Special Seder Messages for Passover
Tikkun’s supplement to the traditional Passover Seder Haggadah is not just for Jews—it will move spiritual progressives both secular and religious. Please feel free to read it and make copies of it for your own use! As we’ve said in Tikkun many times, the particularism of Judaism is a universalist message, albeit one that has been hard for many Jews to hold on to through thousands of years of being subject to abuse, and our Seder Haggadah supplement explores that irony. So check it out at tikkun.org/passover.
Below you can read writings by three spiritual progressives—Jonathan Granoff, Shari Motro, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow (one of the most creative thinkers in the Jewish Renewal movement)—who further elaborate on universal messages emerging from specifically Jewish customs and practices.
Passover and Liberation Theology
by Jonathan Granoff
There is a dynamic relationship between identity, community, and grace-awakened values, which, if they are authentic, are universal and without regard to nation, tribe, gender, race, or religion. In other words, God’s love is for all, wisdom is without prejudice, and justice properly wears a blindfold when she weighs deeds. The Passover moment is as an example of how the specific group in which one lives can and should be used to expand one’s circle of compassion. Tribalism is a distortion of God’s grace. The expanded heart alone is capable of knowing a reflection of the Unlimited Heart of God’s love for all.
Being Jewish and being part of the Jewish community can be a blessing or a curse. If being part of a community helps develop compassion for others, a sense of being loved, and expands one’s capacity to serve others, then it is surely a blessing to be in such a community. If being anything increases one’s capacity to experience God’s qualities and to share them then that too is a blessing. If being part of anything gives one a sense of arrogance then developing wisdom will be thwarted and authentic understanding of one’s relationship to God as well as one’s fellow human beings will he occluded. Liberation from any identity that separates one from one’s fellow human beings and God is necessary for authentic peace. Commitment to caring for others is a prerequisite for spiritual and psychological growth. Whatever identity one receives from birth or choice will have value based on these principles.
Rights, rituals and practices can deepen one’s sense of gratitude and appreciation for all lives.
For example, Passover can be experienced as liberation theology at its best. It is about social justice, freedom from slavery, crime and punishment, patience and fortitude, courage and God’s grace. It is also about overcoming the Pharaoh of egoism with faith. It is a multilevel source of inspiration for those who participate in its dimensions of family, community, teaching, and eating.
It is for many an affirmation of the intervention in history of God on behalf of a people God protected and to whom He revealed Himself. It can awaken gratitude for being a descendent of those people and not being a slave today. It can create a sense of duty to help free others. It can inspire to uplift us to a clearer awareness of the presence of the sacred. It can help us remember God.
It can create a distorted sense of identity. It can make one think that based on blood one is closer to God than others. One might ask: Is being a Jew a necessary part of being close to God? Only a fool would think so. One might also ask: Does being Jew distance oneself form God. Only a fool would think that. So, if you are a fool, stop reading, otherwise, join me in these reflections.
A heart filled with compassion and a life lived from that place of goodness where the presence of God is remembered will do just fine. So, then the question is what value is there in being part of a community, like a several thousand years history of stories about that community’s relationship with the mystery of life we inadequately call God. It could be good and it could be bad.
Good includes being accountable to people who know and love you. Bad includes thinking that by virtue of being part of that community, or tribe, you are specially blessed and better than anyone else anywhere. Good includes gratitude for the teaching that God is with us and One with all. Bad if that teaching makes one feel different from any of God’s other human creations.
Compassion does not have a boundary of blood, religion, race, caste or gender. It resonates like the circles from a pebble in a pond from the center of the heart where the intention to honor the lives of others and God’s sacred gift awakens when the pebble of that purity descends into the human heart.
So, here are few thoughts for your thinking:
Why do we need a tribe when the message is love and unity with and for all? Is not our God the One God of the one human family and is not the calling of those who accept the calling to love and serve all? Of course, and is that realization not a liberation from the slavery of egoism formed of separation from the overwhelming blessing of the oneness of life’s bounty? The ego mind that identifies with all that we cannot posses forgets what we can really receive, the radiance of the soul.
