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.
The Seder Plate
We place a Seder Plate at our table as a reminder to discuss certain aspects of the Passover story. Each item has its own significance.
Maror – The bitter herb. This symbolizes the harshness of lives of the Jews in Egypt.
Charoset – A delicious mix of sweet wine, apples, cinnamon and nuts that resembles the mortar used as bricks of the many buildings the Jewish slaves built in Egypt
Karpas – A green vegetable, usually parsley, is a reminder of the green sprouting up all around us during spring and is used to dip into the saltwater
Zeroah – A roasted lamb or shank bone symbolizing the sacrifice made at the great temple on Passover (The Paschal Lamb)
Beitzah – The egg symbolizes a different holiday offering that was brought to the temple. Since eggs are the first item offered to a mourner after a funeral, some say it also evokes a sense of mourning for the destruction of the temple.
Orange - The orange on the seder plate has come to symbolize full inclusion in modern day Judaism: not only for women, but also for people with disabilities, intermarried couples, and the LGBT Community.
Matzah is the unleavened bread we eat to remember that when the jews fled Egypt, they didn’t even have time to let the dough rise on their bread. We commemorate this by removing all bread and bread products from our home during Passover.
The fifth ceremonial cup of wine poured during the Seder. It is left untouched in honor of Elijah, who, according to tradition, will arrive one day as an unknown guest to herald the advent of the Messiah. During the Seder dinner, biblical verses are read while the door is briefly opened to welcome Elijah. In this way the Seder dinner not only commemorates the historical redemption from Egyptian bondage of the Jewish people but also calls to mind their future redemption when Elijah and the Messiah shall appear.
Another relatively new Passover tradition is that of Miriam’s cup. The cup is filled with water and placed next to Elijah’s cup. Miriam was the sister of Moses and a prophetess in her own right. After the exodus when the Israelites are wandering through the desert, just as Hashem gave them Manna to eat, legend says that a well of water followed Miriam and it was called ‘Miriam’s Well’. The tradition of Miriam’s cup is meant to honor Miriam’s role in the story of the Jewish people and the spirit of all women, who nurture their families just as Miriam helped sustain the Israelites.
The practice of placing an orange on one’s seder plate affirms women’s place in the history and observance of Passover; it also affirms women’s inclusion as full-fledged liturgical participants, not just in the seder ritual, but in all areas of Judaism. Here is an early telling of the narrative: According to feminist scholar Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, when a jewish women’s group at UC Berkeley once invited the Chabad House rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) to speak, they asked her about the place of lesbians in Judaism. The rebbetzin responded that lesbianism, compared to male homosexuality, represented but a small transgression, one that was like “eating bread on Passover,” that is, something you would try not to do, but if you did so by accident, you would not be considered an outcast. That spring, the group was still troubled by the rebbetzin ’s curious response. They were convinced lesbianism was seen as being “much more problematic and transgressive in a Jewish context.” in a ritual response, they placed bread on their seder plate that year as a gesture of solidarity with lesbians. This gesture struck a nerve and spread. By the 1980s, it was included in several lesbian haggadot. Groups not comfortable handling bread, forbidden on Passover, just told the story about the rebbetzin and the group that initially used bread as a ritual object. An orange soon replaced the ritually problematic bread, and it came to represent the inclusion of gay women as well as gay men in Judaism. (Some have noted that the orange, which originally pointed to lesbians in Judaism, was communally co-opted when its meaning was broadened to lesbians and gays in Judaism, and then to all feminist change in Judaism.) The story soon changed. In later tellings, it became “a Jewish feminist who, speaking in Florida, was upbraided by a man who said to her that women rabbis had as much of a role in Judaism as oranges did on a seder plate, or that women had has much place on the bimah as oranges on a seder plate. With this new telling in place, a telling that obscured the the earlier ones, the orange on the seder plate has come to represent the full participation of women in Judaism. The symbol affirms that women and their wisdom do indeed belong at the seder table, no matter how unsettling their involved presence may be to others.
