh lines and stretch marks, for the tough beauty of mothers and old folks, for skin gone leathery with the sun and the passage of years, for dirt stained knuckles and chapped lips.
this is a prayer for the road map scars, the burn marks, the tender new flesh of healing, the tattoos, the cuts and bruises, the patchwork of our hearts.
seeds watered with tears and summer thunderstorm torrents.
I am binding our stories together, blood and bone and sinew, stitch, solder, suture. I am building something with drill, paintbrush, knife, welding torch, needle, thread, time, garlic, hope, trash.
this is my prayer, this is my wish, this is my song under my breath and all the love in my heart, this is my loud cursing and giggling, this is my holiest silence.
Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam boreh p'ri hagafen.
Blessed is the source that fills all creation and brings forth the fruit of the vine.
April 19, 1943, is a historic date in modern Jewish history, the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The Nazis had planned to liquidate the Ghetto as a birthday present for Hitler – A Judenrein Warsaw—a Warsaw empty of Jews.
But the Jews knew of their plans and were prepared. Unable to take the ghetto by military force, the Germans destroyed the Ghetto in desperation, brick by brick. With the Warsaw Ghetto in flames, the fighters turned to guerilla activity and lived in underground bunkers. When the bunkers were dynamited, the Jews fought from the sewers. And when the poison gas poured on the sewers the survivors struggled on amid the charred rubble of the Ghetto.
On May 16 the Germans announced that the fighting was over and that “the Jewish quarter of Warsaw no longer exists.” But even after the Nazis claimed their victory, there were still hundreds of Jews in the subterranean bunkers of the Ghetto, which was now a heap of ruins. Sporadic skirmished continued over the next several months. It took Hitler longer to subdue the Jews of Warsaw then to conquer all of Czechoslovakia and Poland.
One of the most amazing ironies of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is that it began on the first night of Passover – the celebration of the liberation from bondage, the celebration of spring, rebirth, the gathering of Jewish people to face down tyranny and assert their right to liberty. It is fitting that at our seder we remember and pay homage to those who gave their livers for our honor and freedom.
In this joyous day we remember six million of our people and millions of Poles, Gypsies, gay, lesbian, gender queer people, and others consumed in the Nazi Holocaust. Many of them were not buried and their graves were not marked. They were consumed in flame and their ashes were scattered but their spirit endured.
During Passover of 1943 the remaining Jews of Warsaw defied Nazi power and rose against it. They did not fight to save their lives, but gave them so history would record that tyranny was opposed.
Even as they faced their deaths in the ghettos and concentration camps they sang, “I believe in the coming Messiah when righteousness will rule.”
We also remember the Armenians in Turkey who walked the stations of genocide before we did; the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the Black people who came to this land in chains of slavery; and the first people of this continent who were free until the US colonized it.
On this Passover we remember again that the bonds of slavery can be broken by both master and slave, the fetters of oppression can be cast off, and in each generation we can re-discover freedom and sing its song.
Observe a moment of silence.
On this Passover, we remember the death and destruction of the past, and also of today. Always, there are mighty Pharaohs, ready to crush the will of the people. Always, there is distrust and fear of movements of resistance. And always, there are explanations which reach beyond reason to justify war.
And we remember that every year, since the beginning of the current Intifada, Jewish and Muslim holidays have meant even tighter restrictions, and more violence for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. To hear the news of repression and death in Israel last year recalls the year before, and those many, many years before that.
We remember the fierce fighters of the Warsaw ghetto, in the same breath that we acknowledge the movements around the world, of people struggling to be free. It is our responsibility to witness and to act for change. We must remember that we are not alone, that heartbreak and grieving are necessary for healing and action.
In the ninth century B.C.E., a farmer arose to challenge the domination of the ruling elite. In his tireless and passionate advocacy on behalf of the common people, and his ceaseless exposure of the corruption and waste of the court, Elijah sparked a movement and created a legend which would inspire people for generations to come.
Before he died, Elijah declared that he would return once each generation in the guise of any poor or oppressed person, coming to people’s doors to see how he would be treated. By the treatment offered this poor person, who would be Elijah himself, he would know whether the population had reached a level of humanity making them capable of participating in the dawn of the Messianic age.