Crossing over the sea of blood ties into the open space of wisdom:
~And This Too~
love without action is
action without love is
love with action
each breath, deep love in action
each thought, deep love in action
each moment, deep love in action
where gratitude lives,
salt changes to sugar
tears of sorrow, sadness and separation
tears of joy, love and union
a mere whisper of the grace of deep awake,
this whisper is a thunder of healing light
oh may God’s resonance be known.
in love’s way of peace
Jonathan Granoff is president of the Global Security Institute and reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thoughts on Passover
by Shari Motro
How does one leave home in peace?
Read metaphorically, the Exodus story—which Jews will retell during the upcoming Passover holiday—offers some clues to answering this most universal of questions.
Moses is born a Hebrew slave, but he is raised in Pharaoh’s palace. The setup is an exaggerated version of something familiar to many—to anyone who has wondered whether some cosmic accident landed her with the wrong family; anyone who has felt uncomfortable about the privileges she accrued by virtue of her birth; anyone who at some point experienced her parents as oppressive or narrow. Egypt, in Hebrew, means “narrow place.”
Moses’ initial reaction is the classic teenage rebellion—it’s rash, it’s risky, and it gets him into deep trouble. After witnessing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, Moses kills the Egyptian, buries him in the sand, and runs. He tries to disappear, to start over. In Midian, Moses marries a local and has a son who he names Gershom, Stranger (“For I was a stranger in a strange land,” he says).
But running away doesn’t work. At some point, those of us who leave unfinished business behind are called to return. For Moses, the call starts as a fire, a fire that burns but doesn’t consume. The burning bush is a fire that can be neither put out nor ignored.
Moses goes home to face the conflict he ran from. His task is to negotiate, to mediate between the slaves and Pharaoh, both of whom symbolize aspects of every human soul. He will eventually leave again, but in a different way. Leaving home in peace requires acknowledging the naysaying voice within. Moses can’t leave Egypt for good until his ability to dream his own future overwhelms his fear, until he stands before Pharaoh and speaks his truth.
Yes, I killed the Egyptian.
Yes, I’ve turned my back on you. Look, I’m not you. I’m a different person.
Yes, I want to leave.
Will you let me go?
Pharaoh says no, as parents do. Sometimes parents say no even when they know that eventually they will relent, that everybody will be better off when they do. Nevertheless, some inexplicable force compels them to dig in their heels, to wield their power while they still have it.
Of course, Pharaoh is an extreme example. This is the point of archetypal myths: they use extremes to illustrate lessons that apply to us all. Pharaoh symbolizes attachment—the eminently human tendency to resist change. The plagues are the suffering that results from attachment. Each plague is a message from Pharaoh’s higher self, like a body that keeps getting sick until you listen to it.
For Moses, the message of the plagues may be this: Your blossoming into your most radiant self is not the true cause of suffering—Pharaoh’s suffering, your own suffering, anybody’s. The cause of suffering is resistance.
After the tenth and most devastating plague—the death of the firstborn—Pharaoh finally relents, and the Israelites leave “in haste.” They leave so quickly they can’t wait for their bread to rise; this is why we eat unleavened bread on Passover. What’s the message here?
When the force holding you back finally relents—go. GO. Don’t be scared; don’t feel guilty; don’t hang around saying long goodbyes. It’s time.
And if Pharaoh follows at your heels and drowns in the pursuit, don’t rejoice. According to one interpretation, this is what God said to the angels who sang as the Egyptian chariots were swallowed by the sea: “Don’t rejoice, for they are my creatures too.” And yet, the texts are also filled with the opposite, with joy.
Anyone who has succeeded in breaking free knows this tension well. Our glee is tinged with something else, with the sinking recognition that our naysayers’ grief is our grief. And… surviving requires not allowing ourselves to drown in their tears. Surviving is rejoicing despite their pain.