Passover celebrates freedom, exemplified in the story of our Exodus from Egypt. That story leads our entry into Israel—not exactly a simple redemption tale. Especially not now, as Israelis and Palestinians continue to fight for their mutual Promised Land, and to shed blood in pursuit of its ownership. In light of that situation, some of us may have complicated feelings about identifying with Israel. But “Israel” doesn’t refer only to the Land. “Israel” is the name which was given to Jacob after he spent the night wrestling with an angel of God. Therefore “the people Israel” can be interpreted as “Godwrestling people”—“people who take on the holy obligation of engaging with the divine.” (From the Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah)
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 Hebrew word “Kiddush” means sanctification. But it is not the wine we sanctify. Instead, the wine is a symbol of the sanctity, the preciousness, and the sweetness of this moment. Held together by sacred bonds of family, friendship, peoplehood, we share this table tonight with one another and with all the generations who have come before us. Let us rise, and sanctify this singular moment.
HOW? We will drink four cups of wine at the Seder in celebration of our freedom. (Grape juice is fine too.) We stand, recite the blessing, and enjoy the first cup. L'chaim!
The blessing praises God for creating the "fruit of the vine." We recite the blessing, not over the whole grape, but over wine — squeezed and fermented through human skill. So, too, the motzee blessing is recited not over sheaves of wheat but over bread, leavened or unleavened, ground and kneaded and prepared by human hands. The blessing is over the product cultivated through human and divine cooperation: We bless the gifts of sun, seed and soil transformed by wisdom and purpose to sustain the body and rejoice the soul. (VBS)
ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם, בורא פרי הגפן! ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם, אשר בחר בנו מכל עם ורוממנו מכל לשון, וקדשנו במצותיו. ותתן לנו יי אלהינו באהבה מועדים לשמחה, חגים וזמנים לששון, את יום חג המצות הזה, זמן חרותנו מקרא קדש, זכר ליציאת מצרים. כי בנו בחרת ואותנו קדשת מכל העמים, ומיעדי קדשך בשמחה ובששון הנחלתנו. ברוך אתה יי, מקדש ישראל והזמנים
Baruch ata Adonai, Elohaynoo melech ha-olam, boray pree ha-gafen. Baruch atah Adonai, Elohynoo melech ha- olam, asher bachar banoo meekol am, v’romemanoo meekol lashon, v’keedshanoo b’meetzvotav. Va’teetayn lanoo Adonai Elohaynoo b’bahava, mo’adeem lsimcha, chageem oo-z’maneem l’sason. Et yom chag ha-matzot ha-zeh,
z’man chayrootaynoo, meekra kodesh, zecher leetzeeyat Meetzrayeem. Kee vanoo vacharta, v’otanoo keed- ashta meekol ha- ameem. Oo’mo’adday kodsheh’cha b’seemcha oo-v’sason heen’chaltanoo. Barcuch ata Adonai m’kadesh Yisrael v’ha-z’maneem.
Praised are You, Lord our God, Whose presence fills the universe. Who creates the fruit of the vine. Praised are You, Lord our God, Whose presence fills the universe, Who has called us for service
from among the peoples of the world, sanctifying our lives with Your commandments. In love, You have given us festivals for rejoicing and seasons of celebration, this Festival of Matzot, the time of our freedom, a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt.
Praised are You, Lord, Who gave us this joyful heritage and Who sanctifies Israel and the festivals.
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.
Long before the struggle upward begins, there is tremor in the seed. Self-protection cracks, 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.
Why do we dip karpas into salt water? At the beginning of this season of rebirth and growth, we recall the tears of our ancestors, friends and neighbors in bondage. And why should salt water be touched by karpas? To remind us that tears stop. Even after pain. Spring comes.
ברוך אתה יי אלוהינו מלך העולם בורא פרי האדמה
Baruch atah adonai, eloneinu melech ha'olam, boreh p'ri ha'adamah! (Ashkenazi pronunciation, masc.)