We will each fill Elijah's cup from our own glass, symbolizing our shared responsibility to bring about an age of justice. We will then open the door for the Prophet and sing:
The story has always been told of a miraculous well of living water which has accompanied the Jewish people since the world was spoken into being. The well comes and goes, as it is needed, and as we remember, forget, and remember again how to call it to us. In the time of the exodus from Mitzrayim, the well came to the prophet Miriam, who danced and sang at the Sea of Reeds in joy at the Exodus,in honor of her courage,action, and faith, and stayed with the Jews as they wandered the desert. Upon Miriam’s death, the well again disappeared.
With this ritual of Miriam’s cup, we honor all those whose histories have been erased. Tonight we remember Miriam and ask:
Who on own journey has been a way-station for us?
Who has encouraged our thirst for knowledge?
Who rejuvenates and heals us? Who sings with joy at our accomplishments?
Each person names an act of courage or resistance that they have done or been inspired by in the past year, and pours water into the communal cup until it overflows.
Singing songs that praise God | hallel | הַלֵּל
This is the time set aside for singing. Some of us might sing traditional prayers from the Book of Psalms. Others take this moment for favorites like Chad Gadya & Who Knows One, which you can find in the appendix. To celebrate the theme of freedom, we might sing songs from the civil rights movement. Or perhaps your crazy Uncle Frank has some parody lyrics about Passover to the tunes from a musical. We’re at least three glasses of wine into the night, so just roll with it.
Fourth Glass of Wine
As we come to the end of the seder, we drink one more glass of wine. With this final cup, we give thanks for the experience of celebrating Passover together, for the traditions that help inform our daily lives and guide our actions and aspirations.
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 fourth and final glass of wine!
We are going to conclude our dinner tonight with a celebratory toast - a l’chaim.
Rather than filling our own cup tonight, though, and focusing on us as individuals, let’s fill someone else’s cup and recognize that, as a family and group of friends, we have the resources to help each other and those in our community if we are willing to share our resources and collaborate – whether those resources are time, money, skills, or any of the other gifts we bring to one another.
Many of us around the table may already share our resources in different ways - volunteering in our communities, providing pro bono services, donating to charities, or by advocating or lobbying officials. For others we may still be exploring the ways we’re hoping to share our resources and are looking for outlets to do so.
We are now going to fill our 4th cup of wine and I want to invite you to fill someone else’s cup instead of your own. As you fill someone else’s cup, let’s share with each other our answer to the following:
How can I help in changing the world?
Intense and soul-breaking violence and injustice are the subject of every day's news. As we sit tonight, there are groups all around the country and the world, sitting around tables like this, talking, planning, and moving forward. We drink tonight to the long haul, to the work that must be done now to build a movement of resistance, not only for tomorrow or next week, but far beyond the lives of all of us at this table.
“It is not your duty to complete the work;
neither are you free to desist from it.”
Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu Melech ha’olam boreh p’ri ha-gafen.
Blessed is the Source that fills all creation and brings forth the fruit of the vine.
The Haggadah saves the most demanding call for the final moments of the seder. “Next year in Jerusalem,” we declare, sometimes nervously, sometimes self-consciously, often ambivalently.
At the very least, we can understand the call “Next Year in Jerusalem” as a repudiation of the wicked son: Jews, no matter our politics, have a special responsibility to tie ourselves to Israel’s fate, and to work for the vision of Israel in which we believe. But “Next Year in Jerusalem” also has a spiritual meaning. In Jerusalem itself, the seder concludes with the the call “Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem.” The Jerusalem Jerusalemites are striving for is something else altogether, the Jerusalem on high. Jerusalem is the symbol of peace, the destination of the Messiah, the holiest place on earth, the purest expression of the profound Jewish belief that the world will one day be a better place. It is this idea of Jerusalem for which we also reach. When we reach it--and we will, for that is the core Jewish belief--there will be no more need for seders and Haggadot: We will live in a world in which the poor are fed and sheltered and the sick healed; in which the Jews are accepted as a free people; in which no one is persecuted or enslaved. Until that day arrives, we will continue to gather around the Passover table, to remind ourselves, and each other, of the work we must do. So what are we going to do?