Somehow, on the other side of it all, there is a place where all is forgiven, where the narrowness of our birth canal—every trauma, every grief—becomes a source of love and gratitude, where zero-sum gives way to abundance, where Pharaoh and Moses are one.
I’ve seen only glimpses of this place. For me, this is the Promised Land.
Shari Motro is a professor of law at the University of Richmond.
A Passover Reflection on the Charoset
by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
There it sits on the Seder plate: charoset, a delicious paste of chopped nuts, chopped fruits, spices, and wine.
So the question would seem obvious: “Why is there charoset on the Seder plate?”
That’s the most secret Question at the Seder—so secret nobody even asks it. And it’s got the most secret answer: none.
The Haggadah explains about matzah, the bread so dry it blocks your insides for a week.
The Haggadah explains about the horse-radish so bitter it blows the lid off your lungs and makes breathing so painful you wish you could just stop.
The Haggadah even explains about that scrawny chicken neck, or maybe the roasted beet, masquerading as a whole roast lamb.
But it never explains charoset.
Yes, there’s an oral tradition. (Fitting for something that tastes so delicious!) You’ve probably heard somebody at a Seder claim that charoset is the mortar the ancient Israelite slaves had to paste between the bricks and stones of those giant warehouses they were building for Pharaoh.
But that’s a cover story. Really dumb. You think that mortar was so sweet, so spicy, so delicious that every ancient Israelite just had to slaver some mortar on his tongue?
You think it wasn’t leeks and onions they wailed for after they crossed the Sea of Blood, but the mortar they were pasting on their masters’ mansions? You think they were whining, “Give me mortar or give me death?”
Forbid it, Almighty God!
OK, maybe it’s a midrash? Those bitter-hearted rabbis, always fresh from some pogrom or exile, claiming that to the Israelites, slavery was sweet? So sweet that it reminds us that slavery may taste sweet, and this is itself a deeper kind of slavery?
No. The oral tradition transmitted by charoset is not by word of mouth but taste of mouth. A kiss of mouth. A full-bodied, full-tongued, “kisses sweeter than wine” taste of mouth.
Charoset is an embodiment of by far the earthiest, sexiest, kissyest, bodyest book of the Hebrew Bible —- the Song of Songs. Charoset is literally a full-bodied taste of the Song. The Song is the recipe for charoset.
You think they were going to tell you that when you were six years old, just learning how to stumble through “Mah nishtanah,” the Four Questions? Or maybe when you were fourteen, just beginning to eye that good-looking cousin sitting right across the table?
Or maybe when you were thirty-four and they were all nagging you to settle down already, get married –– that’s when you thought they might finally tell the truth about charoset?
Face it: They were never going to tell you.
Maybe, without ever asking or answering about charoset, they might mention something that seemed entirely different: that the olden rabbis thought the Song of Songs should be recited during the festival of Passover, but quickly they’d explain that what seems so erotic in the Song was really about God’s loving effort to free the Israelites from Pharaoh.
And—especially important in our generation:
The Song is by far the likeliest candidate of all Biblical books to have been written, or collated, or edited, by a woman. A woman’s experience is central to it.
AND—it is filled with love not only between human beings but between human beings and the Earth. The luscious tastes of fruit, nuts, spices, wine—are the delicious savors and flavors of the Earth.
Time to tell the passionate truth: The Song of Songs is the recipe for charoset, and charoset is the delicious embodiment of the Song.
Verses from the Song:
“Feed me with apples and with raisin-cakes;
“Your kisses are sweeter than wine;
“The scent of your breath is like apricots;
“Your cheeks are a bed of spices;
“The fig tree has ripened;
“Then I went down to the walnut grove.”
There are several kinds of freedom that we celebrate on Pesach:
The freedom of people who rise up against Pharaoh, the tyrant.
The freedom of Earth, the flowers that rise up against winter.
The freedom of birth, of the lambs who trip and stagger in their skipping-over. passing-over dance called “pesach.”
The freedom of sex, that rises up against the prunish and the prudish.