Barucha Yah Shechina, Eloheinu Malkat ha'olam, borayt pri ha'adamah. (Ashkenazi prononciation, fem.)
Blessed are you, source of goodness and challenge, who brings forth fruits from the earth!!
We take this time to honor others who travel with us from other faiths and cultural traditions. We acknowledge the fact that they bring a new perspective to our lives and a legacy of their own that enriches ours. We are grateful for the growth that we have experienced because they are in our lives. Weeding out all that is not necessary and loving, we make room for fresh insight and respect. We welcome those who sit around this table for the first time or the twentieth, bringing new understanding to our discussion.
This is the Bread of Affliction - Ha Lachma Anya
Reader 1: In America, over 11 million undocumented immigrants live in our midst.We identify with their struggles from our memory as Jews freed from Egyptian servitude, and as Americans living in a country built by immigrants. As we look upon the broken middle matzah before us, this is our story - an immigrant story -- in three parts: Memory, Action, Vision.
All read: Ha lachma anya -- this is the bread of poverty and affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.
Reader 2: We remember our ancestors’ fear and bravery in facing the new unknown, filled with dangers and opportunities. Through the ritual retelling of our ancient enslavement and exile, we reaffirm our commitment to our own past and to our fight for justice for all people who have been excluded, expatriated, or expelled. We retell the story of the exodus to our children and to our grandchildren so that they, too, will understand the pain of slavery, the value of freedom, and the struggles of migration.
All read: Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need, come and share this Pesach meal.
Reader:The Seder demands action! Our narrative as Jews is very much one of displacement, of having to flee, of wandering. In our texts, in our family histories, we find exodus, movement, the search for a home. We are instructed by our history, which commands us 36 times to love, protect, and respect those new to our communities. Our faith compels us to support unions, to advocate for a living wage, and to make visible the invisible labor we take for granted every day.
All read: This year we are still here, in Mitzrayim This year we are still slaves - and next year we will be free people.
Reader: This year undocumented immigrants still live in fear in the shadows of a broken immigration system. Next year may over 11 million aspiring Americans step into the light of freedom and walk the path towards citizenship. This year, our eyes are still clouded by the plague of darkness, as the Gerer Rav taught: “The darkness in Egypt was so dense that people could not see one another. This was not a physical darkness, but a spiritual darkness in which people were unable to see the plight and pain of their neighbors.” Next year, may we replace darkness with light and truly see our neighbors and be moved to act with them to fix our broken immigration system. May we be blessed with the vision and chutzpah (courage) to stand with undocumented workers, invisible laborers, and new immigrants.
Pour the second glass of wine for everyone.
The Haggadah doesn’t tell the story of Passover in a linear fashion. We don’t hear of Moses being found by the daughter of Pharaoh – actually, we don’t hear much of Moses at all. Instead, we get an impressionistic collection of songs, images, and stories of both the Exodus from Egypt and from Passover celebrations through the centuries. Some say that minimizing the role of Moses keeps us focused on the miracles God performed for us. Others insist that we keep the focus on the role that every member of the community has in bringing about positive change.
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.
Traditionally, we ask why this night is different from all other nights. This variation on the Four Questions challenges us to think about why some things have changed so little:
1) Why is “JAP” still such a popular put-down?
2) When women make up the majority of Jewish professionals, why are most Jewish communal organizations still led by men?
3) When will people stop thinking it’s only important for girls – and not boys – to learn about Jewish women’s history?
4) Why on this holiday, with its theme of liberation, are most seders still led by men and served by women?
This question was written by Yehuda Webster and Leo Ferguson, leaders and member-organizers of the Jews for Racial and Economic Justice's Jews of Color Caucus. We read this tonight on their behalf.
“Why on this night when we remember the oppression and resistance of Jews should we also think about the lives of people of color?” Because many Jews are people of color. Because racism is a Jewish issue. Because our liberation is connected.
White Ashkenazi Jews have a rich history but are only a part of the Jewish story. Mizrahi & Sephardi Jews; Yemeni Jews; Ethiopian Jews; Jews who trace their heritage to the Dominican Republic, to Cuba & Mexico; to Guyana & Trinidad; descendants of enslaved Africans whose ancestors converted or whose parents intermarried.
