The long history of our people is one of contrasts — freedom and slavery, joy and pain, power and helplessness. Passover reflects these contrasts. Tonight as we celebrate our freedom, we remember the slavery of our ancestors and realize that many people are not yet free.
Each generation changes — our ideas, our needs, our dreams, even our celebrations. So has Passover changed over many centuries into our present
holiday. Our nomadic ancestors gathered for a spring celebration when the sheep gave birth to their lambs. Theirs was a celebration of the continuity of life. Later, when our ancestors became farmers, they celebrated the arrival of spring in their own fashion. Eventually these ancient spring festivals merged with the story of the Exodus from Egypt and became a new celebration of life and freedom.
As each generation gathered around the table to retell the old stories, the symbols took on new meanings. New stories of slavery and liberation, oppression and triumph were added, taking their place next to the old. Tonight we add our own special chapter as we recall our people’s past and we dream of the future.
For Jews, our enslavement by the Egyptians is now remote, a symbol of communal remembrance. As we sit here in the comfort of our modern world, we think of the millions who still suffer the brutality of the existence that we escaped thousands of years ago.
Nourished only from an ancient wide stream,
On which women secretly shared the boy of redemption.
Our Seder recalls the signs and marvels, the plagues, the costly victory.
We will honor our timeless bread and play with sweet mortar; taste bitterness and tears.
We drink past our fill.
God will split their sea.
Egypt will give chase and drown.
The tragedy and the victory mixed like a Hillel sandwich.
Yet, we open with an even more ancient memory, voiced by Solomon.
“For lo, the Winter is past, the rains over and done.”
Flowers, figs and grapes; sweet fragrance.
An ancient memory we are so desperate to hear this year.
Even in my sleep I see snow and ice, lashing winds, the toil to dig out.
Solomon speaks of Spring, yet I feel the cold.
This Pesach too is a Hillel sandwich combining our past and future.
May our journey be free and warm.
-Rabbi Robert Levy Ann Arbor Michigan
Traditionally we have interpreted the salt water used for dipping as the tears of our ancestors. Perhaps this year as we dip the greens into the salt water, we will understand it as the tears of the earth. In the Exodus story the liberation begins when God hears the cry of the Hebrew slaves, let us hear and taste the cry of the earth. . This moment requires that we hear the cry of the earth itself
By: Merle Feld
The Wise One: I want to know where this matzah, this brisket, this chocolate cake came from. Is the food at this feast truly sanctified? Has the meat that is giving me pleasure been processed by someone who is too young to be working? By someone who is paid the wages of a slave? With what research tools and by what methods may I identify food which is in every way kosher?
The Wicked One: How is it my problem if the animal whose flesh I enjoy tonight suffered as it lived and died? Why should I be concerned if the woman my parents have hired to serve and clean up our large gathering cannot go home until after the buses have stopped running?
The Simple One: Who harvested all the produce at our seder table and how are their lives blessed or plagued? What dishes can we make from fruits and vegetables grown near our home or frozen in season and stored for tonight? What is a carbon footprint?
The One Who Does Not Know How To Ask A Question: I just want to celebrate this happy holiday and not disturb myself with large issues I cannot possibly understand or problems that are too vast to be solved.
Dayenu means "it would have been enough." And not in a kvetchy/sarcastic way! Dayenu is a sincere expression of gratitude, of the Jewish people's cup overfloweth.
There are many any verses in the Hebrew proclaiming how it would have been enough just to be brought out from slavery in Egpyt, to get the Torah, to be gifted Shabbat, etc...
In this version, you may sing some, all or none of the traditional verses, but then open it up so Dayenu can become a participatory song where everyone offers their own "dayenu" for the year. As in: It would have been enough if________, but also ______! Dayenu! Day-day-enu...etc...
For example:It would have been enough if I graduated high school this year, but I also got accepted to my top choice for college! Dayenu! (And everyone sings the chorus!)
This an be done at the Dayenu moment in the Seder or introduced earlier and then whenever someone is moved throughout the Seder to share their Dayenu moment, they can. Depends on the enthusiasm of the crowd.
By: Rabbi Ari Weiss
When the seder meal was originally ordered in late Antiquity, we washed our hands at rachtzah to purify them, so that the matzah bread would not become ritually impure. Although these purity laws are no longer current, the deep symbolic force of the purifying power of water still resonates within Jewish life. One example is the phrase "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities," which we recite during the yamim noraim [Yechezkel 36:25].