The text of the Song subtly, almost secretly, bears the recipe for charoset, and we might well see the absence of any specific written explanation of charoset as itself a subtle, secret pointer toward the “other” liberation of Pesach –- the erotic, Earth-loving freedom celebrated in the Song of Songs, which we are taught to read on Passover.
The Song of Songs is sacred not only to Jews, but also to Christians and to Muslims, and especially to the mystics in all three traditions. Its earth-and-human-loving erotic energy has swept away poets and rabbis, lovers and priests, dervishes and gardeners.
Yet this sacred power — “Love is strong as death,” sings the Song — has frightened many generations into limiting its power. Redefining its flow as a highly structured allegory, or hiding it from the young, or forbidding it from being sung in public places.
Even so, long tradition holds that on the Shabbat in the middle of Passover, Jews chant the Song of Songs.
Why is this time of year set aside for this extraordinary love poem? At one level, because it celebrates the springtime rebirth of life.
And the parallel goes far deeper. For the Song celebrates a new way of living in the world.
The way of love between the earth and her human earthlings, beyond the future of conflict between them that accompanies the end of Eden.
The way of love between women and men, with women celebrated as leaders and initiators, beyond the future of subjugation that accompanies the end of Eden.
The way of bodies and sexuality celebrated, beyond the future of shame and guilt that accompanies the end of Eden.
The way of God so fully present in the whole of life that God needs no specific naming (for in the Song, God’s name is never mentioned).
The way of adulthood, where there is no Parent and there are no children. No one is giving orders, and no one obeys them. Rather there are grownups, lovers — unlike the domination and submission that accompany the end of Eden.
In short, Eden for grown-ups. For a grown-up human race.
Whereas the original Garden was childhood, bliss that was unconscious, unaware, the Garden of the Song is maturity. Death is known, conflict is recognized (as when the heroine’s brothers beat her up), yet joy sustains all.
So the “recipe” points us toward apples, quinces, raisins, apricots, figs, nuts, wine. Within the framework of the free fruitfulness of the earth, the “recipe” is free-form: no measures, no teaspoons, no amounts. Not even a requirement for apples rather than apricots, cinnamon rather than cloves, figs rather than dates. So there is an enormous breadth for the tastes that appeal to Jews from Spain, Poland, Iraq, India, America.
Nevertheless, I will offer a recipe.
Take a pound of raw shelled almonds, two pounds of organic raisins, and a bottle of red wine. On the side have organic apricots, chopped apples, figs, and dates (no pits), and small bottles of powdered cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Assemble either an electric blender, or your great-grandmom’s cast-iron hand-wound gefulte-fish chopper brought from the Old Country. If it’s the blender, put it on “chop” rather than “paste” frequency.
Start feeding the almonds and raisins into the blender or mixer, in judicious mixture. (How do you know “judicious”? Whatever doesn’t get the whole thing stuck so it won’t keep grinding.) Whenever you feel like it, pour in some wine to lubricate the action. Stop the action every once in a while to poke around and stir up the ingredients.
Freely choose when to add apricots, apples, figs, and/or dates. Taste every ten minutes or so. If you start feeling giddy, good!—that’s the idea.
Add in the spices. Clove is powerful, sweet and subtly sharp at the same time; a lot will get you just on the edge of High.
Keep stirring, keep chopping, keep dribbling wine—not till the charoset turns to paste but till there are still nubs of nuts, grains of raisin, suddenly a dollop of apricot spurting on your tongue.
You say this doesn’t seem like a recipe, too free? Ahh—as the Song itself says again and again, “Do not stir up love until it pleases. Do not rouse the lovers till they’re willing.”
Serve at the Pesach Seder, and also on the night when you first make love to a delicious partner. And on every wedding anniversary. And on the day when you and your friends decide to Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet—because the planet is not abstract and theoretical, but what we celebrate when we take charoset on our tongues.
Blessings of body and love, creative mind and spirit—
Rabbi Arthur Waskow