Jews of color are diverse, multihued and proud of it — proud of our Jewishness and proud of our Blackness. But though our lives are joyous and full, racism forces us down a narrow, treacherous path. On the one hand we experience the same oppression that afflicts all people of color in America — racism targets us, our family members, and our friends. On the other hand, the very community that we would turn to for belonging and solidarity — our Jewish community — often doesn’t acknowledge our experience.
Jews of color cannot choose to ignore the experiences of people of color everywhere, anymore than we would ignore our Jewishness. We must fully inhabit both communities and we need all Jews to stand with us, forcefully and actively opposing racism and police violence.
But in order to do so, we must pare our past trauma from our present truth: our history of oppression leaves many of us hyper-vigilant and overly preoccupied with safety. As Jews we share a history that is overburdened with tales of violent oppression. Though different Jewish communities have varying experiences, none of us have escaped painful legacies of persecution, including genocide. This past is real, and part of why we gather today is to remember it.... When those tactics (harsh policing, surveillance and incarceration) brutalize other communities, humiliating and incarcerating our neighbors perpetuates a status quo that leaves low-income communities of color on the other side of a sea of fear — still trapped, still stranded. The only real way out of the Mitzrayim of our fears is solidarity. Only by forging deep connections and sharing struggle with other communities will we creating the lasting allies who will walk with us into the promised land of our collective liberation. That is true Jewish freedom — true and lasting safety.
They cried to Moses, “What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt ... it is better to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (14:11-12).
When Moses led the Jews out of Egypt, it was a moment of great risk and great change. As the passage above shows us, though life under Pharaoh was cruel and crushing, it was also familiar — a known fear. After a century of servitude, freedom, what changed? It was the Jewish people daring to imagine for themselves something greater. Daring to take great risks and face great fears to find liberation. This willingness to stand up for justice is a strength we have found again and again. When the oppression of economic exploitation demanded it, our grandparents found it in the labor movement; when the civil rights movement demanded it, our parents travelled to the South to register voters. Now this moment demands again that we take risks for justice.
What our neighbors in communities of color are asking — what the Jews of color in our own communities need from their fellow Jews — is that we push past the comfortable and move to action. In the streets, in our synagogues and homes, with our voices, our bodies, our money and resources, with our imaginations. In doing so we must center the voices and the leadership of Jews of color and other communities of color, while forming deep partnerships and long-term commitments to fight for lasting change.
Passover is a time of remembrance but also one of renewal — of looking ahead toward the spring and new growth that will sustain us through the seasons to come. Once we spent spring in the desert. It was harsh and difficult but from that journey grew a people who have endured for centuries. What would happen if we took that journey again, not alone in the wilderness but surrounded by friends and allies, leaving no one behind?
Memory is not a static deposit; it is neither rules nor happenings that confront us unchanging. As members of living communities, Jews continually re-remember; we retell and recast the Jewish past in light of changing communal experience and changing communal values. Memory is formed and reformed from the interaction of every generation with the fluid richness of Torah.
As Jews, we are commanded to remember and retell. The act of memory recreates us. Now is the time, in our celebration of Passover, when we suspend the flow of time and relive the exodus of our ancestors in the retelling.
There was a time when our people were enslaved by a Pharaoh in Egypt.
In fear of rebellion, Pharaoh decreed that all Hebrew boy-children be killed. Through the courage of midwives, a boy named Moses survived.
Fearing for his safety (and their own), his family placed him in a basket and he floated down the Nile.
He was found, and adopted, by Pharaoh's daughter. Thus he survived.
When he had grown to maturity, the Eternal spoke to Moses, telling him that he was to lead the Hebrew people to freedom. Despite Moses' protests, the Eternal persisted, and Moses went to Pharaoh to plead the injustice of slavery. He gave Pharaoh a mandate which resounds through history: Let my people go.