In the case of the eglah arufah, water not only purifies but absolves. To recall: A murdered corpse is found in the field, and the murderer is unknown. The elders of the nearest town are identified, a cow is brought, and its neck is broken. The elders wash their hands over the broken animal and declare, "Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it" [Devarim 21:1-9].
The mishnah [Sotah 9:6] that comments on this passage is incredulous: "Could it be that the elders of a Court were shedders of blood?" Rather, the mishnah (as cited in the Talmud Bavli [Sotah 46b-47a]), interprets the elders as saying, "'He came into our hands that we should have dismissed him without sustenance, and we did not see him and leave him without an escort.'" The mishnah, then, according to the Bavli's reading, obligates the elders, i.e., those with the capacity to act, with a set of specific and concrete responsibilities. They must feed and protect people who pass through their town. If they fail this test, they are morally responsible; if they constantly meet this obligation, then the elders can literally wash their hands of culpability in a specific case that escapes their notice.
If, as Thomas Friedman famously announced, the world is flat in a globalized and interconnected age, can we legitimately continue to proclaim our innocence and wash our hands of all responsibility when we constantly encounter victims of injustice? I believe that just as the elders of the town must invest in the protection of life of everyone they encounter by sustaining and escorting visitors, we must do the same even if they are only encountered virtually. We can no longer say, "Never again," only to see and read about victims of genocide again (in Cambodia) and again (in Rwanda) and again (in the former Republics of Yugoslavia) and again (in Darfur) and again (in Democratic Republic of Congo).
Only after we have acted to the limits of our capacity to fight against the loss of life, can we, like the elders of the town, wash our hands in good conscience and enjoy the upcoming meal.
Jewish law requires that a surprisingly large amount of matza, maror, and matza/maror "sandwich" be eaten during the Passover seder. Most observance of this mitzvah falls into one of two categories: ignoring the legal requirements, or wolfing down huge sheets of unleavened bread in a mixture of piety and masochism.
I think that these size requirements, though, are really demanding that we eat enough matza and maror to notice it. Thus, I recommend turning the practice into an eating meditation, taking a full couple of minutes in silence away from the chatter of the Seder to become more aware of whatever is happening. Let's focus on the matza .
You might begin, before eating at all, with a contemplation of the matzo itself, using the "four worlds" as a guide. On the level of asiyah (action, materiality, body), feel the matza itself, its weight, the way it feels in your hand. Notice if any sensations arise in the body: salivation, perhaps. Then move to the level of yetzirah (formation, emotion, heart): notice what the large piece of matza evokes in your heart. Are you looking forward to eating it? Dreading it? Worrying about your digestion? Maybe you're remembering -- perhaps very subtly -- seders past, when you sat with your parents and schemed around the Afikoman. Maybe you're feeling, at this moment, some of the love, or trepidation, or confusion, of the seder where you are. Try to feel these emotions in the body, as events of the body, and see them for what they are: simultaneously evanescent and essential.
On the level of briyah (creation, thought, mind), I invite you to consider all that went into the production of this matza. How many people -- the farmers growing the grain, the bakers, the mashgiach (supervisor of the kosher status of the food), the truck drivers -- were involved in bringing it to your table? Think about the ingredients of the matza , along the lines of Thich Nhat Hanh's "Interbeing": the matza depends on wheat which depends on rain which depends on clouds. Without the cloud, there is no matza . Or, the matza depends on a baker whose life depends on a myriad of causes and coincidences. Let your mind expand the matza beyond the sheet in your hand, to as many causes in the universe as you care to imagine. Know that everything we hold, everything we see, is part of a web of life.
Finally, on the level of atzilut (emanation, spirit, soul), allow yourself to ask: if the matzo is really just a node on this "web of life," what is it, really? What is "matza" about matza? What is "you" about you? Everything we are, and everything we see, is really a cause or condition of something else, fleeting, empty of separateness, and unable to satisfy us on a permanent basis. Consider, too, the context of this matza -- its symbolism, and how the bread of slaves became the bread of freedom, due only to the context of its creation.
Okay, you can eat.