The Seder concludes with an exclamation of hope: Next year in Jerusalem! Like every Jewish teaching, this statement is best understood on multiple levels. Most obviously, it is the dream of our ancestors, living in exile, to someday return home. We honor the resilience of the generations of Jews who survived and preserved our traditions against all odds.
Yet like all great teachings, ours has been distorted and misused. How many Palestinian people have been displaced, mistreated, tortured and killed, with this idea used as a justification? We have allowed our hope for homecoming to become the rationale to exile and oppress another people. This is a tragic abuse of our teachings that contradicts the themes of justice and freedom at the center of the Passover story.
Ours is a tradition of interpretation. We are called to consider the teachings on all levels. In Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, we are taught that the outward meaning of the text is like an outfit that the Truth is wearing.
Next year in Jerusalem! What might be the deeper meaning? Here is one possibility. The etymology of the Hebrew Yerushalayim ירושלם is uncertain, but my favorite explanation says that it comes from the ancient Hebrew yry, "to found, to lay a cornerstone" and shalem, "wholeness, completeness, peace." So Jerusalem is literally the Foundation of Peace, the Cornerstone of Wholeness.
What is the Foundation of Peace? What is the Cornerstone of Wholeness? And how do we get there?
There is no country, no city, no external place that holds them. Wholeness is our sacred inheritance. Peace is a place in the heart. We can find it here and now—and indeed, wherever here happens to be, that is one and only place we can find it.
Jerusalem is not a faraway place. It is contained within us, an inexhaustible reservoir of love that is always available. We do not need to journey to reach it. We only need to stop running away.
Next year in Jerusalem
Next year in peace and wholeness
Next year in the present moment
Next year here
May it be your will Our God and God of our ancestors that you lead us in peace and direct our steps (our marching, Rebellious, organized, queer dance-partying, prayerful steps) in peace and guide us in peace and support us in just peace (and in the tearing down of walls, and in the rising up of peoples), and cause us to reach our destination in life and joy and peace (all of us together, no one left behind). Save us from every enemy and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts (And from tear gas and flash-bags, and sound cannons and night sticks and rubber bullets, from furious hands that reach towards unarmed bodes). May You confer blessing upon the work of our hands (and our movements and our histories: uplifted, remembered, redeemed). Grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who witness us, (Let human bodies be seen as human bodies.) and bestow upon us abundant kindness (remind us there is no scarcity of vision, power, strength) and hearken to the voice of our prayer, for You hear the prayers of all. Blessed are You G-d, who hearkens to prayer (and peace seeking and rabble rousing. Blessed are we who journey in action and prayer.) -- Download the Jews For Racial and Economic Justice 2017 Supplement Here: http://jfrej.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/haggadah2017_WEB4.pdf
We pledge to rise up in Revolutionary Love.
We declare our love for all who are in harm’s way, including refugees, immigrants, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, LGBTQIA people, Black people, Latinx, the indigenous, the disabled, and the poor. We stand with millions of people around the globe rising up to end violence against women and girls (cis, transgender and gender non-conforming) who are often the most vulnerable within marginalized communities. We vow to see one another as brothers and sisters and fight for a world where every person can flourish.
We declare love even for our opponents. We vow to oppose all executive orders and policies that threaten the rights and dignity of any person. We call upon our elected officials to join us, and we are prepared to engage in moral resistance throughout this administration. We will fight not with violence or vitriol, but by challenging the cultures and institutions that promote hate. In so doing, we will challenge our opponents through the ethic of love.
We declare love for ourselves. We will practice the dignity and care in our homes that we want for all of us. We will protect our capacity for joy. We will nurture our bodies and spirits; we will rise and dance. We will honor our mothers and ancestors whose bodies, breath, and blood call us to a life of courage. In their name, we choose to see this darkness not as the darkness of the tomb - but of the womb. We will breathe and push through the pain of this era to birth a new future.