Pharaoh refused, and Moses warned him that the Eternal, the All--Mighty, would strike the Egyptian people. These threats were not idle: ten terrible plagues were unleashed, one after another, upon the Egyptians. At last Pharaoh agreed to our liberation. Fearful that he would change his mind, our people fled, not waiting for their bread dough to rise. (For this reason we eat unleavened bread as we take part in their exodus.)
Pharaoh's army soon followed us to the sea. Moses, strong in his faith, entered the waters. The Eternal parted the sea, and our people passed through unharmed. We mourn, even now, that Pharaoh's army drowned: our liberation is bittersweet because of those who 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.
Passover provides a time to remember the Jewish people's Exodus from Egypt, but too often that story is only half-told.
How do we recover the parts of Jewish women's history that are forgotten, and how do we then ensure that they will be remembered --incorporated into our sense of communal identity?
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.
On Passover, Jews are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus and to see ourselves as having lived through that story, so that we may better learn how to live our lives today. The stories we tell our children shape what they believe to be possible—which is why at Passover, we must tell the stories of the women who played a crucial role in the Exodus narrative. The Book of Exodus, much like the Book of Genesis, opens in pervasive darkness. Genesis describes the earth as “unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep.”1 In Exodus, darkness attends the accession of a new Pharaoh who feared the Israelites and so enslaved them. God alone lights the way out of the darkness in Genesis. But in Exodus, God has many partners, first among them, five brave women. There is Yocheved, Moses’ mother, and Shifra and Puah, the famous midwives. Each defies Pharaoh’s decree to kill the Israelite baby boys. And there is Miriam, Moses’ sister, about whom the following midrash is taught: [When Miriam’s only brother was Aaron] she prophesied… “my mother is destined to bear a son who will save Israel.” When [Moses] was born the whole house… filled with light[.] [Miriam’s] father arose and kissed her on the head, saying, “My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled.” But when they threw [Moses] into the river her father tapped her on the head saying, “Daughter, where is your prophecy?” So it is written, “And [Miriam] stood afar off to know what would be[come of] the latter part of her prophecy.”2 Finally, there is Pharaoh’s daughter Batya, who defies her own father and plucks baby Moses out of the Nile. The Midrash reminds us that Batya knew exactly what she doing: When Pharaoh’s daughter’s handmaidens saw that she intended to rescue Moses, they attempted to dissuade her, and persuade her to heed her father. They said to her: “Our mistress, it is the way of the world that when a king issues a decree, it is not heeded by the entire world, but his children and the members of his household do observe it, and you wish to transgress your father’s decree?”3 But transgress she did. These women had a vision leading out of the darkness shrouding their world. They were women of action, prepared to defy authority to make their vision a reality bathed in the light of the day. Retelling the heroic stories of Yocheved, Shifra, Puah, Miriam and Batya reminds our daughters that with vision and the courage to act, they can carry forward the tradition those intrepid women launched. While there is much light in today’s world, there remains in our universe disheartening darkness, inhumanity spawned by ignorance and hate. We see horrific examples in the Middle East, parts of Africa, and Ukraine. The Passover story recalls to all of us—women and men—that with vision and action we can join hands with others of like mind, kindling lights along paths leading out of the terrifying darkness.
As we rejoice at our deliverance from slavery, we acknowledge that our freedom was hard-earned. We regret that our freedom came at the cost of the Egyptians’ suffering, for we are all human beings made in the image of God. We pour out a drop of wine for each of the plagues as we recite them. Dip a finger or a spoon into your wine glass for a drop for each plague. These are the ten plagues which God brought down on the Egyptians:
Blood | dam | דָּם
Frogs | tzfardeiya | צְפַרְדֵּֽעַ
Lice | kinim | כִּנִּים
Beasts | arov | עָרוֹב
Cattle disease | dever | דֶּֽבֶר
Boils | sh’chin | שְׁחִין
Hail | barad | בָּרָד
Locusts | arbeh | אַרְבֶּה
Darkness | choshech | חֹֽשֶׁךְ
Death of the Firstborn | makat b’chorot | מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת
Dayenu means “it would have sufficed” or “we would have been satisfied.” Perhaps “grateful” would be a better translation. Dayenu is the song of our gratitude. A Jewish philosopher was once asked, “what is the opposite of hopelessness?” And he said, “Dayenu,” the ability to be thankful for what we have received, for what we are. The first prayer that a Jew is expected to recite upon waking expresses hir gratitude for being alive. This holds for all generations, and surely ours. For each of us, every day should be an act of grace, every hour a miraculous offering.