As you eat, work again through these four worlds. Notice the physical sensation of the matza in your mouth. Experiment with not swallowing anything that hasn't been thoroughly mashed up and liquified (this can take awhile with matza . ..), and see how that feels. As distracting thoughts come in, just come back to the physical sensations of chewing, cleaning, swallowing, etc. This allows the mind a break from discursive chatter, and its calmer state is conducive to insight. Emotionally, do you feel connected? Resentful? Curious? Nostalgic? On this level, try to call the mind back, when it wanders, to this moment, eating this food, as Jews have done for three thousand years. On the intellectual level, consider the matza in the light of the four elements, which, while not scientifically descriptive of reality, can describe experience remarkably well. Can you taste the earth-element in the matza? How about fire -- necessary to bake it, perhaps evinced by some burn marks, and also, in some systems of thought, necessary to digest it as well? Notice how your mouth releases water to help chew the dry food. You canobserve that, even in unleavened bread, there are small pockets of air.
And on the level of atzilut, you might notice how really, our experience of the matza is really an experience of its constituent parts. There is never a moment at which we experience "matza" -- it's always an experience of an ingredient, which is itself actually an experience of particular chemical properties. On our phenomenal level, we experience matza . But if there really is Ein Sof, Infinite Being, who is eating and what is being eaten?
By: Rabbi David Jaffe
In Talmud Bavli Pesachim 115b, Rava teaches, "[One who] swallows the matzah [without chewing] has fulfilled the obligation [of eating matzah]. [However, one who] swallows the maror [without chewing] does not fulfill the obligation [of eating maror]." Rashbam explains that even though ideally one should taste the matzah, after the fact, even swallowing without tasting is a form of eating and thus one has fulfilled the mitzvah. Maror is different. Actually tasting the maror, and not just eating it, is the essence of the mitzvah because the maror should remind us of how our lives were embittered by the oppression of the mitzrim. (See also Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayyim 475:3; Mishnah Berurah 475: 29, 30.)
We need to slowly chew our horseradish or romaine lettuce, letting the burning juices sink into our tongues and open our sinuses! We live in a fast food culture. Except on Shabbat, our meals are often rushed; an efficient meal is something we can finish in under five minutes or eat while doing something else. The ba'alei mussar teach that the yetzer harah's main strategy is to keep us busy, moving so fast that we absorb neither our own reality nor the reality of the world around us.
There is so much suffering in the world, both our own and others', such as the migrant workers who harvest our food, exposing themselves to dangerous pesticides while being paid less than a living wage. They contract illnesses and do not have the health insurance needed to heal. Subsistence farmers in Central and South America are forced by economic need to produce only one type of crop and no longer have the ability to feed their own families. Or, closer to home, a relative may be silently suffering health problems, family strife, or economic vulnerability. This halachah is teaching us that suffering is something to be absorbed and felt if it is to have a cathartic and motivating impact. Our business urges us not to look, not to dwell, not to really feel. However, it is that bitter taste of suffering that makes it impossible for us to accept things the way they are. We must act, we must reach out, we must make change!
By: Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Judaism lives in constant tension. Between reality and dream. Hope and disappointment. It longs for the day when the wolf will live with the lamb and the messianic era will finally be ushered in. But it knows that day has not yet come. There is still an enormous gap between what is and what ought to be. Judaism is the art of the possible. Of the doable. The road is long and the bumps are many, but the dream is alive and well. Until one has arrived, there is a heavy price to pay. Still, one must not give up and should even enjoy the ride. At least make a sincere attempt.
What does one do when his arch enemies are drowned in the Reed Sea? Should he dance on the rooftops when he sees the enemy crushed, or should he thank God for the victory but go home with a heavy heart, shedding a sincere tear for human life that was lost? Even if it is the life of his arch enemy?
Judaism chooses the latter. It has no option but to be sad even in times of joy. And its sadness is so great that it spills over. Despite the enemy's cruelty, the Jew takes his cup of wine on the day of his liberation and spills a bit to demonstrate sorrow for his enemy's loss of life. He does so in spite of the prohibition against wasting even a drop. His sadness is so intense that he cannot hold back from transgressing the law for the sake of allowing his emotions to have their way. He diminishes his simchah by removing a tiny bit from the cup of his glorious victory. The dip of a finger. Nothing more. It takes only a second, but the act is of infinite value. Compassion for those who fell so low that they turned into Jew haters and lost all dignity. How distressing that human beings are able to compromise themselves to that extent. How is it possible not to mourn? Ten mini dips for ten plagues that befell the Egyptians. The totality of the Jewish neshamah is reflected in this tiny gesture. Tiny, but of enormous moral strength.