In many Sephardi and Mizrahi communities, the singing of Dayenu is accompanied by beating each other with leeks or scallions. Using bunches of scallions or leeks, Seder participants beat each other (lightly) on the back and shoulders to symbolize the taskmasters whip.
אִלּוּ הוֹצִיאָנוּ מִמִּצְרָיִם
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת הַתּוֹרָה
Ilu hotzi hotzianu hotzianu mi’mitzrayim Hotzianu mi’mitzrayim dayenu
(If you had only brought us out of Mitzrayim – Dayenu!)
Dai-dai-yenu, Dai-dai-yenu, Dai-dai-yenu Dai-yenu, Dai-yenu!
Ilu natan natan lanu natan lanu et ha'shabbat Natan lanu et ha'shabbat dayenu
(If you had only given us Shabbat – Dayenu!)
Dai-dai-yenu, Dai-dai-yenu, Dai-dai-yenu Dai-yenu, Dai-yenu! Ilu natan natan lanu natan lanu et ha'torah Natan lanu et ha'torah dayenu
(If you had only given us the Torah – Dayenu!)
Dai-dai-yenu, Dai-dai-yenu, Dai-dai-yenu Dai-yenu, Dai-yenu
בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ, כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרָֽיִם
B’chol dor vador chayav adam lirot et-atzmo, k’ilu hu yatzav mimitzrayim.
In every generation, everyone is obligated to see themselves as though they personally left Egypt.
The seder reminds us that it was not only our ancestors whom God redeemed; God redeemed us too along with them. That’s why the Torah says “God brought us out from there in order to lead us to and give us the land promised to our ancestors.”
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who redeemed us and our ancestors from Egypt, enabling us to reach this night and eat matzah and bitter herbs. May we continue to reach future holidays in peace and happiness.
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 second glass of wine!
"The other side of empathy is erasure. It can be removing the interior life of the person you’re empathizing with and substituting your own. And it’s more dangerous when you do that on a larger scale, culturally."
-Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury
What does it mean to see ourselves as though we personally left Egypt? How does it allow for us to connect to our history and to our present? What does radical empathy look like, and what effect does it have?
This symbolic washing of the hands recalls the story of Miriam's Well. Legend tells us that this well followed Miriam, sister of Moses, through the desert, sustaining the Jews in their wanderings. Filled with mayim chayim, waters of life, the well was a source of strength and renewal to all who drew from it. One drink from its waters was said to alert the heart, mind and soul, and make the meaning of Torah become alive. As we prepare to wash our hands, we must remember that...many in the United States and around the world do not have access to clean water. Clean water is not a privilege; it is a basic human right. One in ten people currently lack access to clean water. That’s nearly 1 billion people in the world without clean, safe drinking water. Almost 3.5 million people die every year because of inadequate water supply. In Hebrew, urchatz means “washing” or “cleansing.” In Aramaic, sister language to Hebrew, urchatz means “trusting.” As we wash each others’ hands, let us rejoice in this act of trust, while remembering the lack of trust between those in Flint, California and Cochabamba and those who supply and control their access to mayim chayim - living waters. ( Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah, the Religious Action Center's Earth Justice Haggadah, and the SCJC)
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.
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.
The bitter herbs serve to remind us of how the Egyptians embittered the lives of the Israelites in servitude. When we eat the bitter herbs, we share in that bitterness of oppression. We must remember that slavery still exists all across the globe. When you go to the grocery store, where does your food come from? Who picked the coffee bean for your morning coffee? We are reminded that people still face the bitterness of oppression, in many forms.
Together, we recite:
ָבּרוּךְ ַאָתה יי ֱאלֹ ֵהינוּ ֶמֶלךְ ָהעוָֹלם, ֲא ֶשר ִקְד ָשנוּ ְבּ ִמ ְצווָֹתיו, ְו ִצָוּנוּ ַעל ֲאִכיַלת ָמרוֹר.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al achilat maror.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and ordained that we should eat bitter herbs.
Mi Shebeirach for Survivors of Human Trafficking
Some 22 million people are held in modern slavery, also known as human trafficking, around the world today, including tens of thousands in the United States. 98% of those are estimated to be women. T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, invites communities to include this prayer as a way of standing in solidarity, bringing this invisible crime into the light of day, and motivating action.
May the One who blessed our ancestors— Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah— Bless all our brothers and sisters whose lives are marred by modern-day slavery, And bring them from darkness into light. May it be Your will, Judge of all the world, That you send redemption to the millions of Your creations who are enslaved today, And complete healing of soul and body to those who have survived trafficking. May the ETERNAL send them strength and bless them with peace, that they may rebuild their lives. Therefore, we will work with You to establish a world under divine sovereignty, So no person will exploit or oppress another. As the prophet wrote, “Not by might and not by power, but by My spirit, declares the Lord of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6) And let us say, “Amen.”
We now take some maror and charoset and put them between two pieces of matzah and give the sandwich to the person on our left. 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 Korech sandwich. He said that by eating the Korech, 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.
Together we say:
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? (Hillel)
And if not with others, how? (Adrienne Rich)
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!
The Sounds of Yiddish
Splat like matzoh broken and dropped
in the egg-milk mix for matzohbrei.
They knock you deep in the kishkes.
They smart—kine ahora—with the schtick of the canny mensch who knows schlock when she sees it.
Hear that rumbling across Ukraine?
Yiddish ran from a posse of hazards when my Bubbe left her shtetl,
Russians at her back and a mongrel,
Middle High German in her mouth.
A language is a dialect with an army and a navy the saying goes.
To which my peasant relatives reply,
Spare us what we can learn to endure.
Finding and eating the Afikomen | tzafoon | צָפוּן
The playfulness of finding the afikomen reminds us that we balance our solemn memories of slavery with a joyous celebration of freedom. As we eat the afikomen, our last taste of matzah for the evening, we are grateful for moments of silliness and happiness in our lives.
Refill everyone’s wine glass.
We now say grace after the meal, thanking God for the food we’ve eaten. On Passover, this becomes something like an extended toast to God, culminating with drinking our third glass of wine for the evening:
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, whose goodness sustains the world. You are the origin of love and compassion, the source of bread for all. Thanks to You, we need never lack for food; You provide food enough for everyone. We praise God, source of food for everyone.
As it says in the Torah: When you have eaten and are satisfied, give praise to your God who has given you this good earth. We praise God for the earth and for its sustenance.
Renew our spiritual center in our time. We praise God, who centers us.
May the source of peace grant peace to us, to the Jewish people, and to the entire world. Amen.
The Third Glass of Wine
The blessing over the meal is immediately followed by another blessing over the wine:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Drink the third glass of wine!
Psalm 126: A Psalm of Ascents Shir Hama'alot, b'shuv Adonai et shivat tziyon hayinu k'chol'mim. Az Y'male s'chok pinu ulshoneinu rina. Az yom'ru vagoyim higdil Adonai la'asot im eleh; higdil Adonai la'asot imanu hayinu s'meicheim. Shuva Adonai et shiviteinu ka'afikim banegev. Hazor'im b'dimah b'rinah yiktzoru. Haloch Yelech uvacho, noseh meshech hazarah, bo yavo v'rinah noseh alumotav.