But can a man really live with ten mournful dips in the face of an arch enemy's cruelty? Is it possible for the Jew to simply dip and forget about the pain inflicted by the enemy for thousands of years? Where will this pain go? Does one just swallow it? Forget what happened? Or shall the Jew, after all, call for revenge, take the law in his own hands and initiate a jihad (holy war)? And if so, how then will he live with the drops of wine he just wasted? The Jew is caught between a sorrowful dip and an inner need for revenge. He is tossed from left to right and back again. And he ultimately decides for the dip. No revenge, no jihad.
But what about the pain? How can one vent his frustrations, fed by thousands of years of cruel anti-Semitism? Is violence not often the result of such frustrations that were denied an outlet? What does one do when the drop of wine stands in the way and does not allow his vexation and pain any escape? At whose feet can one throw his resentment and be assured that it will be handled with the greatest sensitivity but simultaneously not lead to more trouble?
Only in the privacy of one's home, where one knows he can call for revenge and be confident that he will be taken seriously but not so seriously that it will be turned into reality. Where one can say what he means, let off steam, get it out of his system and be sure that in spite of it all, he would not hurt a fly.
Only with God, the ultimate home, can we unburden our feelings. Only He knows how to deal with human frustrations, and not get carried away. He will know what we really have in mind and whether or not to take action.
Far from what one may think, shefoch chamatcha is not a prayer of incitement. It is a prayer born out of pain, in which we ask God to redeem us from all the hate which we Jews have experienced over thousands of years. To this very day. We just have to let off steam. It is up to Him to decide how to respond. It is not our business to assist Him in this. In fact, it is forbidden to be of any support.
Judaism does not allow any waste. Only in a few instances is one allowed to spill. And just a tiny bit. To teach a fundamental lesson on how to approach life. To learn not to waste our souls or risk our stake in God. Why, after all, is it forbidden to waste? So that we may recognize the overflow of the beauty of life.
Shefoch chamatcha is a prayer spoken at the moment of great intimacy between God and us. A prayer in which we try to master what is inferior in us and grow beyond its words.
May this prayer soon disappear from the Haggadah. When hate will cease to exist and there will no longer be need of an outlet for our frustrations. When we will be able to live and let live in pure love. When we will dwell on a word in our prayers and transform it into the realization of our ultimate dream-from feelings of frustration into emotions of love.
But Jerusalem is more than a place, it is a feeling, it is a hope. At this point in the seder, 1/2 or 1/4 sheets of paper should be passed around to each participant, along with an envelope and writing utensil. Folks are invited to write a brief note to their future selves inspired by "next year in Jerusalem." As metaphor: what is our own personal Jerusalem where we hope to see ourselves a year from now?
Everyone seals and addresses their envelope to themselves, and the seder leader, or whoever is leading this exercise takes responsibility for keeping the notes all year and mailing them the following Pesach season.
This exercise can be done formally when everyone sits down to dessert or it can be introduced when the break for the meal happens and people can elect to write the notes at their leisure.
I often have a basket out for people to drop their notes in.
On Pesah we begin counting the Omer, a 49 day period to Shavuot, we can have as an Omer practice becoming more conscious of our consumption patterns, perhaps not buying any new non-consumables (things that we do not use up, i.e. food is a consumable, clothing is not). During the Seder we will sing Dayenu- it would have been enough. This is good time for us contemplate how much stuff is enough. We can use Pesah for the cultivation of a new sense of freedom from a culture of constant consumption.
The plagues are over; the Egyptian firstborns are dead
The Israelites are heading out of Egypt; Pharaoh’s got no slaves to make his bed
Backed against the sea by Pharaoh’s army; Moses throws his arms up to God above
The sea splits, the Israelites cross; for Egyptian bondage they have no love
The Egyptians chased after; their futures suddenly ending
The waves crashed down upon them; leaving none but Pharaoh requiring mending
The Israelites saw Divine intervention; raucous rejoicing ensued
Praising the Lord for being on their side; expressing gratitude
So too when we have moments in life; that require us to pause
To give thanks for our many gifts; for escaping life’s often-unrelenting jaws
Let’s think back to our ancestors before; who knew just how and when
To give appropriate due and shout it out loud; with a Halleluyah and an Amen!