When God returned us to Zion we were as dreamers. Then we were full of mirth, and our tongues were full of gladness. They said among the nations, "magnified is God, who has done these things." We will magnify God, who has done this for us! And we were joyful. Turn our captivity, O God, like dry streams in the Negev. We had planted seeds in tears, but our harvest was gladness. We went forth with crying-out, carrying seeds; We return in gladness, carrying God's sheaves.
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!
Three thousand years ago, a farmer arose in the Middle East who challenged the ruling elite. In his passionate advocacy for common people, Elijah created a legend which would inspire generations to come. Elijah declared that he would return once each generation in the guise of someone poor or oppressed, coming to people's doors to see how he would be treated. Thus would he know whether or not humanity had become ready to participate in the dawn of the Messianic age. He is said to visit every seder, and sip there from his cup of wine. Tonight we welcome two prophets: not only Elijah, but also Miriam, sister of Moses. Elijah is a symbol of messianic redemption at the end of time; Miriam, of redemption in our present lives. Miriam’s cup is filled with water, evoking her Well which followed the Israelites in the wilderness. After the crossing of the Red Sea, Miriam sang to the Israelites a song. The words in the Torah are only the beginning: Sing to God, for God has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver, God has hurled into the sea. So the Rabbis asked: Why is the Song of Miriam only partially stated in the Torah? And in midrash is found the answer: the song is incomplete so that future generations will finish it. That is our task.
Open the door for Elijah and Miriam; rise.
You abound in blessings, God, creator of the universe, Who sustains us with living water. May we, like the children of Israel leaving Egypt, be guarded and nurtured & kept alive in the wilderness and may You give us eyes to see that the journey itself holds the promise of redemption. Amen.
(Adapted from an insert in Lilith Magazine.)
The Cup of Elijah
We now refill our wine glasses one last time and open the front door to invite the prophet Elijah to join our seder.
In the Bible, Elijah was a fierce defender of God to a disbelieving people. At the end of his life, rather than dying, he was whisked away to heaven. Tradition holds that he will return in advance of messianic days to herald a new era of peace, so we set a place for Elijah at many joyous, hopeful Jewish occasions, such as a baby’s bris and the Passover seder.
אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַנָּבִיא, אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַתִּשְׁבִּיאֵלִיָּֽהוּ, אֵלִיָּֽהוּ,אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַגִּלְעָדִי
בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵֽנוּ יָבוֹא אֵלֵֽינוּ
עִם מָשִֽׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד
עִם מָשִֽׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד
Eliyahu, Eliyahu, Eliyahu hagiladi
Bimheirah b’yameinu, yavo eileinu
Im mashiach ben-David,
Im mashiach ben-David
Elijah the prophet, the returning, the man of Gilad:
return to us speedily,
in our days with the messiah,
son of David.
Tonight we have acknowledged our ancestors. We vow that we will not allow their stories, their experiences, their wisdom to fade. These are our legacy, which we will study and teach to our friends and children. The task of liberation is long, and it is work we ourselves must do. As it is written in Pirke Avot, a collection of rabbinic wisdom: “It is not incumbent upon us to finish the task, but neither may we refrain from beginning it.”
לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָׁלָֽיִם
L’shana haba-ah biy’rushalayim
NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM!
The origins of the name Jerusalem elude those who pursue them. Some say the name derives from the Hebrew "Ir Shalom", city of peace. Certainly the city of Jerusalem of our own experience and our own world is not a city of peace. It has too often been a city of death and destruction, a city that has seen, too many times... the absurdity of war. Its heart is severed by a barrier that provides both security and rage.
To what, then, do we refer when we say, "next year in Jerusalem", at our Seder's end? We close our eyes and see, with the eyes of our small gift of living energy, the vision of a city built by actions and attitudes of peace, a city in which hatred and injustice die for lack of nourishment, a city whose influence will spread throughout the world. It is a Jerusalem that is yet to be, a Jerusalem of our dreams, our hopes and our strivings. May the message of this Seder inspire us to make the dream real.
What will redemption look like?
(Peace Now/Shalom Achshav and SCJC)
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay, my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.